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Christmas Count spots 40 species

January 23, 2019
By JUSTIN A. LEVINE - Outdoors Writer ( , Lake Placid News

SARANAC LAKE - The annual Audubon Society Christmas Bird Count took place late last month, and although a few species of expected birds were not seen, volunteers counted 40 species during the course of the event.

The CBC is in its 63rd year in the Tri-Lakes, and is organized by Larry Master. Master said in an email that 35 species were spotted during the one-day count, and another five were noted during the six-day count period that takes place for three days before and three days after the official count, which took place on Dec. 29.

"We finished the count with 35 species plus five more (black-backed woodpecker, northern shrike, tree sparrow, bohemian waxwing, & red crossbill) seen during 'count period' (three days on either side of count day)," Master wrote. "Highlights include northern goshawk, brown thrasher, three bald eagles, two Canada geese, and nine common mergansers. The biggest 'misses' were evening grosbeak (seen 39 of the previous 43 years) and pine siskin (seen 35 of the previous 43 years)."

Article Photos

Larry Master took this photo of a ruffed grouse during the 63rd annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count on Dec. 29.
Photo — Larry Master,

A total of 46 volunteers participated in the CBC this year, along with a couple people who watched bird feeders. Typically, crews of several people are assigned particular areas in the Vermontville, Saranac Lake and Lake Placid areas, and crews may walk or drive, counting the total number of birds they see along the way.

Walkers spent more than 45 hours in the field, covering a distance of more than 50 miles, while people driving tallied 52 hours and almost 482 miles covered. Some brave souls also spent a few hours in non-motorized boats, covering 10 miles. In total, the volunteers put in more than 100 hours of observation and covered a distance of 542.1 miles.

Master said that a lack of mast crop - seeds from conifer trees - led to a relatively low number of some types of birds.

"Predictably, there was no mast crop of conifer and other seeds this winter and so the combined numbers of crossbills, purple finches, siskins, and goldfinches was predictably very low (12)," Master wrote. "In a mast crop year, almost invariably every other year, the numbers of these five species would be two orders of magnitude (100-300 fold) higher. Assuming we have a cone crop, next year's count should see a return to many more species and individuals."

He added that one species which was expected to be seen - redpolls - was absent for the fourth year in a row.

"Redpolls have been a mostly-every-other-year species on this count for decades, with few exceptions," Master said. "But for the first time since the 1970's, we have now gone four years in a row with no redpolls. We once went three years in a row with no redpolls in the early 80's."

The bird count is a methodical snapshot of what the local bird population is on a certain day. Although it's called the Christmas count, local organizers are given leeway to hold it on any day toward the end of the year. The count is organized at a local level, but is part of a much larger national effort by the Audubon Society.

There are really two parts to the bird count: one where groups or individuals prowl certain areas looking for birds, and another where people can count the number and kind of birds that come to backyard feeders.

Volunteers this year spotted some common birds such as black-capped chickadees (807), ravens (49), blue jays (65) and red-breasted nuthatches (91). Also spotted this year were 10 gray jays, three boreal chickadees, pine grosbeaks (131), ruffed grouse (four), turkeys (116) and downy (29), hairy (39), pileated (eight) and black-backed woodpeckers.

Also spotted were white-breasted nuthatches (54), 138 American crows, a single tufted titmouse, 30 dark-eyed juncos, seven northern cardinals, a barred owl and almost four dozen mourning doves. Waterfowl were prevalent during the count, with Canada geese (two), black ducks (one), mallards (455) and hooded (seven) and common (nine) mergansers seen.

To learn more about the Christmas Bird Count on the national level, go to



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