By Roy Lukes, Green Bay Press-Gazette, January 8, 1986
We have just finished with our 28th consecutive “single most popular early winter bird continental inventory in the world,” better known as the Christmas Bird Count. In correspondence, we refer to it as the CBC. Had our Dec. 21 count been about a week earlier, as has been the case in recent years, I suspect we would have established a new record for our area.
After a briefing and bird review session on Dec. 11 several of us bird watchers went down to the shore of Baileys Harbor to scope the open water for ducks. Much to our satisfaction, we saw a common loon, horned grebe, redhead ducks, common mergansers, buffleheads, common goldeneyes, and oldsquaws. In just that period of about a half hour, we observed two species, the horned grebe and common loon, which were not seen on our big count 10 days later.
As it turned out, our CBC on Dec. 21 did turn up 46 species again, the same number achieved last year. Perhaps it is going to take more than the 60 participants in the count to break 50 species. This may already appear to be a lot of observers until you learn that 1,326 observers helped with the Millis Mass., CBC in 1984.
There were 41,377 observers who counted birds during the 1984 Christmas counts in North America, northern South America, Central America, Bermuda, and the West Indies. Together they account for 108,948,275 birds. Now comes the shocker. Approximately 53 million of those birds were red-winged blackbirds! And to think that we rarely see one of any of our CBCs in northern Door County.
One of these winters we hope to have an early count, plenty of migrant stragglers, many good counters, and ideal weather conditions so we can break that elusive 50 total. Our counters this year got nine species not seen on last year’s count. Add those to our 1984 number of 46 and you arrive at 55. The sad note is that we missed seeing nine species seen on the 1984 count!
The nine kinds seen this year but not last year were golden-crowned kinglet, pine grosbeak, common redpoll, brown creeper, brown thrasher, bald eagle, wood duck, tundra swan, and Townsend’s solitaire. The nine species seen on the 1984 count but not this year were robin, red-headed woodpecker, horned lark, northern harrier, great-horned owl, northern flicker, song sparrow, eastern phoebe, and northern mockingbird.
I’m thinking that there were five birds listed among the nine seen this year but not last that raised a few eyebrows – the brown thrasher, bald eagle, wood duck, tundra swan, and Townsend’s solitaire.
The thrasher has been coming to a feeder along Lime Kiln Road north of Baileys Harbor. Two different parties saw the mature bald eagle, but we have no way to know whether the people saw the same bird. Bruce and Jan Mielke saw theirs north of Sister Bay near state Highway 42 just south of County Trunk Z. Another was seen by John and Karen Wilson as it flew across North Bay from Gordon Lodge to Markshall’s Point.
The wood duck, a brilliantly colored male, has been seen regularly on a pond in Sister Bay, mingling peaceably with all the mallards and black ducks.
Several people excitedly called during the past few weeks to report a snow goose, mute swan, and whistling (tundra) swan. I strongly suspect, in that they were all from the Sister Bay area, they all saw the same bird, which actually is an immature tundra swan. (Note that this is the new official name for the whistling swan.) The bird can be seen regularly at Casperson’s Pond, especially during the late afternoon, which is when I photographed it there.
The swan is also a regular in the morning at the Country Walk Bake Shop in Sister Bay. Perhaps, like so many Americans, it too prefers doughnuts for breakfast! Being an immature bird it sports “dirty” white feathers, especially on the neck and head, and has some light orange coloring on its beak, which eventually will become black.
It was a thrill for Jim and Emily Hickey, and later for me, to add the Townsend’s solitaire to their life lists of birds. This rare creature to Wisconsin came to their year for a few weeks to eat the tiny crab apples on one of their ornamental trees. It was sighted by Jannette and Catherine McArdle in Baileys Harbor on the day of the count eating juniper berries next to their home.
Ordinarily, this western bird, about the size of a catbird, ranges east to the western borders of the Dakotas, but it is usually to be expected in very small numbers in Wisconsin during most winters.
Lee Traven, Carl Scholz, Mike Madden, and I made up one of the counting groups in the field on the CBC day, covering 83 miles by car and about four on foot. Of the 25 species we saw, by far the most exciting was not one rough-legged hawk but 18 of them. This set a record for us that perhaps will stand for quite a few years. Most of the birds were light-phase birds while about three or four were in the dark phase, so dark in fact that little to no white was visible in their tail feathers. Apparently, the extremely high mouse population is keeping these large northern buteos here.
The remaining 37 species seen on the CBC this year were American black duck, mallard, greater scaup, oldsquaw, bufflehead, common goldeneye, common merganser, rough-legged hawk, ruffed grouse, herring gull, rock dove, mourning dove, red-bellied woodpecker, downy woodpecker, hairy woodpecker, pileated woodpecker, blue jay, American crow, common raven, Black-capped chickadee, red-breasted nuthatch, white-breasted nuthatch, northern shrike, European starling, northern cardinal, American tree sparrow, dark-eyed junco, snow bunting, purple finch, ring-necked pheasant, Bohemian waxwing, and cedar waxwing.
If 46 species for a total count doesn’t excite you I suggest that you join the Canal Area of Panama for next December’s count. Last year the area led all accounts with 311 species!