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The 83rd annual Boonton Christmas Bird Count (CBC) occurred on Sunday, December 23rd, 2018. The day had sunny skies, temperatures above freezing, and a gentle breeze if any wind at all and was the meteorological opposite of the soggy 2017 count.
Before continuing with the summary:
Congratulations to Tim Vogel for participating in his 50th Boonton CBC!
All bodies of water were ice-free although sub-freezing temperatures in the autumn froze many ponds and lakes, chasing the waterfowl away at that time. The major natural event affecting this year’s count was flooding. Did the rains ever let up in 2018? Many low-lying areas were flooded and inaccessible. Knee-high boots were de rigueur in many locations.
86 species were tallied plus three count week additions. This is becoming the relative average in recent years of the Boonton CBC.
Three count-week species, Pine Siskin, Eastern Towhee, and Hermit Thrush are part of the record although not included in the actual totals for the count day (count-week is defined as three days prior to and three days after the actual count date).
11,291 is the total number of individual birds tallied and is the lowest number since 6,344 were totaled in 1972. It is even lower than last year’s 12,596. 2017’s count day had wet, miserable weather which helps explain low totals. But what of 2018? It was a beautiful day albeit with many flooded conditions. A few other New Jersey CBCs also comment on the low number of individuals this year. Only the future will know whether this is a trend or a blip in the course of time. We should be concerned if this becomes the normal state of the Boonton CBC and CBCs in general.
Low numbers have many contributing factors. One could be a lack of coverage in certain areas where comprehensive censusing was the norm in prior years. It is accurate to say that all regions of the Boonton count circle are not covered as thoroughly as they once were and some are not covered at all anymore. The continuing habitat degradation throughout the region is a major factor as well. If an area isn’t officially preserved, it will be developed.
Another alarming factor is how participants in the field describe the day’s birding. A common assessment gleaned from participants was that the day’s count was “slow”. This is two years in a row with opposite weather conditions but with the same observational remark: Slow.
Highlights and lowlights for this year’s CBC are below.
- A Barn Owl was the first since 2003 and the 15th occurrence on the count.
- An Eastern Phoebe was the 13th appearance on the count and the fourth in the 21st century (2001, ‘09, ‘16, ‘18).
- One Peregrine Falcon is always nice to report. Two is even better in 2018. Peregrines were reported only three times in the first sixty-one years of the count (1936-96); none from 1955 through 1996; Peregrine Falcon is recorded 14 times in the past twenty-two years plus two years as a count week record.
- 9 Red-headed Woodpeckers at Troy Meadows; none in 2017.
- Red-bellied Woodpeckers – the 21st-century average is 141. All of the woodpeckers dipped in 2017 due to the miserable weather more than likely but rebounded in 2018. Red-bellieds went from 51 in 2017 to 142 in 2018.
- European Starling – interesting numbers in 2018. More Starlings have been tallied in the history of the Boonton CBC than any other species, 207,447. Only 1,118 were counted in 2018. This is the lowest total since 1970.
- 32 American Tree Sparrows is the lowest total in the history of the Boonton CBC where the 83-year average is 640(!). The 21st-century average is 318; the past 10-year average is 192. See a pattern? 2017 and 2018 have totals less than 100. The only other year that occurred was the first year of the Boonton CBC in 1936 when five observers in one party birded for eight hours and counted 75 Am. Tree Sparrows.
- 13 species were above their 21st Century average:
- Northern Shoveler, Redhead, Ring-necked Duck.
- Black Vulture, Turkey Vulture.
- Red-shouldered Hawk, Merlin, Peregrine Falcon
- Eastern Screech-Owl, Great Horned Owl
- Red-headed Woodpecker, Red-bellied Woodpecker
- Eastern Phoebe
- Of course, this means 73 species were at or below their 21st Century Average. A sampling of regularly occurring species with precipitous average drops follows. Averages are based on 21st-century totals:
- Canada Goose – down 36%. 2,816 is the fifth lowest total since 1983.
- Gadwall – 84% off the average; 14 is the lowest total since 7 in 1995.
- Am. Black Duck – down 80%. Read this: 43 is the lowest total since 1944, 74 years ago.
- Mallard – down 68%. 307 is the lowest total since 1967.
- Great Blue Heron – 53% off ave. 13 in 2018 and 2016 are the two lowest totals since 1989.
- Red-tailed Hawk – 29% off ave. Although 2018’s total of 54 is much improved over 2017’s 22, the 21st-century pattern of overall decline continues.
- Ring-billed and Herring Gulls were 63% and 69% off of their 21st-century averages, respectively.
- Rock Pigeon – 206 in 2018 is the lowest total since counting for this species began in 1973. 2017’s 237 is the second lowest.
- Mourning Dove – 35% off ave. 304 is the second lowest total since 1988 with 254 in 2009 the lowest.
- Although improved from 2017’s soggy numbers, most woodpecker species were off of their 21st-century averages.
- Am. Crows and Fish Crows were off by 78% and 34% respectively, continuing a trend for Am. Crow.
- Black-capped Chickadee and Tufted Titmouse totals were off 63% and 65% respectively. 111 Tufted Titmouse is the lowest total since 1969. For perspective, the average total of Tufted Titmouse from 1991-2001 was 518.
- Am. Robins were down 81%, but totals of this species vary greatly from year to year.
- No. Mockingbird down 54% – a continuing trend. 40 is the second lowest total since 1972 with 2017’s 27 the first lowest.
- European Starling and Am. Tree Sparrow are mentioned earlier in this article.
- Sparrow species were down between 35-50%.
- No. Cardinal – down 44%, 119 is the lowest total since 1972; 2017’s 122 is the second lowest.
- Red-winged Blackbird – down 86%; 72 is the lowest total since 1970.
- Rusty Blackbird and Common Grackle were down 93% and 83% respectively, but their numbers fluctuate greatly from year to year.
- House Sparrow – down 58% continuing a recent decline. 2017 and 2018 represent the two lowest totals since 1971.
The following species were seen by one party only. The species column is followed by the amount reported. The third column represents the percentage of occurrences in the 83-year history of the count:
|Seen by only one party|
|Species||Tot.||% on CBC||Comment|
|Northern Pintail||2||68.7||Varying totals over the years.|
|Green-winged Teal||2||67.5||Same as 2017 and the lowest total since 2 in 2000.|
|Redhead||11||47.0||scattered over the years.|
|Common Goldeneye||2||73.5||Was nearly annual through 2010; reported only twice since.|
|Wild Turkey||1||38.6||Where did they go? The average for the 21st century is 66.2!|
|Pied-billed Grebe||2||75.9||Typical; usually seen but very low in numbers.|
|Northern Harrier||1||81.9||Has been missed only three times since 1977.|
|American Kestrel||1||89.2||Despite the record count this fall at Cape May, local wintering numbers continue to decline. Missed in 2015 and 2017. Only one in 2016 and 2018. Despite the 89.2% occurrence rate for eighty-three years of the count, numbers in the 21st century are very poor.|
|Great Black-backed Gull||1||65.1||Was rare prior to 1969; Including a count week record, it has not missed since, barely.|
|Barn Owl||1||18.1||First record since 2003; only the 15th count it has been recorded.|
|Barred Owl||1||60.2||At least one is usually found somewhere.|
|Red-headed Woodpecker||9||45.8||Missed in 2017, this cyclical species is a Troy Meadows specialty.|
|Eastern Phoebe||1||14.5||The twelfth occurrence on the count.|
|Red-breasted Nuthatch||1||72.3||A feeder visitor kept this from being missed two years in a row.|
|Gray Catbird||1||59.0||First since 2015; was nearly annual for many years before that.|
|Yellow-rumped Warbler||1||66.3||You read that number correctly; not missed since 1983…barely.|
|Savannah Sparrow||2||72.3||Typical for this species.|
As one can see from the previous table, every route is important to the overall count circle; every bird counts. 17 species were seen by one party only, showing how fragile the total species count is.
The following table shows notable species missed in 2018. The three different criteria for this table is species that were seen the previous year and not in 2018, or species having a >50% occurrence rate and missed, and other species of special interest. 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 has also decreased slightly over the years as well as an increase in property development and habitat degradation.
|Notable Species Missed|
|Species||% on CBC||Comment|
|American Wigeon||81.9||3rd miss in 4 years after not being missed since 1989.|
|Greater Scaup||48.2||1 in 2017; sporadic through the years.|
|Red-breasted Merganser||13.3||1 in 2017. Most likely to be seen in spring.|
|Ruffed Grouse||61.4||Not reported since 2006. Nearly annual from the 1960s to the early ’90s.|
|Horned Grebe||28.9||3 in 2017; sporadic through the years.|
|Rough-legged Hawk||56.6||Last recorded in 2010. Rare since the 1990s despite its 56.6% occurrence rate.|
|Killdeer||63.9||Missed for the second year in a row, but numbers are small when it is recorded.|
|Wilson’s Snipe||62.7||Not recorded since 2014. Four years is the longest stretch without a record since the 1940s.|
|Long-eared Owl||61.4||Not since 2014.|
|Horned Lark||48.2||Not quite at 50% but mentioned here to illustrate the changes to a species occurrence; was nearly annual from the 1940s through the ‘70s. Recorded only five times since 1981.|
|American Pipit||32.5||30 in 2017; typically unpredictable.|
|Marsh Wren||38.6||1 in 2017; rare in the 21st century.|
|Hermit Thrush||67.5||A count-week entry in 2018; missed in 2015 for the second time since 1972.|
|Eastern Towhee||79.5||A count-week addition but missed during count-day. It was missed in 2012, as well, the only misses since 1966.|
|Chipping Sparrow||26.5||1 in 2017; one is reported every few years.|
|White-crowned Sparrow||36.1||Missed 4 out of 5 years; was annual from 1994 to 2013.|
|Eastern Meadowlark||49.4||Recorded in half of the Boonton CBCs but not since 2001 and only three times since 1985. How have times changed? 68 were recorded in 1953.|
|Brown-headed Cowbird||81.9||And this observer raked through the numerous Starlings at the Parsippany Transfer Station (Sharky’s Dump to old timers) trying to find one. This miss defies reason. Only one other miss since 1971 and that was in 1990.|
Below is the list of species occurring on all 83 years of the Boonton CBC.
- American Black Duck
- Red-tailed Hawk
- Downy Woodpecker
- Hairy Woodpecker
- Blue Jay
- American Crow
- Black-capped Chickadee
- Tufted Titmouse
- White-breasted Nuthatch
- Brown Creeper
- European Starling
- American Tree Sparrow
- Song Sparrow
- Swamp Sparrow
- White-throated Sparrow
- Dark-eyed (Slate-colored) Junco
- Northern Cardinal
- American Goldfinch
- House Sparrow
Here is the top ten of the total number of individuals for all 83 years of the count:
|Species||Total Individuals (83 years)|
|6||Dark-eyed (Slate-colored) Junco||55,489|
|7||American Tree Sparrow||53,172|
Mark your calendars. Next year’s count will be on Sunday, December 22, 2019.
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 website.
A wonderful 2019 to all!
Nature is all we have. Respect, protect, preserve, and nurture it. Always be awed by its beauty.
Jonathan Klizas, Compiler
Boonton Christmas Bird Count