The 82nd Boonton Christmas Bird Count Report – 2017

The 82nd annual Boonton Christmas Bird Count (CBC) occurred on Saturday, December 23, 2017.

How can one describe the conditions in the field on that day: miserable, gloomy, wretched, dreadful, soggy, yucky. One can go on and on. A few decades-long veterans of the Boonton CBC felt this was the worst weather for the count they could remember.

Surely, wet and fogged binoculars caused a few species to be missed. More birding than usual from a car was necessary. The temperature ranged from 34 F degrees at dawn to a high of 39 F degrees in the afternoon. Winds were calm. A steady, obnoxious rain of varying intensities finally ceased at approximately 2 PM. And then the fog rolled in. What a day!

Many lakes and ponds in the count circle were frozen to some degree. The major exception was Boonton Reservoir which was entirely ice-free. A few other bodies of water managed to escape the freeze of previous weeks. Rivers and brooks were apparently free-flowing.

In spite of the atrocious weather, twenty-nine dedicated volunteers traveling solo or in groups worked their routes and uncovered 84 species, the lowest total for the Boonton CBC since 83 species were tallied in 1989. Interestingly, the weather on that date twenty-eight years earlier was difficult in a different fashion: the temperature ranged from a low of 6 F degrees to a high of 17 F degrees.

The previous two years have total species counts of 85 in 2015 and 90 in 2016. Considering the abysmal weather conditions, 84 for 2017 is a respectable total.

Three count-week species, Common Loon, Peregrine Falcon and Purple Finch, are also part of the record but not included in the total species count (count-week is defined as three days prior to and three days after the actual count date although count-week species are not in the official numeric tally submitted to the National Audubon Society).

The total number of individual birds tallied, 12,596, is the lowest since 6,344 were counted in 1972. Historical records show that although the temperature ranged from 35 F to 41 F degrees on that date forty-five years ago, 0.21 inches of precipitation fell, as well. Twenty-eight observers in eight parties worked that count.

Heartfelt thanks to all the participants who braved the nasty elements.

Highlights for this year’s CBC are modest; lowlights are understandably numerous.

The following table lists the species seen by only one party or individual. The species column is followed by the amount reported. The third column represents the percentage of occurrences in the 82-year history of the count:

Species Tot. % on CBC Comment
Wood Duck 1 84.1 lowest number since 0 in 2004.
Green-winged Teal 2 67.1 lowest total since 2 in 2000.
Greater Scaup 1 48.8 scattered over the years.
Red-breasted Merganser 1 13.4 Unusual but increasing in the last 10 years.
Ruddy Duck 6 82.9 Lowest total since 0 in 1989. The 21st-century average is 135.1 individuals.
Pied-billed Grebe 6 75.6 Missed in 2016 for the first time since 2002
Horned Grebe 3 29.3 Only the 3rd time plus one count-week entry in the 21st century.
Black Vulture 6 34.1 Has not been missed since 1999. The rain certainly kept Vultures hidden.
Turkey Vulture 3 53.7 Has not been missed since 1981.
Red-shouldered Hawk 1 87.8 Missed in 2007; the average for the 21st century is 2.1.
Merlin 1 19.5 Fairly steady this century with 2016’s remarkable 9 as the record high count.
American Coot 1 72.0 Fluctuates greatly. 465 were counted in 2011.
Great Black-backed Gull 2 64.6 A sharp decrease in recent years. The record high is 173 in 1985.
Barred Owl 1 59.8 The 82-year average is 1.1.
Common Raven 1 13.4 2002 was the 1st year on the CBC. Annual since 2011.
Brown Creeper 2 100.0 Found on all 82 counts…barely.
Marsh Wren 1 39.0 Always nice to find. Only the 2nd since 2007.
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 1 72.0 Not missed since 1997…barely.
American Pipit 30 32.9 Highest count since 35 in 1999.
Chipping Sparrow 1 26.8 One is found every few years. This one was at the back end of the Montville Community Gardens.
Savannah Sparrow 1 72.0 Missed only once since 1987.
Rusty Blackbird 16 95.1 Missed only 4 times in 82 years.
Common Grackle 82 80.5 Only one party reported Co. Grackles from one location. The Grackle factor played into 2017’s low individual total for all species. The 21st century average for Co. Grackle is 3,963.
Brown-headed Cowbird 30 82.9 Not missed since 1990, although only 1 was reported in 2016.

As one can see from the previous table, every route is important to the overall count circle; every bird counts. 24 species were seen by one party or individual only, showing how fragile the total species count is.

The following table shows species missed in 2017 that have more than 70% occurrences in the 82 years of the Boonton CBC. While this certainly can signal a decline in the species occurring in the count circle, keep in mind that the number of participants and parties fluctuates over the years affecting totals, as well as an increase in property development and habitat degradation. Also, do not forget how awful the weather was on count day.

Species % on CBC Comment
American Wigeon 82.9 2nd miss in 3 years after not being missed since 1989.
Common Goldeneye 73.2 Annual from 1989-2010; only once since 2013.
American Kestrel 89 Annual, at least during count-week, from 1936 through 1998, often in double digits. Increasingly sporadic since then, with totals only in 1’s and 2’s.
Red-breasted Nuthatch 72 Annual from 1968-2014; missed two of the last three years.

Other species missed in 2017 that were seen in 2016 include:

  • Snow Goose (seen 5 years in a row until 2017).
  • Canvasback and Redhead.
  • Lesser Scaup (was seen 12 out of the previous 13 counts).
  • Killdeer (seen 7 out 8 previous counts).
  • Red-headed Woodpecker – cyclical species seen 13 out of 14 previous counts.
  • Eastern Phoebe – recorded only three times in the 21st century.
  • Lincoln’s Sparrow – was found two years in a row at Troy Meadows.

With the dismal weather, almost all species were drastically down from recent averages. For example, Woodpeckers were approximately one-third of their average totals. Some species were 10% of their averages. 90 American Robins is 1,100 off of the 21st-century average.

  • 116 Red-winged Blackbirds is 433 lower than the 21st-century average.
  • 82 Common Grackles – 3,881 lower than the 21st-century average.

And on and on it goes. It was a bleak day to be counting birds.

Certain species were oblivious to the weather and either came close to or exceeded their 21st-century averages. These include Canada Goose, Northern Shoveler, Northern Pintail, Pied-billed Grebe, Great Blue Heron, American Pipit, Carolina Wren and Golden-crowned Kinglet. A few of the above species’ totals were at one location so their inclusion in this item is misleading as they are lightly represented most years.

Historical Tidbits

Remember that the wintering Canada Goose in north New Jersey is a recent phenomenon. The first Boonton CBC Canada Goose was found in 1941, one lone goose. 25 were tallied in 1943; 1 in 1946 and then none until 4 were counted in 1956 signaling a string of seven consecutive years. The consecutive string that continues until today started in 1965. At that time the high count between 1965 and 1970 was 32.

Count averages in the hundreds began unabated in 1971 with the high total at that time, 1,045, reached in 1976. Since then, totals always average into the thousands with two exceptions in 1979 and 1980. The record high count for the Boonton CBC is 7,143 in 2009. 2017 was close to average with 4,233.

Here is a graph illustrating the impressive expansion of the Canada Goose on the Boonton CBC. The X, or horizontal, axis is represented as the years of the count: 1 =1936, 81 = 2016, etc. The Y, or vertical, axis is the total amount of geese.

Mark your calendars. Next year’s count will be on Sunday, December 23, 2018.

This report is also at the following location on the website:

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 website.

National Audubon Christmas Bird Count Website

A wonderful 2018 to all!
Nature is all we have. Protect, preserve, respect and nurture it. Always be awed by its beauty.

Jonathan Klizas, Compiler
Boonton Christmas Bird Count

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