THOMASTON, Maine — What better way to spend a few days before Christmas than to go tramping through snowy fields with binoculars in hand to catch sight of a red-tailed hawk or a red-bellied woodpecker?
That’s a pleasure Camden residents Kristen Lindquist and her husband, Paul Dorian, have enjoyed for almost 15 years on the annual Christmas Bird Count for the Audubon Society.
“This may have been one of the coldest Christmas Counts I’ve ever done, but it was as fun as ever,” she wrote in an e-mail Saturday afternoon after a day in the field.
The Unity area Christmas Bird Count took place on Dec. 15.
From Dec. 14 through Jan. 5, tens of thousands of volunteers throughout North and South America take part in an adventure that has become a family tradition among generations. Bird counters on a given day break up into sections and circles to take a bird census and report the results to the National Audubon Society head-quarters.
There are eight sections in the Thomaston-Rockland Circle, which encompasses 15 miles in an area that includes Rockland, Thomaston, South Thomaston, Owls Head and St. George.
On Saturday, Lindquist and her companions, including Dorian, Ron Joseph, Brian Willson and Diane Ober, “birded” a section of the Thomaston-Rockland Count that included the Rockland Breakwater and Samoset Resort, Clam Cove, Chickawaukie Lake, and other areas between Rockland and Thomaston. “We had 45 species in our section, which included five species seen by Kirk Gentalen from the Vinalhaven ferry, and two species seen by Don Reimer as he happened to be driving by Chickawaukie Lake later in the day,” Lindquist said. “While that number is high for our section, individual bird numbers seemed low, and we had no irruptive species or unusual gulls.”
An irruptive species is one that shows a sudden significant spike in numbers.
Observers in the 2008 Thomaston-Rockland Christmas Bird Count identified 73 species and 6,667 individual birds in the area, compared with spotting 67 species and 6,576 individual birds for the area in 2007, according to tallies for both years.
While more species were noted, overall there were fewer individuals per species. Lindquist attributed the discrepancy to the recent cold, blustery weather.
Temperatures for the 2008 count averaged between 7 and 19 degrees Fahrenheit, said head compiler Don Reimer in the group’s report. On Dec. 15, 2007, when last year’s count was held, temperatures ranged between 10 and 19 degrees. The temperatures did not include wind chill factors.
“Last year there were 513 bohemian waxwings, and none this year,” Lindquist said. “I just think they don’t like the cold and went to a warmer climate.”
The Unity Christmas Bird Count on Dec. 15 took place under mostly cloudy skies, with an inch of old snow, blustery wind and temperatures warming from 4 degrees at midnight to a gentle rain after dark, primary compiler Dave Potter said in an e-mail.
The count circle covered Unity, Troy, Thorndike, Freedom, Albion, Unity Plantation, Burnham, Benton and Clinton.
Preliminary numbers indicate 25 birders reported 48 species, Potter said. The species count included no birds new to the list. A single mallard was the only waterfowl, as the lakes and ponds were frozen.
White-winged and red crossbills, which are unusual for the Unity count, were noted by several observers this year, Potter said. Red-breasted nuthatches were more numerous than most years, and seven American robins were noted, not unusual despite the cold with so little snow on the ground, he said.
Each of the “citizen scientists” who brave snow, wind or rain to take part in the Christmas Bird Count make an enormous contribution to conservation, according to the National Audubon Web site. Audubon and other organizations use data collected in this longest-running wildlife census to assess the health of bird populations and to help guide conservation action.
The Christmas Bird Count for Pemaquid-Damariscotta is scheduled for Saturday, Dec. 27 (for information contact Joe Gray, 563-3578); and the North Penobscot Bay count is scheduled for Saturday, Jan. 3 (for information contact Scott Hall, 338-4069).