June 20, 2018
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High bird count, rare find in Star City

By Jen Lynds, BDN Staff

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — While the annual Christmas Bird Count in the Presque Isle area didn’t net any new species this year, counters did note its second-highest number of birds ever and produced record-high counts for two species in particular — snow buntings and Bohemian waxwings.

The count took place Jan. 2.

Bill Sheehan, Presque Isle Christmas BIRD count compiler, said Thursday that a near-record 19 field observers spread out over the count circle and tallied birds before blizzardlike conditions drove them from the field. There was about 1 foot of snow on the ground at the time of the count, Sheehan said.

The Presque Isle count is the northernmost one in the eastern United States, and this was the 52nd time this particular count has been run.

Each year, Maine Audubon calls on birders to cover different pieces of its 176-square-mile Christmas count circle, checking every field and patch of woods for birds. The count reveals scientific information on winter distributions of bird species as well as the overall health of the environment, according to the Maine Audubon Web site. The count, which is 100 percent volunteer-generated, has become a crucial part of the government’s natural history monitoring database.

During the Presque Isle count, Sheehan said 35 species were found — exactly the 10-year average for this count — and 4,474 birds were tallied. Sheehan said the count had the highest total of birds since 1993 and the second-highest tally ever.

“This was a bit of a surprise considering the apparent low numbers of birds seen prior to the count,” he said. “A record-setting count of 2,342 snow buntings comprised well over half of the individuals tallied for the whole count. A total of 412 Bohemian waxwings also broke the previous record set just last year at 270.”

Sheehan pointed out that another notable find was a melanistic black-capped chickadee. A melanistic bird is one that is substantially darker than normal individuals.

“These are about 10 times more rare than albinos,” he said Thursday.

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