80th Boonton Christmas Bird Count

Painted Bunting, West Caldwell, NJ, Dec. 24, 2015 (photo by Chris Thomas)

Painted Bunting, West Caldwell, NJ, Dec. 24, 2015 (photo by Chris Thomas)

The 80th Boonton Christmas Bird Count was conducted on Sunday, December 27, 2015. The recent mild weather continued with the temperature ranging from 45 F degrees at dawn to 60 F degrees at 3:30 PM. Midnight to early morning was damp. A dense fog enveloped the count region until a south wind kicked up at 9:00 AM clearing out the moist air. The sky was overcast for the entire day. No freezing has occurred all season; all water was open.

The highlight of the count day was a new species for the count, Painted Bunting (PABU), which was cooperative at Hatfield Swamp in West Caldwell, Essex County. The PABU is present since December 18 when it was found by David Blinder, who also located it yesterday for the CBC along with Chris Thomas.

Another excellent find was a Lincoln’s Sparrow near the south end of Troy Meadows, found by Jeff Ellerbusch and Roger Johnson.

Lincoln's Sparrow, Troy Meadows, NJ, Dec. 27, 2015 (photo by Jeff Ellerbusch)

Lincoln’s Sparrow, Troy Meadows, NJ, Dec. 27, 2015 (photo by Jeff Ellerbusch)

Along with the above mentioned highlights and other results on the positive side of the ledger, this year’s Boonton CBC as a heavy list of missed and nearly missed species.

With all parties reporting, the total count of species is 85 and 5 count-week species. This represents the lowest number of species since 82 were recorded in 1989 – twenty-six years ago.

The Numbers

All the records mentioned below are kept in the same stream, rather than separating the highs from the lows.

  • 176 Snow Geese is the 3rd highest total in the count’s history. 301 in 2012 is 1st.
  • 2, 614 Canada Geese is the lowest since 2003 and 1,800 off from the 21st century average.
  • As ubiquitous as they may seem, 754 Mallards is below the 21st century average by 263.
  • 20 Northern Shovelers is the 3rd highest total in the 21st century (115 in 2001; 40 in 2011).
  • 83 Green-winged Teal is more than double the 21st century average of 39.4.
  • A Canvasback on Lake Parsippany is the first since 2012 but far below average.
  • 2 Redheads are in Mountain Lakes.
  • 57 Ring-necked Ducks is 170 below the 21st century average.
  • 4 Greater Scaup are at Mountain Lakes.
  • 2 Lesser Scaup at Lake Parsippany in the late afternoon or this species would have been missed.
  • Long-tailed Duck – was at Lake Parsippany the day before the count but not the day of.
  • 108 Bufflehead is the 2nd highest in count history; 221 in 2006 is tops.
  • 272 Hooded Mergansers is 90 over the 21st century average.
  • 191 Common Mergansers is 500 below the 21st century average, but this species rides a numbers roller coaster; thousands one year; less than 200 the next.
  • 260 Ruddy Ducks – 113 over the 21st century average; another roller coaster duck.
  • 30 Wild Turkeys – 43 below the 21st century average; lowest count since 16 were tallied in 1994.
  • 18 Great Blue Herons – thought there would be more with the warmth and open water; lowest number since 16 in 2005.
  • Black Vulture – first appeared on the count in 1989 (that year keeps appearing in this report). 80 in 2015 is the 3rd highest total since then.
  • 2 Northern Harriers is better than none, which is how many were on the count in 2014, the only year in the 21st century to miss.
  • 44 Red-tailed Hawks is the lowest number since 37 in 1979 – 36 years ago. This marks four consecutive years of decline.
  • 2 Merlins in Morris Township is around the average in the 21st century.
  • 1 Killdeer – this was missed in 2014.
  • 370 Ring-billed Gulls is the 2nd lowest total since 1976 – 477 below the 21st century average.
  • 27 Herring Gulls is the lowest total since 1963. This is 68 below the 21st century average and 228 below the 80 year average of the count.
  • An Iceland Gull was found on Lake Parsippany, Dec. 30, the last day of the count-week period.
  • 462 Rock Pigeons – not surprising with the mild weather; an up and down species.
  • Mourning Dove – 379 is 110 below the 21st century average, but this is also an up and down species.
  • Owls – way down: 6 Eastern Screech-Owls (9 below the 80 year average); 1 Great Horned Owl, lowest number by far since 1972; 1 Barred Owl. That’s it. Late news of a count-week Short-eared Owl at Troy Meadows, Dec. 26.
  • 6 Red-headed Woodpeckers were tallied, all at Troy Meadows. All Woodpecker species numbers fluctuate year-to-year.
  • American Crow number were down; Fish Crow numbers up.
  • Only 1 Common Raven was found.
  • Only 1 Brown Creeper was found. This species has appeared on all 80 counts.
  • 2 Winter Wrens is the lowest number since 1987.
  • 3,418 American Robins – another wildly fluctuating species, 8,790 (the highest total) in 2013; 562 in 2014.
  • 1 Gray Catbird was found. This is slightly below average.
  • European Starling numbers have stabilized. 2,677 is relatively average for the past 12 years after an explosion of Starling numbers before that.
  • 131 Cedar Waxwings is the highest since 2007.
  • 6 Yellow-rumped Warblers is one less than 2014.
  • 13 Eastern Towhees is 6 above the 21st century average.
  • 31 Fox Sparrows is the highest total since 2001 when 121 were tallied.
  • 192 Song Sparrows is the lowest since 1972 – 251 below the 21st century average.
  • Lincoln’s Sparrow – only the 3rd time on the count. 1 in 1989 (there is that year again); another in 2006.
  • 16 Swamp Sparrows – 24 below the 21st century average.
  • 639 White-throated Sparrows; 100 below average for the previous 10 years; 200 below the 21st century average.
  • White-crowned Sparrow – only 1 found after a miss in 2014 broke a streak of 20 consecutive years on the count. This juvenile shows characteristics of the Gambel’s subspecies.
  • Painted Bunting – the brilliant star of the day.
  • 91 Rusty Blackbirds – appearing on 90% of the counts, this was missed in 2014.
  • 6,124 Common Grackles – only 4 appeared on the 2014 count.
  • 110 Brown-headed Cowbirds, mostly in one area, is the highest since 2005.

The Misses

  • American Wigeon – found on 84% of the 80 counts; first miss since 1989.
  • Common Goldeneye – formerly annual, this species has missed 4 out of the last 5 years.
  • Red-breasted Merganser – has occurred on only 12.5% of the counts, but was a count week species.
  • Ruffed Grouse – on this list for old time’s sake; not on the count since 2006 and only sparsely since the 1990s.
  • American Kestrel – Appearing on 90% of the counts, this falcon is barely hanging on with 1’s and 2’s, if any, being tallied in this century.
  • American Coot – numbers vary wildly for this species; 465 in 2011 is the highest recorded.
  • Wilson’s Snipe – surprising miss with the mild weather; breaks a streak of 6 consecutive years on the list.
  • American Woodcock – likewise with this shorebird as with the Wilson’s Snipe; missed for the 2nd year in a row after a streak of 11 years on the list.
  • Great Black-backed Gull – a count week species but failed to be a count day gull for the first time since 1968.
  • Red-breasted Nuthatch – first miss since 1967.
  • Golden-crowned Kinglet – first miss since 1966.
  • Hermit Thrush – missed for the first time since 1988.
  • Purple Finch – this one hurts; the first miss since…1965 – 50 years ago.

Thank you, all participants

A hearty thank you to all thirty-eight 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: the preliminary date for next year’s Boonton CBC is Monday, December 26, 2016. 

This report is also at the following location on the mocosocoBirds.com 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 mocosocoBirds.com web site.

A wonderful 2016 to all!
May all of your target species be there when you are.

Jonathan Klizas, Compiler
Boonton Christmas Bird Count