The County of Dukes County
2004 Martha's Vineyard Christmas Bird Count
December 30, 2004
“Where were all the birds?” That question was the overall impression of both field participants and feeder watchers in the 2004 Martha’s Vineyard Christmas Bird Count, held on Thursday, December 30, 2004.  It was the third straight count with nearly ideal weather for finding and counting birds, with temperatures near 400F, clear skies (at least in the afternoon), virtually no wind and flat calm oceans.  We had 2 to 4 inches of covering most of the ground, which is unusual for our count.  Despite the seemingly ideal conditions, songbirds seemed to be particularly scarce this year.  

After last year’s count with ideal weather produced new highs for species seen on any one count (130) and new highs for 33 different species, it is almost disappointing for the birds to be so scarce this year.  Only 120 species were found despite the favorable viewing conditions.  This year’s total is almost exactly the average number of species observed on out count since 1980.  And it is only slightly higher than the 116 species observed on the 2002 count, even though that year also had nearly ideal winter birding weather.  Except for fog and severe storms, maybe the weather on count day does not have a great impact on the number of species observed.

We counted 71,067 individuals this year, which is the third highest count ever.  But the vast majority (84%) of the birds we counted (59,833 individuals) were waterfowl (27 species); the remaining 93 species totaled only 16% of the birds counted (11,234 individuals).  These percentages are remarkably similar to the scarcity of the 2002 count (85% waterfowl, 15% everything else) and they differ markedly from the record 2003 count (68% waterfowl, 32% everything else).

For the first time in a number of years we did not observe any species that has not been seen on our count before.  

Only two species are noteworthy.  While this is the tenth time we have observed common redpolls (out of 45 counts since 1960), it is the first time that this erruptive northern finch has been observed in consecutive years.  And this was the sixth time a vesper sparrow has been observed – but this sparrow of open fields and pastures was observed (and subsequently photographed) at a feeder in a mostly wooded yard.  The snow cover undoubtedly forced it out of the nearby agricultural fields.

Four species were more abundant than on any of our counts since 1960 (contrasting to the 33 species that set new highs on the 2003 count).  One flock of 9 red knots slightly surpasses the previous high of 8 individuals.  And three Iceland gulls slightly surpass the previous high of two individuals.  Red-winged blackbirds set a new high of 72 individuals; the previous high was 63.  Only the tufted titmouse increased dramatically, with 28 individuals counted.  This 460 percent increase (the previous high was 5 individuals) shows that this species is finally becoming widespread after its recent colonization of the Vineyard.

As further documentation that scarcity is the theme of this year’s count, seven species were scarcer this year than they have been on any count since 1980 and one species tied its previous low.  These eight species are out of the 65 species that have been observed on every count since 1980 (when count effort increased substantially).  These eight species are listed in the following table.

TABLE 1.  The eight species that set or tied new lows on the 2004 count.

1980-2003
2004 Count
percent
minimum
results
decrease
great blue heron
31
21
32
black-crowned night-heron
1
1
-
red-breasted merganser
779
680
13
great black-backed gull
223
181
19
belted kingfisher
11
8
27
starling
928
840
9
yellow-rumped warbler
170
121
29
savannah sparrow
7
5
28

_______________________________________________________________________________________

The final results of the 2004 count are shown below.


total
SPECIES
individuals
red-throated loon
114
common loon
432
pied-billed grebe
1
horned grebe
131
red-necked grebe
17
northern gannet
9
double-crested cormorant
5
great cormorant
68
great blue heron
21
black-crowned night heron
1
turkey vulture
9
snow goose (white form)
10
canada goose
1900
brant
32
mute swan
115
gadwall
41
American wigeon
49
American black duck
1570
mallard
1100
northern pintail
9
green-winged teal
2
redhead
1
ring-necked duck
27
greater scaup
450
lesser scaup
21
scaup species
150
common eider
39000
harlequin duck
93
surf scoter
514
white-winged scoter
8000
black scoter
3100
long-tailed duck
31
bufflehead
1260
common goldeneye
1490
Barrow's goldeneye
3
hooded merganser
97
common merganser
2
red-breasted merganser
680
ruddy duck
96
northern harrier
10
sharp-shinned hawk
11
Cooper's hawk
13
red-tailed hawk
36
American kestrel
1
merlin
2
peregrine falcon
2
ring-necked pheasant
6
wild turkey
48
northern bobwhite
5
black-bellied plover
14
killdeer
1
red knot
9
sanderling
25
purple sandpiper
30
dunlin
109
common snipe
2
Bonaparte's gull
154
ring-billed gull
211
herring gull
1350
Iceland gull
3
great black-backed gull
181
black-legged kittiwake
42
razorbill
280
rock pigeon
83
mourning dove
356
barn owl
4
eastern screech-owl
31
great horned owl
1
snowy owl
1
northern saw-whet owl
1
belted kingfisher
8
red-headed woodpecker
1
red-bellied woodpecker
56
yellow-bellied sapsucker
1
downy woodpecker
134
hairy woodpecker
10
northern flicker
47
eastern phoebe
1
blue jay
470
American crow
810
horned lark
4
black-capped chickadee
1233
tufted titmouse
28
red-breasted nuthatch
28
white-breasted nuthatch
154
brown creeper
3
Carolina wren
230
winter wren
5
marsh wren
2
golden-crowned kinglet
34
ruby-crowned kinglet
1
eastern bluebird
196
hermit thrush
14
American robin
366
gray catbird
22
northern mockingbird
92
brown thrasher
1
European starling
840
cedar waxwing
14
yellow-rumped warbler
121
pine warbler
7
eastern towhee
8
American tree sparrow
40
chipping sparrow
2
field sparrow
30
vesper sparrow
1
savannah sparrow
5
Ipswich sparrow
2
fox sparrow
3
song sparrow
303
swamp sparrow
17
white-throated sparrow
233
dark-eyed junco
153
northern cardinal
330
dickcissel
1
red-winged blackbird
72
eastern meadowlark
12
purple finch
2
house finch
222
common redpoll
30
American goldfinch
482
house sparrow
543