Rare Hummingbird Sighting Highlights Local Audubon Christmas Bird Count

Jan 17, 2018
Photo by: Linda Gangi A rare sighting of an Allen’s hummingbird in Little Egg Harbor created excitement among local birders.

Winter seems like the wrong season to count birds – it’s cold and many birds have migrated south or are hiding deep in the woods behind snow banks.

The annual Audubon Christmas Bird count that goes on across the country is a tradition that started in 1900 in response to a senseless bird slaughter. Prior to the turn of the 20th century, at Christmastide hunters would engage in a competition to see how many birds and animals they could shoot. It was called the Christmas “Side-Hunt.”

Beginning on Christmas Day 1900, ornithologist Frank M. Chapman with the recently created Audubon Society proposed a new holiday tradition: a Christmas bird census to count birds rather than shoot them.

Over the years, the Christmas Bird Count held between Dec. 14 and Jan. 5 with birders from all over the country taking to the woods, fields and backyards has become one of the ways conservationists get a handle on the health of the nation’s birds.

This past December, 16 members of the Southern Ocean Bird Group participated in the 117th annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count on Dec. 16. The group covers the Tuckerton area, which originated with a single participant in 1967.

The Tuckerton count occurred continuously from 1967 through 1986, when it was discontinued. The count ran again in 2004 and 2005, but was halted once again. After the Southern Ocean Bird Group was organized in 2008, the group revived the Tuckerton count again in 2010, and has participated and organized the count since then. This year’s count was led by Linda Gangi and started an hour later than usual because of a dusting of snow and ice in the morning. Eventually the day warmed to 50 degrees, but counts were down a bit because of the delayed start and the frozen ponds.

The group ended with a total of 71 species, which is four species over the average since the count was reorganized in 2010. The most notable sighting was an Allen’s hummingbird. “It was far from its normal range,” said Gangi. “It breeds in California and migrates down to Central America, so as you can imagine it was very lost. It was quite a celebrity and hung around a private residence in Little Egg Harbor at their feeder until the blizzard.”

The bird was banded by David Lapuma, director of the Cape May Bird Observatory, said Gangi.

In addition to the hummingbird, the local group added five other new species to the list of birds not seen on the count since 2010: white-winged scoter, ruddy turnstone, fish crow, Wilson’s snipe and pine warbler. This was the fifth straight year that a great egret was seen on the Christmas count, mirroring its spread northward in recent years.

This year some species failed to appear on the count: tundra swan, canvasback, ruddy duck, Eastern meadowlark, Northern harrier and rough-legged hawk. But other changes in species are due to changes in populations. Black vultures have expanded their range north and are more common today; the CBC counted 11 on Dec. 16. However, the northern bobwhite, American kestral and ruffled grouse are rarer sights and were not found at all this year. Both the common loon and the red-throated loon have increased in number and while the boat-tailed grackle is holding its numbers (182 counted) the European starling’s population has exploded this year with 5,941 counted on the one day.

The absence of certain beach and ocean species such as piping plover, long-tailed duck, ruddy turnstone, red knot, snow bunting and horned grebe is largely due to the fact that the Tuckerton bird count no longer includes Holgate in its territory. The Urner Ornithology Club from Barnegat takes the count on all of Long Beach Island and Barnegat.

Rick Radis from the Urner Ornithology Club said their Christmas Bird Count taken on Dec. 31 was “surprisingly good.”

“We had 25 people in 10 groups including a Barnegat High School science teacher, Alex Majewski, and some of his students. The territory is a 15-mile circle.

“It was cold, the wind wasn’t friendly and the bay and freshwater sites were frozen, but that concentrated the ducks and waterfowl. We did well with 135 species sighted and good numbers, 45,000 birds.”

On the Island, volunteers concentrated their efforts on the two inlets, in Barnegat Light and Holgate. They counted five snowy owls: four in Holgate and one in Barnegat Light. “We had high numbers of black duck and brant. We saw all the (types of) mergansers, common eiders and harlequin ducks. The numbers of little birds were down, but that’s to be expected in such cold weather, and the hawks that eat the little birds were down, too.”

Chuck Kanupke was the area coordinator for the Christmas Bird Count in the Pinelands encompassing 2,200 square miles from Hammonton to Route 72 in Burlington County. The 22 volunteers counted 66 different species and 12,416 birds including 12 bald eagles, 21 red tail hawks and one raven on Dec. 17 and 18.

Pat Johnson



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