Winter Waterfowl Count

On Sunday February 3, 2008, Lloyd Center staff, scientists and volunteer surveyors completed the second count for this season’s annual winter waterfowl survey, from the Sakonnet River in Rhode Island to Apponagansett Bay in Dartmouth.

This year’s total of 7,073 birds in our estuaries and coastal ponds surpasses the December total of 6,208. This is the usual trend, with some interesting contrasts in migratory behavior between more common species that results in the higher mid-winter numbers.

Common Goldeneye and Canada Goose both tend to increase in numbers as winter progresses, but their breeding ranges correspond to differing migration schedules and routes.

Goldeneye start migrating later and fly in from wetlands as far as Alaska, such that arrival to our estuaries occurs later in the season. For Canada Geese, many late autumn birds are resident year-round and have simply ‘dispersed’ from nearby inland areas to our estuaries when ice forms. From that time onward, numbers increase gradually as true migrants from the north add to our in-state population.

When we compare this latest survey (7,073 birds) to last year’s same mid-winter count held on January 28, 2007 (5,048 birds) in terms of overall numbers, we saw significantly less ice cover this year, which helped boost total numbers.

Regarding changes in species abundance, more than half of the 21 species showed at least a slight surge from a year ago. The always common Bufflehead showed the highest increase of all waterfowl. Hooded Mergansers, a less abundant diving duck, had higher numbers than usual. The area with highest concentration was the east branch of the Westport River below Hix Bridge (738 birds), where Canada Geese and Bufflehead were most numerous.

While no rare birds were seen, the pair of White-winged Scoters (the largest member of the Scoter family) on the Slocum River is notable, since only 22 records of the species exist for this survey. Surf Scoters are the most commonly seen member of the family, and often visible in high numbers in Padanaram Harbor.

In progress is a summation of all winter waterfowl data from 1988-2007; this more detailed report will be completed in the coming months.