The 72nd annual Ulster County Mohonk Lake/Ashokan Reservoir (NYML) Audubon Christmas Bird Count (CBC) was conducted on December 18, 2021 under challenging weather conditions. A total of 54 participants (47 field observers and 7 feeder watchers) in 19 field parties encountered a total of 17, 670 individuals representing 83 species, plus five additional count week species. For historical context, diversity was five species above our ten-year average, and total abundance was up 3,865 individuals. Participation was also above average this year, approaching if not exceeding a record high effort. Our all-time high count for this circle is 87 species and 22,307 individuals, both recorded in 2017.
Overall, most species were present in near average numbers, with a few noteworthy exceptions. Several field parties reported large flocks of American Robins, difficult to accurately count as they foraged on an exceptional abundance of berries. Our final conservative tally of 5,949 individuals sets a new record high while greatly surpassing our previous high count of 3,504 in New record high counts were also established for Bufflehead (11, compared to 8 in 2018), Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (46, eclipsing 40 in 2017, 20 avg.), Hermit Thrush (16, eclipsing 13 in 2017, 6.6 avg.), American Pipit (138, greatly surpassing 41 in 2015), and Yellow-rumped Warbler (28, double our previous high count of 14 in 2017).
Four Northern Pintail (4th occurrence), one Peregrine Falcon (6th), three Chipping Sparrows (7th), and three Gadwall (8th) are unusual species for this count, with few previous records. Three additional unusual species were encountered during the count week period, three days before or three days after count day. A count week Palm Warbler represents a first record for the historical count composite, Golden Eagle (previously one in 2017 and 1998), and Cackling Goose (4th occurrence) were also found during the count week.
Roving flocks of Canada Geese and ubiquitous American Crows were diminished or inactive this year, each amounting to less than half their current ten-year averages. Personally, over more than four decades of participation in various CBCs, I can not recall ever going all day without seeing or hearing an American Crow, encountering just two individuals very late in the day in waning light. Birds that typically flock in large numbers have a significant influence on our total abundance number, and this year the impressive flocks of robins effectively balanced the lack of geese and crows.
There were no new record low counts, and no particular species stands out as a bad miss, with all of the expected species detected this year. Common Loon, Rough-legged Hawk, Great Black-backed Gull, and Eastern Meadowlark are species previously encountered in at least twenty or more years that were not detected this year. Ruffed Grouse (46 past years) and Evening Grosbeak (34 years) were also missed, but are no longer expected on this count.
Environmental conditions can best be described as wet and dreary with low visibility on count day, and exceptionally mild with no hard freezing or snowfall during the weeks prior to the count. Temperatures were relatively mild (34 – 39 °F), changing little throughout the day. Early morning provided the best surveying conditions, with no wind or precipitation under heavy overcast skies. Light rain with occasional sleet and mist moved in by late morning and persisted for the duration of the count day. There was no snow cover, and all bodies of water were open with moderate flow rates, providing little incentive for birds to congregate, with most feeders attracting relatively little activity.
Mark DeDea noted his field party “had a very unusual day but I don’t know if I could blame it on the weather, we just missed congregations of birds with the exception of American Robins. Frustratingly, more than 200 waterfowl observed on Williams Lake last week, including a pintail, Green-winged Teal, and 90 Ring-necked Ducks, were reduced to 7 birds on count day! Aside from the incredible numbers of robins, we enjoyed the most Hermit Thrushes (8) I’ve ever encountered on a CBC, including one singing!”
Lynn and Allan Bowdery noted “it was a strange count this year. There were very few active bird feeders, possibly accounting for the low numbers of feeder birds (no House Sparrows! One Mourning Dove!) and an unusually heavy crop of all sorts of berries. The light rain, low light, and later rising mist made for difficult viewing. Robins were probably undercounted, although we did our best to count them as they moved about in large groups in vine-draped trees or junipers. We did find one Red-headed Woodpecker in a marsh on Plutarch Road, as well as one in the usual Weston Road marsh. Large areas seemed devoid of birds.”
Follow this link for the full report along with a table of count results. The following 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 to the sector leaders for recruiting and organizing their field parties and submitting their data in a timely manner. Hopefully we can return to the tradition of more inclusive field parties and a post-count compilation in the near future. Next year’s Mohonk Lake/Ashokan Reservoir CBC is scheduled for the traditional first Saturday of the CBC count period, December 17, 2022.
Steve M. Chorvas
Mohonk Lake/Ashokan Reservoir CBC Compiler
SAVE THE DATE – The 2022 Mohonk Lake-Ashokan Reservoir CBC is scheduled for Saturday, December 17, 2022.