70th Annual NYML CBC

The 70th annual Ulster County Mohonk Lake/Ashokan Reservoir (NYML) Audubon Christmas Bird Count (CBC) was conducted on December 14, 2019 under very challenging field conditions. Fifty-one participants in sixteen field parties encountered a total of 10,711 individuals representing 75 species, plus five additional count week species.

Extremely dense fog and rain showers persisted throughout the count day, severely limiting visibility. Mild air temperatures (35- 48 degrees F) and mostly exposed ground and open water provided little incentive for birds to congregate. Species diversity was three species below our ten-year average of 78/year and twelve shy of our all-time record high 87 species recorded in 2017.  Total abundance was well below our ten-year average of 13,897 individuals and less than half our record high 22,307 in 2017. Birds that typically flock in large numbers and have a great influence on the abundance number (geese, crows, starlings, robins, etc.) were difficult to detect and account for this year with the abysmal conditions.

Despite the visual impediments, there were numerous highlights and several record-setting observations. Two Marsh Wrens were seen in Harcourt Sanctuary in New Paltz, representing a new species to the count composite and advancing our historical cumulative to 148 species. Also noteworthy for this count circle, a Barn Owl was heard in Cottekill for only our second historical record, previously encountered on this CBC in 1953! A field party surveying for sparrows in open farmland habitat inadvertently flushed a Short-eared Owl from a patch of tall cover crop, representing our second count record for this species previously recorded only during the count week period in 1985. One Northern Saw-whet Owl was heard within this year’s count week period, but not on count day.

Two species of shorebirds lingered in the count circle, a Killdeer seen in Stone Ridge (6th record), and a Wilson’s Snipe flushed from pondside vegetation in High Falls (5th count record). A total of 14 Red-headed Woodpeckers were found dispersed over multiple locations, a remarkable increase compared to our previous high of 7 recorded last year and our recent ten-year average of 1.9 individuals/year. Northern Flickers were also encountered in remarkably high numbers, establishing a new high count of 77 compared to 47 in 2017 and a ten-year average of 20/year.

New record high counts were also established for Field Sparrow (13, eclipsing 12 in 2018), White-throated Sparrow (1,029 / 984 in 2017), and Song Sparrow (234 / 222 in 2017). Four widely-dispersed Merlins tied our previous high count from 2016, and three Gray Catbirds tied a previous high count from 1967. Four Ruby-crowned Kinglets, five Hermit Thrushes, four Yellow-rumped Warblers, two Fox Sparrows, and a single Eastern Towhee were detected on count day. Red-winged Blackbirds (90), Common Grackles (82), and Brown-headed Cowbirds (10) were present in small numbers, and a total of 120 Carolina Wrens was just one shy of our previous record-high count.

Irruptive winter finches were non-existent, and poor visibility influenced an unremarkable tally of waterfowl, with Ashokan Reservoir completely engulfed in dense fog and effectively eliminating any chance of documenting loons, grebes, or most species of diving ducks. The absence of both vultures and Wild Turkey on count day was also likely a consequence of the limited visibility and unfavorable flying conditions, with Black Vulture and Wild Turkey documented during the count week period. Horned Larks (11) and Snow Buntings (16) were found at just one agricultural site; Belted Kingfishers (5) and Great Blue Herons (5) were widely scattered throughout the count area. No species detected on this year’s survey were encountered in record-low numbers.

Follow this link for the full report along with a table of count results. The table summarizes the count results by sector, followed by area descriptions with observer and effort information. Asterisks indicate unusual species for this count circle, “cw” indicates a count-week only species. Thanks to all of the field participants and feeder watchers (FW) for excellent coverage and another great effort under adverse
conditions, and a special thanks again this year to Kyla Haber, Mark DeDea, and everyone that helped with preparing the food and facilities for our post-count compilation at Hasbrouck Park in Kingston. Next year’s Mohonk Lake/Ashokan
Reservoir CBC is scheduled for the traditional first Saturday of the count period, December 19, 2020.

Steve M. Chorvas
Mohonk Lake/Ashokan Reservoir CBC Compiler

SAVE THE DATE – The 2020 Mohonk Lake-Ashokan Reservoir CBC is scheduled for Saturday, December 19, 2020.