“Where were all the birds?” That question was the overall impression of both field participants and feeder watchers in the 2004 Martha’s Vineyard Christmas Bird Count, held on Thursday, December 30, 2004. It was the third straight count with nearly ideal weather for finding and counting birds, with temperatures near 400F, clear skies (at least in the afternoon), virtually no wind and flat calm oceans. We had 2 to 4 inches of covering most of the ground, which is unusual for our count. Despite the seemingly ideal conditions, songbirds seemed to be particularly scarce this year.
After last year’s count with ideal weather produced new highs for species seen on any one count (130) and new highs for 33 different species, it is almost disappointing for the birds to be so scarce this year. Only 120 species were found despite the favorable viewing conditions. This year’s total is almost exactly the average number of species observed on out count since 1980. And it is only slightly higher than the 116 species observed on the 2002 count, even though that year also had nearly ideal winter birding weather. Except for fog and severe storms, maybe the weather on count day does not have a great impact on the number of species observed.
We counted 71,067 individuals this year, which is the third highest count ever. But the vast majority (84%) of the birds we counted (59,833 individuals) were waterfowl (27 species); the remaining 93 species totaled only 16% of the birds counted (11,234 individuals). These percentages are remarkably similar to the scarcity of the 2002 count (85% waterfowl, 15% everything else) and they differ markedly from the record 2003 count (68% waterfowl, 32% everything else).
For the first time in a number of years we did not observe any species that has not been seen on our count before.
Only two species are noteworthy. While this is the tenth time we have observed common redpolls (out of 45 counts since 1960), it is the first time that this erruptive northern finch has been observed in consecutive years. And this was the sixth time a vesper sparrow has been observed – but this sparrow of open fields and pastures was observed (and subsequently photographed) at a feeder in a mostly wooded yard. The snow cover undoubtedly forced it out of the nearby agricultural fields.
Four species were more abundant than on any of our counts since 1960 (contrasting to the 33 species that set new highs on the 2003 count). One flock of 9 red knots slightly surpasses the previous high of 8 individuals. And three Iceland gulls slightly surpass the previous high of two individuals. Red-winged blackbirds set a new high of 72 individuals; the previous high was 63. Only the tufted titmouse increased dramatically, with 28 individuals counted. This 460 percent increase (the previous high was 5 individuals) shows that this species is finally becoming widespread after its recent colonization of the Vineyard.
As further documentation that scarcity is the theme of this year’s count, seven species were scarcer this year than they have been on any count since 1980 and one species tied its previous low. These eight species are out of the 65 species that have been observed on every count since 1980 (when count effort increased substantially). These eight species are listed in the following table.
TABLE 1. The eight species that set or tied new lows on the 2004 count.
The final results of the 2004 count are shown below.