LEWISTON – Bird sightings were far below average in this year’s Christmas count, but birders aren’t predicting doom.
It’s the weather, said Stan DeOrsey, who coordinated the Stanton Bird Club’s Christmas Bird Count.
Eighteen volunteers covering a 15-mile circle around Bates College counted about 3,500 birds. The year before, the total count was nearly 6,800.
The warmer-than-usual winter has kept some migratory birds to the north, DeOrsey said.
For example, birders in the Lewiston-Auburn area saw no winter finches during the count on Dec. 16. The Canadian birds usually spend winters in Maine. The group also saw no blackbirds but they spied a lot of waterfowl, likely because of the open water on lakes, ponds and rivers.
However, some waterfowl numbers raised concerns. Birders counted 62 herring gulls, the lowest since the bird club joined the annual count in 1980, DeOrsey said. It noted 328 in 2005.
Birders also are seeing a decline in the number of American black ducks in the area. That species “is in trouble,” DeOrsey said. “We’re seeing fewer and fewer.”
Thirty-three were spotted in 2004; 18 in 2005 and 21 in 2006.
A highlight of the count was the sighting of a peregrine falcon on the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul in Lewiston. The birds were first spotted in town two years ago.
The Christmas Bird Count is an annual event sponsored by the National Audubon Society to gauge early-winter distribution patterns of bird species and the overall health of the environment.
Counters catalogue every bird and bird species they see over one calendar day from dawn to dusk. The national effort ended Friday.
In Maine, 10 groups counted birds between Dec. 16 and Dec. 18 in Lewiston-Auburn, Rangeley, Augusta, Waterville, Unity, Bath, Mount Desert Island, Blue Hill, Thomaston and Jonesport.
The Rangeley group – in its second-ever bird count – got no real surprises, said coordinator Jennifer Perry.
“All birds would be expected in Rangeley with the current conditions of a mild fall and open water,” she said Friday.
Rangeley and Mooselookmeguntic Lakes were open this year. Last year they were mostly frozen, she said.
She said a heavy crop of fir and spruce cones contributed to high counts of some species, including white-winged crossbill and American goldfinch.
However, other birds – common redpoll and evening grosbeak – were missing.
The group of nine volunteers, which recorded 34 species, had first-ever sightings of common goldeneye, bald eagle, barred owl, brown creeper, American robin, European starling, cedar waxwing, song sparrow, purple finch and pine siskin.
The L-A group, which compiled 42 species, noted one new sighting: a red-necked grebe on Lake Auburn. Grebes are migratory diving birds, similar to loons, but smaller.
The group also sighted a larger-than-ever number of greater scaup, a small diving duck, at Sabattus Pond. Birders counted 35, up from a former all-time high of 2, said DeOrsey.
During the past 50 years, a number of species – the northern cardinal, the northern mockingbird and the tufted titmouse, for example – have expanded into Maine, he said.
Other birds are arriving in smaller numbers. The dwindling number of summer breeding species such as thrushes and warblers is a troubling trend, DeOrsey said.
Those birds migrate from Mexico, the Caribbean and South America, where pesticides, agricultural clearing and the loss of rain forests are destroying their habitat.
Christmas Bird Count
For complete bird count lists, go to www.audubon.org/bird/cbc/.
Lewiston-Auburn count, top 10:
1. American crow 823
2. European starling 411
3. Mallard 393
4. Rock pigeon 284
5. Black-capped chickadee 259
6. Ring-billed gull 247
7. Mourning dove 155
8. American goldfinch 107
9. Wild turkey 82
10. Common merganser 72
Source: National Audubon Society
Rangeley count, top 10:
Black-capped chickadee 235
American goldfinch 126
Purple finch 87
Pine siskin 80
Red-breasted nuthatch 78
White-winged crossbill 65
European starling 63
Blue Jay 44
Dark-eyed junco 42
Source: National Audubon Society
Count comparisons, L-A
Source: Stanton Bird Club
Count comparisons, Rangeley
2006 1,183 (field hours doubled)
* Count has only been done two years
Source: Coordinator Jennifer Perry