West Campus Christmas Bird Count 2015
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Lynn Jones and Sue Hochgraf bird watching
Hermit Thrush

In the midst of holiday recess, on the first morning of a decidedly colder weather pattern, three Yale staff met at 8AM at the West Campus Farm to continue what is becoming an annual tradition – the West Campus Christmas Bird Count.  2015 marked the seventh year that birds were counted at West Campus, however the tradition of the Christmas Bird Count – or CBC as it is referred to by birders - began more than a century ago.

 

The idea of a “Christmas Bird Count” is credited to Frank Chapman, an ornithologist and early officer in National Audubon Society.  He proposed a Christmas bird census to take the place of a traditional hunt that would happen around the holiday.  Since 1900, the National Audubon Society has organized an annual Christmas Bird Count.  These counts take place across the country over the course of several weeks around the end of the year.  Volunteers spend hours in the field recording approximate counts of the birds they find in distinct geographic areas called “count circles”.  This wealth of data collected over many years has provided conservation biologists with insights into the long-term health of bird populations across North America.  According to National Audubon, twenty-seven dedicated birders completed twenty-five separate bird counts on Christmas day in 1900.  More than a century later, almost 60,000 birders took to the field, counting birds in 2100 count circles across North America.

 

West Campus lies within an existing count circle, but the birds here had not been part of a previous counting effort because access to the campus had been restricted while Bayer owned the property and during Yale’s first few years of occupancy as well.  The variety of habitats at West Campus and the presence of water throughout the year in the form of the Oyster River attracts many species of birds.  According to the West Campus Birding Blog (http://birdingwestcampus.blogspot.com/), 135 species of birds have been documented at West Campus since 2009.  The actual number that have visited campus is undoubtedly much higher, since most of the time spent birding at West Campus has been mid-day and after work, less than ideal times for seeing spring and fall migrants.

 

Lynn Jones and Sue Hochgraf, pictured above, began the Christmas Bird Count at West Campus in 2009.  At that time, both were museum assistants with the Peabody Museum (Sue has since moved on to the Art Gallery) and the humans at West Campus were outnumbered by the turkeys.  Others have joined them through the years, and the weather has varied from balmy to unbearable.  In 2010, the count took place even though West Campus had been blanketed with more than a foot of snow just days before.

 

While there have been a few surprises – northern harrier, winter wren, white-crowned sparrow, brown thrasher - for the most part the count registers the expected winter bird life for the area.  This year’s count documented 333 birds representing 26 species and clearly demonstrates that robins are no longer a sign of spring (76 robins were counted).  It was rewarding to find a hermit thrush, a few catbirds and a pair of Carolina wrens.  The results have been posted to E-Bird (www.e-bird.org) for use by researchers around the world.

 

Canada Goose: 16

Turkey Vulture: 2

Red-tailed Hawk: 4

Ring-billed Gull: 1

Herring Gull: 15

Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon): 1

Mourning Dove: 3

Red-bellied Woodpecker: 3

Downy Woodpecker: 7

Northern Flicker: 1

Blue Jay: 18

American Crow: 5

Black-capped Chickadee: 11

Tufted Titmouse: 2

White-breasted Nuthatch: 2

Carolina Wren: 2

Hermit Thrush: 1

American Robin: 76

Gray Catbird: 2

Northern Mockingbird: 3

European Starling: 55

White-throated Sparrow: 75

Song Sparrow: 3

Northern Cardinal: 8

House Finch: 7

American Goldfinch: 10

 

Tom Parlapiano is an education coordinator with the Peabody Museum’s Public Education Department since 2009. He offers programs at the Museum and West Campus.