The 52nd annual Martha’s Vineyard Christmas Bird Count was held on Monday, Jan. 2. The weather was less than ideal. While the temperatures were warm, between 40 and 52 degrees, a westerly wind was brutal, a steady 15-20 miles per hour with frequent gusts up to 35 miles per hour. We recorded 21,787 individuals of 120 species.
The following highlights of this year’s count are based on a comparison with the historic count results. While the count has been conducted annually since 1960, in 1980 it was expanded to cover the entire Island, including Chappaquiddick and Aquinnah. Since then the effort put into each count has remained fairly constant.
Sixty-four intrepid field observers were divided into 12 field teams, each with an assigned part of the Vineyard where they counted all the birds they could find. An additional 14 people monitored their bird feeders.
The 120 species we found is almost exactly the average number of species observed since 1980. While this is the highest species total we have had in the last four years, between 1994 and 2007 we almost always observed 121-130 species.
We counted 21,787 individual birds, slightly less than half of our average since 1980. All the field teams reported that birds were scarce and hard to find this year.
We only counted 15,926 individuals last year, so we have been well below average for two consecutive years. This is the fifth lowest total count we have had since 1980, with the lower counts generally being associated with bad weather. The strong winds we experienced may qualify as bad weather, reducing the counts of both land and seabirds.
As might be expected with low numbers of individuals and species, we did not see some species that we often find. The most notable are: wood ducks, northern pintail (last miss 1968), northern bobwhite, killdeer, and Wilson’s snipe.
Two species of crows provided one of the highlights of this year’s count. We counted 2,000 American crows, which is almost 10 per cent of all the birds we found. Three quarters of these crows were found in one large nocturnal roost in Oak Bluffs. Only four other counts have recorded more crows, with a high count of 4,700 in 2003.