Thousands of Waterfowl Highlight Area Christmas Bird Counts

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Thousands of waterfowl were counted in area Christmas Bird Counts this year before the Arctic blast hit Christmas Day, according to John McKee of the Starved Rock Audubon Society.

“Probably the most unusual waterfowl was at Hennepin Hopper Lakes. We counted 451 tundra swans. And we also had six trumpeter swans, which are becoming less unusual. They were at Swan Lake, which was appropriate,” McKee said.

The society held the Hennepin count Dec. 15, which includes Hennepin and Hopper lakes, and found 82 species, a record high for the 16 years of this count, McKee said. Volunteers counted 11,492 mallards, 4,852 Canada geese and 1,801 greater white-fronted geese.

“The Hennepin count gave us the most interesting stuff because it was still warm at that point and the weather hadn’t turned too bad yet,” McKee said.

Lingering late migrants included one eastern phoebe, four sandhill cranes, one gray catbird and one Harris’s sparrow, he said.

A week later, volunteers held the 49th annual count centered at Starved Rock State Park. Volunteers counted 11,607 common grackles, a species of blackbird.

“Probably the most unusual thing was a towhee. Six pelicans but pelicans have become pretty common. They were in backwaters of the canal over by La Salle. A nice flock of cedar waxwings, 25 of those,” McKee said.

The count on Jan. 1 at Illini State Park was a different story.

“The high temp that day was minus 6,” McKee said. “We had 53 species which is about average, maybe just a tad below average.”

The warm weather in the December counts produced scant numbers of horned larks. After the cold blast and snow, hundreds were tallied on the Illini count, McKee said.

At feeders, pine siskins were numerous.

“This has been a year of pine siskins, big time. We’ve had more than 100 at our feeders and have had for weeks,” said McKee of Ottawa. “There are hordes of them.”

The counts attracted about a dozen volunteers, which is about average, he said.

The National Audubon Society holds its Christmas Bird Counts Dec. 14 through Jan. 5 in the Americas. Within each count’s 15-mile diameter circle, volunteers tally numbers and species of birds they find in one day. Audubon and other organizations use the count data to assess bird populations and to guide conservation.

Last year, there were 2,536 counts held in Canada, the United States, Latin America, the Caribbean and Pacific Islands.

Source: News Tribune