The 81st Boonton Christmas Bird Count Report – 2016

The 81st Boonton Christmas Bird Count (CBC going forward) was conducted on Monday, December 26, 2016. Mostly cloudy skies gave way to a light drizzle by the early afternoon. Temperatures ranged from 28 F degrees at dawn to 34 F degrees with mist and rain by sunset. Leftover snow from a light storm on December 17th covered sections of ground. Most ponds and smaller lakes were frozen enough to be almost birdless. Rivers and larger bodies of water had open water and varying numbers of waterfowl.

Highlights of the count day include an Eastern Phoebe at Loantaka Brook Reservation reported by Kevin Lapsey and Florence Klecha, a Lincoln’s Sparrow for the second consecutive year near the south end of Troy Meadows, found again by Jeff Ellerbusch. Record numbers of Merlins, Cooper’s Hawks and Pileated Woodpeckers were tallied.

As of this writing, 90 species and two count week species were observed during the count. 19,612 individual birds were tallied. This is a lower amount than the recent average, but annually fluctuating numbers of Icterids and American Robins greatly contributes to that.

The Numbers

The term count in the following summary usually refers to the history of the Boonton CBC.

  • Snow Geese barely made it on the count for the 5th year in a row with two individuals. This species has appeared on 25% of the counts – all occurring since 1976.
  • 6072 Canada Geese represents the 4th highest total in the count’s 81 year history.
  • 2 Cackling Geese are a count-week report and do not go on the official CBC tally.
  • 5 Mute Swans is by far the lowest total since none were reported in 1989.
  • Wood Ducks average 7.7 individuals in the 81 years of the count. 24 were found in 2016.
  • Most ponds and lakes were frozen, leaving little available habitat for waterfowl other than rivers and larger reservoirs.  One body of water that produced much of the diversity in the count was the reservoir along Eisenhower Parkway in Livingston (yes, the Boonton CBC includes West Essex). 7 Redheads and 1 Canvasback are two of the highlights.
  • Most of the regularly appearing duck species were present. 24 Wood Ducks is the highest count since 2010.
  • Ring-necked Duck numbers remain relatively low. This year’s count of 60 is 21 lower than the 81 year average.
  • Common Mergansers were somewhat average; Hooded Mergansers, way below average. Red-breasted Merganser was a miss as they are in most years.
  • Wild Turkey numbers have dropped in 2015 and 2016 with 30 and 33 respectively. This is 37 below the 21st century average.
  • Pied-billed Grebe was missed for the first time since 2002 and the second time since 1986.
  • 13 Great Blue Herons is the lowest number since 12 in 1989 and 15.5 below the 21st century average.
  • Where did all of the vultures go? The Troy East route failed to locate one for what may be the first time in over 30 years. The entire CBC tallied only 9 Turkey Vultures – 49 below the 21st century average and by far the lowest total since 1990. 24 Black Vultures is close to recent average but far below the 80 Black Vultures that appeared in 2015.
  • Here is a curious number. Cooper’s Hawks had the highest number, 16, in the count’s 81 year history. Sharp-shinned Hawks had the lowest total, 3, since 3 were counted in 1986 – 8.6 below the 21st century average.
  • 55 Red-tailed Hawks is an improvement over the 44 of 2015 but is still in the range of an overall decline – 25.5 off of the 21st century average.
  • An American Kestrel near the Whole Foods in Morristown (thanks, Chris and Linda) kept this declining species on the list. It was missed in 2015.
  • One of the most stunning numbers of this year’s count is the 9 Merlins tallied. This obliterates the previous high count of 3 from 2013. Merlins have appeared on only 18.5% of the counts – all since 1991.
  • 1 Peregrine Falcon represents the first since 2013.
  • 41 American Coot made up for 2015’s miss.
  • 1 Killdeer slipped onto the list after being missed in 2015.
  • Another stunning number but in a negative direction: 188 Ring-billed Gulls is 620 below the 21st century average and the lowest number since 114 in 1983, 33 years ago.
  • Herring Gulls came in at 49 – 69 below the 21st century average. 4 Great Black Backed Gulls is better than 2015’s miss, but 6 below the 21st century average.
  • 23 Eastern Screech-Owls is the highest total since 2004. 5 Great Horned and 2 Barred Owls were also counted.
  • After nearly annual appearances between 1973 and 2007, Long-eared Owls were missed for the 5th year out of the past 7.
  • 8 Red-headed Woodpeckers were counted, all at Troy Meadows.
  • Red-bellied Woodpeckers were strong at 177, 31 above the 21st century average. One must remember that Red-bellied Woodpeckers were not found on the count until a count-week record was added in 1955. The first officially recorded Red-bellied Woodpecker was in 1966. The next was in 1972 – and the rest is history.
  • A fairly average 4 Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers were found. Other woodpeckers were slightly lower than average – except – Pileated Woodpecker which had a record high of 18. The previous high was 12 in 2003.
  • A highlight of the count was an Eastern Phoebe found at Loantaka Brook Reservation. This is the 11th occurrence of this species in the count’s history and the 3rd in the 21st century (2001, 2010).
  • Blue Jays were above average. American and Fish Crows were way below average.
  • 4 Common Ravens were counted.
  • 9 Brown Creepers may sound like a lot but is 3 below the 81 year average.
  • 8 Winter Wrens is close to average. Not surprisingly, Marsh Wren was missed. It has occurred on 38% of the counts usually in single numbers.
  • Both Golden-crowned and Ruby-crowned Kinglets were average.
  • Eastern Bluebirds were solid at 32.
  • The Boonton Township team found the only Hermit Thrush. It was missed in 2015 for the first time since 1988 and the second time since 1971.
  • American Robins numbers are among the most erratic on CBCs. 2016’s 383 is slightly above the 81 year average but pales in comparison to 2015’s 3,418 and 2013’s all-time high of 8,790.
  • Other than a count-week record in 2007, Gray Catbird was missed for the first time since 1990.
  • 47 Northern  Mockingbirds continues a stabilizing trend since 2010. Prior to 2010, triple digit counts were common with a high count of 196 in 1992 and 1999. This year’s number is 46 below the 21st century average.
  • 8 Cedar Waxwings is the lowest count since none were reported in 1989.
  • 6 Yellow-rumped Warblers were tallied. 5 were at one location in Parsippany near the 2003 Western Kingbird location. Slim totals are becoming the norm for this species although it has not been missed since 1983.
  • Troy Meadows hosted a Lincoln’s Sparrow for the second year in a row and only the 4th time on the count.
  • 1,059 Dark-eyed Juncos is slightly above the 21st century average as is 72 Swamp Sparrows. Otherwise, the other sparrow species numbers are below average.
  • Vesper Sparrow is a count-week species at the Tourne sparrow fields but does not go on the official CBC tally.
  • Speaking of erratic species numbers, 1,116 Common Grackles in 2016 is far below 2015’s 6,124 and 2013’s 16,694 but better than 2014’s 4.
  • Red-winged Blackbirds, also a very erratic species, came in at 224, 270 below the 81 year average.
  • A better than average 132 Rusty Blackbirds were counted.
  • 1 Brown-headed Cowbird slipped in, avoiding the first miss since 1990.
  • 5 Purple Finches makes up for 2015’s first miss since 1965.

Thank you, all participants

A hearty thank you to all the observers who participated in this year’s count. Your hard work is the only reason this count exists. Your dedication and effort is warmly appreciated. The birds thank you.

Mark your calendar for next year’s Boonton CBC: Saturday, December 23, 2017. Hopefully this does not conflict with any other counts you may participate in. It is a necessary departure from the traditional scheduling of the second Sunday of the count period due to the holidays.

This report is also at the following location on the web site:

A list of the species found on this CBC is at the following link:

You can also access these pages through the Birds of Morris County > Boonton Christmas Bird Count menu item on the web site.

A wonderful 2017 to all!
May all of your target species be there when you are.

Jonathan Klizas, Compiler
Boonton Christmas Bird Count


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