Local bird watchers conducted the 48th annual Fifield-Park Falls Audubon Christmas Bird Count (CBC) Dec. 15, counting all birds seen or heard within a 15-mile diameter circle centered on the Fifield Post Office.
Ten field workers spent a total of 28.5 hours covering various habitats along 284 miles of road and walked 7.5 miles on foot counting every bird seen or heard within the count circle. Twenty-one people counted birds seen at their home bird feeders.
The weather for the count was cloudy with light rain most of the day with southeast winds at 5 to 10 mph. The high temperature for the day was 36, the low 34. There was two inches of snow on the ground. All water areas were frozen except for large open areas below dams and along fast moving rapids on rivers.
This winter, observers saw 32 species and counted 2,284 individual birds. This compares to 29 species and 1,975 individuals in 2011 and 33 species and 2,118 individual birds in 2010.
The species and numbers of each seen on the 2012 Fifield-Park Falls CBC compared with 2011 results (2011 shown in parentheses):
Gray jay, 1 (4); black-capped chickadee, 606 (546); American crow, 227 (140); European starling, 34 (176); American goldfinch, 134 (300); common redpoll, 238 (24); red-breasted nuthatch, 47 (48); white-breasted nuthatch, 28 (32); evening grosbeak, 20 (34); pine grosbeak, 76 (3); blue jay, 25 (84); ruffed grouse, 12 (15); common raven, 19 (30); rock dove, 188 (92); mourning dove, 122 (110); hairy woodpecker, 16 (36); downy woodpecker, 16 (45); red-bellied woodpecker, 2 (4); pileated woodpecker, 5 (6); purple finch, 24 (6); pine siskin, 45 (111); brown creeper, 5 (3); northern cardinal, 4 (10); wild turkey, 198 (100); American bald eagle, 2 adults (6); rough-legged hawk, 1 (0); red crossbill, 28 (1); white-winged crossbill, 12 (0); northern shrike, 1 (1); snow bunting, 10 (0); golden-crowned kinglet, 3 (0); Canada goose, 126 (0); dark-eyed junco, 0 (6); common golden eye, 0 (1). A white-throated sparrow was seen during the count week, but not the count day.
Some of this year’s highlights
The big winter birding news this year was the widespread crop failure of fruiting and cone-bearing trees in Canada causing a number of irruptive (making a mass, temporary migration) species such as red and white-winged crossbills, common redpolls, pine siskins, pine and evening grosbeaks, and Bohemian waxwings heading south in search of adequate food supplies for their survival. Many of these species found food in our area and were counted on this year’s Fifield-Park Falls CBC.
According to Ryan Brady, Chair of the Wisconsin Society of Ornithology records committee, we are undoubtedly amidst a super flight of winter finches unlike any since 1997-98. Redpolls and both crossbills are well distributed in very good numbers statewide, whereas pine grosbeaks are unusually common across the entire northern half of the state and even some points farther south.
Although evening grosbeaks and Bohemian waxwings appear to have subsided to rather average numbers than they were a few weeks ago, their distribution has reached farther south than in most years.
With the influx of northern species from Canada, it was not surprising that we saw both species of crossbills, the red and white-winged, in our area this winter as we had a pretty good spruce cone crop this year.
Crossbills are nomads. According to Brian Small, they can be found wherever feeding conditions are best at a particular time of year. They can be common in a particular area one year, and completely absent the next. They are known to wander widely around the country as food conditions change from year to year and place to place. They may turn up anywhere there is good cone crop.
Crossbills are best known for their unusual bill shape: The tips of the mandibles cross. This unique and highly specialized adaptation enables crossbills to pry open evergreen cones to extract the seeds. A crossbill can insert its bill between a cone's scales, spread them apart and lift out the seeds with its tongue.
It is fun watching a feeding flock of crossbills as they seem to enjoy clambering around the tops of conifer trees, often hanging upside-down as they feed among the cones. And they are readily attracted to pishing noises made by birders.
Many flocks of common redpolls, totaling 238 birds, were seen on the count feeding on birch seeds in the field and thistle seed at area feeders. According to Tom Carpenter, once redpolls deplete their Arctic birch and willow seed supplies, these sprightly northern finches migrate southward into any area with ample seeds – old fields, grassy roadsides, forest thickets, and your yard. Redpolls arrive in a swarm of happy energy, each bird handsome with red cap, black chin, gray striping, and rosy pink wash on the breast.
The black-capped chickadee continues to be the most numerous bird counted, as it has been during the 48-year history of the Fifield-Park Falls CBC, with 606 seen this year.
Wild turkeys have become more numerous in the count area since 2004 with a record 198 tallied this year compared to 100 counted in both 2011 and 2010.
This year is only the fifth time in the 48-year history of the local count that the Canada goose has been recorded – 126 were seen this year. Of those, 120 were feeding in a field and six were swimming on the North Fork of the Flambeau River below Pixley Dam. The mild winter so far has kept large water areas open, especially below dams, allowing some geese to remain in the area until waters freeze up.
Only two American bald eagles were tallied this year compared to six last year. A few days before the count, Bob Kleinschmidt observed some interesting bald eagle behavior on Wintergreen Lake. He observed a bald eagle repeatedly diving at the ice apparently trying to catch fish it could see through the clear lake ice. It was unsuccessful as the ice was too thick to break.
The results of the Fifield-Park Falls CBC will be published in the Wisconsin Society for Ornithology’s “The Passenger Pigeon” and placed on the National Audubon Society’s website.
The Fifield-Park Falls CBC is part of a greater effort by the National Audubon Society initiated in 1900 to monitor the health and distribution of resident and winter birds across the Western Hemisphere.
Now in its 113th year, the National Audubon Society CBC is larger than ever, expanding its geographical range and accumulating valuable scientific data about the winter distributions of various bird species. This work is vital in monitoring the status and health of resident and migratory birds across the Western Hemisphere. Over 100 CBC counts are conducted in Wisconsin each year.
The data, 100 percent volunteer generated, have become a crucial part of the U.S. government’s natural history monitoring database critical to understanding the health of our bird populations. Count results from 1900 to the present are available through Audubon’s website at www.audubon.org/bird/cbc.
Tom Nicholls of the Fifield Nature Education Center and Kathy Kascewicz of Fifield organized the local CBC. They thank the field workers and feeder watchers who took part in this year’s count: Mary Lou Nicholls, John, Dave, and Mary Boettcher, Jean and Chris Olson, Linda Bukachek, Carol McLaughlin, Linda Parker, Tristan Krause, Gayle Stangle, Larry Wollner, Bob Roach, John Severt, Jackie Severt, Dorothy Hasse, Joanne Michalski, Sherry Ryther, Jim Roberts, Camille Olson, Steve and Elizabeth Hoecker, Sandy Lentz, Bob Kleinschmidt, Sujata and Todd Wegner, Brett and Ann Tully, Jayne Wade, Linn Plummer, Dawn Leduc, Jan Olejniczak, Carol Ocker, and Bob Roach.
A few of the birds
Common redpolls: In winter, common redpolls often migrate south from Canada in search of food. They feed primarily on birch and willow seed in the field, but can be attracted to bird thistle feeders in large numbers. Several flocks of these birds totaling 238 were seen in the field and at area bird feeders during the annual Fifield-Park Falls Audubon Bird Count.
Pine grosbeaks: This winter, pine grosbeaks have migrated south from Canada into northern Wisconsin in large numbers in search of food. They were seen eating sunflower seeds at area feeders and berries on fruit trees and shrubs.
Evening grosbeaks: High numbers of evening grosbeaks moved south from Canada into northern Wisconsin earlier this year in search of food due to wide-spread failure of their normal food supplies in the far north. Twenty of these colorful birds were seen on this year’s Fifield-Park Falls Bird Count, although many times that number were seen earlier at area feeders before they dispersed to other areas.