I have participated in something like twenty Christmas Bird Counts since I started birding in 2005. My first count was the Albany County Christmas Bird Count in December of 2005 and I can remember seeing Ruffed Grouse (that I flushed after slamming the car door in my excitement and newbie-ness), being extraordinarily bored when we had to count a very large mixed flock of Mallards and American Black Ducks, and having delicious, body-warming chili at the compilation dinner. Since that first count I have had lots of different roles in different counts from leading sectors as a last-minute stand-in to coming along for a few hours to help cover some turf. And now for two years I have been a compiler for the Queens County Christmas Bird Count, which is a whole other pile of headaches.
As a compiler I have two main goals. The first is to cover the turf with as many birders as possible. The second is to get an accurate account of species recorded, numbers of individuals seen, and effort exerted to record those birds. If I accomplish both of those goals and the weather cooperates then the count should do well. Fortunately, this year’s QCCBC had great, mild weather, a record fifty-three participants, and we tied our record for number of species seen with 124. Our count could have hit 130 with a little more luck but we missed some staked-out stuff – House Wren especially smarted because it had been seen the day before – and had some unexpected misses of which Ring-necked Pheasant was the worst because it can be found in at least four different sectors.
A Hermit Thrush at the Queens County Farm Museum was a nice find.
But I had a grand old time covering portions of other sectors with Cesar Castillo and we got some pretty good birds including two Pine Warblers, an Orange-crowned Warbler, and three Chipping Sparrows in Inland Flushing’s Turf, five Northern Pintails in Coastal Flushing’s turf (bailing out Donna, Carrie, and company), a whole bunch of blackbirds, cowbirds, and grackles in several places, and more pigeons, starlings, and Canada Geese than we really wanted to count. Add to that my early morning Eastern Screech-Owl at Cunningham Park (My first in Queens!) and I had a pretty good day. Even the late afternoon, when Cesar and I parted ways so he could try for the aforementioned House Wren after it had been missed earlier, was not without highlights as I led a trio of beginning birders around Cunningham Park and netted a flock of 78 Rusty Blackbirds. Not only that but it was nice to watch the sun set through the trees like in the picture at the top of the post.
The compilation dinner was a fun affair despite everyone being rather tired. We enjoyed pizza, razzed those who reported suspicious numbers of birds (like 501 or 298), groaned about our misses, and applauded our saves and unexpected birds. Fortunately, one of our two count-week Wilson’s Warblers was spotted, adding a new bird to the composite checklist, and we managed to get record-high counts for sixteen species.
After getting some feedback on this year’s count some things I plan to do to make next year even better include getting access to a projector for the computer for the compilation dinner so everyone can follow along with the compilation process better, try to find someone to lead a late morning walk at an accessible park for brand new birders who want to participate, and break some portions of sectors off to create at least one and possibly two new sectors for the count. After all, I want people to be able to follow along in terms of what is being reported at the dinner, I don’t want those who have been doing this for years and know where they have to go for what birds to be slowed down by birders who don’t know a Ring-billed Gull from a Ring-necked Duck, and we might as well make sure that each group can actually cover all of their turf.
So, who’s coming to participate in the Queens County Christmas Bird Count in 2015? We sure could use the help…