Yesterday, Sunday, 20 December, was the 2015 Queens County Christmas Bird Count. With the mild weather we had been experiencing we had high hopes for some good birds and we were not disappointed. I covered the western section of the Rockaways which mostly consists of trying to find birds on the ocean, the beach, and the bays. We did not have a great day on the coast: we missed Surf Scoter, only had three Sanderling, and didn’t get anything particularly rare at all. Fortunately, other sectors of the count made up for the lackluster coastal sightings and the compilation dinner was full of fun surprises!

For those who don’t know, Christmas Bird Count compilation dinners usually involve the compiler for the count, in this case me, going through each species on the checklist. Each group yells out the number of each species seen. In our case, thanks to some clever spreadsheet and computer work by Nancy Tognan and Arie Gilbert from the Queens County Bird Club, we had the running tally of species seen projected up on a big screen. Once the expected birds listed on the checklist are exhausted we move to additions and, in this case, we had a whopping ten additional species! Clapper Rail,  American White Pelican, Snowy Owl, Cackling Goose, Blue-winged Teal, Bald Eagle, Lark Sparrow, Clay-colored Sparrow, Pine Warbler, and Turkey Vulture are all good birds for the count. The Blue-winged Teal, Bald Eagle, and Cackling Goose were stake-out birds, the pelicans had disappeared a couple of weeks ago and were only refound on the day of the count, and the Clapper Rail, Turkey Vultures, Lark Sparrow, Snowy Owl, and Clay-colored Sparrow were all total surprises. Our total species count was 119, a good total for Queens, but I want to see what we can get with a good rarity day combined with a good ocean day. 130 is certainly not out of the question!

Anyway, I went out this morning to get some of the rarities found in Flushing Meadow-Corona Park yesterday and managed to clean them up with very little effort which is definitely my kind of birding. Enjoy!

Queens CBC Lark Sparrow

The Lark Sparrow was found by our sweeper team of Cesar Castillo, Carrie Laben, and David Ringer.

Queens CBC Clay-colored Sparrow

This Clay-colored Sparrow was, amazingly enough, in the same flock of Dark-eyed Juncos as the Lark Sparrow! (Update: more photos of this intriguing bird are at the bottom of this post.)

Queens CBC Pine Warbler

This Pine Warbler was too!

Queens CBC Great Cormorant

I actually photographed this Great Cormorant yesterday, during the count. Why? Because it was about three in the afternoon and it was the first coromorant I had seen all day. That is nuts.

Queens CBC Cackling Geese

Oddly, on count day we only found one of the two Cackling Geese that have been around Flushing Meadows-Corona Park. Also odd was that it was on Willow Lake instead of on Meadow Lake where they usually are, and where I found them this morning.

Queens CBC Bald Eagles

We found three Bald Eagles for the count, but only one of the Willow Lake birds and it was at Meadow Lake. Maybe that’s what made the Cackling Goose choose to hang out at Willow Lake? Here are the Bald Eagles where they’ve been spending their time, at Willow Lake.

Queens CBC Lark Sparrow 2

I can’t resist including one more shot of the Lark Sparrow because it is gorgeous, unexpected, and awesome. That makes for a great CBC bird!

I hope that your Christmas Bird Count goes as well as mine did…and if you already had yours how did it go?

Some folks think that the Clay-colored Sparrow might actually be a Brewer’s Sparrow, which would be a pretty amazing bird to have on the Queens count. I’ve added more photos below.

sparrow from cbc 3

sparrow from cbc 2

sparrow from cbc

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Written by Corey
Corey is a New Yorker who lived most of his life in upstate New York but has lived in Queens since 2008. He's only been birding since 2005 but has garnered a respectable life list by birding whenever he wasn't working as a union representative or spending time with his family. He lives in Forest Hills with Daisy, their son, Desmond Shearwater, and their indoor cat, B.B. His bird photographs have appeared on the Today Show, in Birding, Living Bird Magazine, Bird Watcher's Digest, and many other fine publications. He is also the author of the American Birding Association Field Guide to the Birds of New York.