For birding ventures, January was a month of extremes. A month after participants on the New Year’s walk on Gooseberry endured arctic chill, waterfowl surveyors embarked on count two of the 31st annual winter waterfowl survey in rather balmy conditions similar to last January. The bitter cold stretch did leave its mark, causing slightly higher remnant ice coverage this time around. The biggest difference however, were rainy conditions that caused some visibility issues for larger sites. But compared to the December count, tides were lower and many birds were highly visible out in the open at close range, so all was not lost. Only light rain, mild temperatures, and no wind, made for actually comfortable birding conditions overall.
Numbers declined by 1,534 to 5,536 total birds, the lowest January total in four years. Like last January, the big decline was for Canada Goose which also had the lowest total since 2014. In addition to some geese possibly being missed, due to the decreased visibility if they were hidden in distant shoreline coves, many again were surely up grazing in fields or perhaps in local parks, where freshwater was available and human feeding stations existed. If not always abundant in our estuaries, all indications are that the Canada Geese population remains super strong. The high count for geese occurred at Long Pond (345). American Wigeon and Mallards were also down considerably. Mallards likely had plenty of freshwater and feeding stations like the geese further inland, while wigeon, the dabbler most likely to leave water to graze on vegetation, likely had found other places to graze. This is quite a difference from early January when estuaries were all frozen, and many ducks were in mixed flocks concentrated out in the open bay, outside our survey area (see photo).
The big increase, like last January, was for black ducks, although this was a large increase, the highest number observed since 2012. Highest numbers occurred on the west branch (345) of the Westport River, a highly used site by the species. The migratory population of black ducks is going strong, and these coastal systems are critical to the species. The west branch had the high count for Bufflehead (190) as well, another species doing quite well and showing no major shift from last January. Again, Briggs Marsh had the highest total waterfowl (952), including by far the peak for swans (395), and a few Northern Shoveler, which depicts the diversity at the site. Round Pond also had small numbers of Ring-necked Ducks and Redheads, two relatively uncommon diver species. Sites with next highest numbers were the west branch of the Westport River which included high numbers of Northern Pintail (190), and the Slocums River which featured a very high count of Common Goldeneye (220), a diver continuously abundant at the site in January. The Let, Allens Pond, and Long Pond also had over 400 birds.
We thank the volunteers as always which continuously assist on this ongoing survey!
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