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Snowbirds: Counting the Species

Birds and squirrels, horses and riders

I took Bay Weekly at its word.    
    “The best way to start learning about birds is to put up a feeder,” advised international birder Colin Rees, conveyed in Dotty Doherty’s Dec. 4 story Winter Is for the Birds. Today I’m reaping the rewards of refilling and hanging my feeders to celebrate Christmas for the birds.
    Snow has me and the birds home together. While I work at my livelihood via MacBook Air, they’re working at theirs, pecking up their fuel of safflower and black-oil sunflower seed. They’ve puffed up their down against the cold; I’m wearing multiple layers and keeping the fire burning. Even so, we can both feel the chill of temperatures in the 20s and falling.
    But we keep at it. Watching and writing, I’ve added blue jay and dove to make 11: Sparrows (all seem to be white throated), plus juncos and towhees. Plus, of course, titmouse, chickadee, cardinal, house finch, nuthatch and downy woodpecker.
    Whoops! Neighbor Sharon’s dog Cassie just walked past, scattering the flock.
    The ever-bold titmouse is the first to return. Then the nuthatch, which seems to be the white-breasted sort.
    My Snow Day bird count is small peanuts compared to the National Audubon Society’s annual Christmas Bird Count, with some 30 organized counts focused on separate 15-mile circles throughout Maryland between Dec. 14 and Jan. 5.
    The hundreds of species and thousands of birds counted by these serious birders keep science abreast of life in the avian world.
    In the big picture, 71,531 observers in 2,369 circles counted 64,133 birds of 2,296 species last year.
    This year, on Dec. 14, the first day of the count, 30 birders at Jug Bay counted a “very low” 106 species. “Surprising given that conditions were good,” reports compiler Sam Droege, “but perhaps a reflection of the fact that the weather had been warm up until then and many of the waterfowl had not moved into the area.”
    At Patuxent River Naval Air Station on Dec. 28, 30 people counted close to 100 species, according to Andy Brown, of Calvert County Natural Resources Division. The big news in “an average year” is a record 33 bald eagle sightings.
    At Sandy Point State Park, on Jan. 4, 80 birders tallied 112 species, including three area rarities: a raven (only Edgar Allen Poe’s poetic license gives Ravens to our Atlantic region), a pair of snow buntings and four sanderlings.
    I fear I won’t add such oddities as a raven or snow bunting to my domestic count. But as a low-grade birder, I’m tickled by the appearance and antics of the usual suspects.
    Whoosh! There they go again, three dozen tiny creatures disappeared in a single burst of speed. Yet not a soul comes walking by …
    Instead the intruder soars into my view, a hawk on the wing.
    I have my Number 12, perhaps a Cooper’s or sharp-shinned hawk judging by his russet-striped belly and small size. Or perhaps a kestrel?
    Make that 13! Mr. Red-bellied woodpecker just flew in.
    Not a bad day for snowbirds and snow birder.
    Count birds of the Bay on Jan. 18 with musician and birder Dan Hass of the Anne Arundel Bird Club. 8-11:30am at Thomas Point. Dress warmly. rsvp: 410-703-4664; ­[email protected]

Snow Birds of a Couple More Species
    This time of year, many Marylanders join the flights of snowbirds escaping winter’s chill for Floridian warmth. Among them are two particular species, equestrians and their horses. One of the flock, Diane Burt, tells their story in this week’s paper.

Sandra Olivetti Martin
Editor and publisher; [email protected]