Monday, December 16, 2013

5th annual YWC Christmas Bird Count

A voice from the past returning briefly to the Birding West Campus blog...
Lynn and Sue watching a distant Northern Flicker

With the annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count scheduled for Saturday December 14th, the West Campus birders (Lynn, Tom and yours truly - Sue) chose a date within the count week (Dec. 11-17) for our fifth West Campus Christmas Bird Count.  We met at 7:15 Friday morning, December 13th, on a bright and cold day to take our annual census of the avian population at West Campus.

female Eastern Towhee, digiscoped by T. Parlapiano
Since our first count in 2009, there have been changes to the physical landscape of the 136-acre property (see Lynn's previous post). Will the clear-cutting of one of the most bird-friendly habitats on campus usher in changes in species diversity? in numbers of birds? It takes a dedicated group of birders to gather the data necessary to answer these questions.  Sure, we're out there birding because we love to do it, but also because we know WHY we're doing it.

As you've read in this blog every December since 2009, the Audubon Christmas Bird Count is the oldest citizen science survey in the nation - and now spreading around the world.  The data collected from this count informs environmental policy decision-making from the lowest to the highest levels of government.  So, Sue and Lynn and Tom, in this little patch of Connecticut, were out gathering data to add to the big picture of bird diversity in North America but also to inform the administration of Yale's West Campus.
Female Eastern Towhee eating sunflower seeds in the yard outside of the
Yale West Campus Education Center - on count day!
On to the statistics for the day and our bird list:
Friday December 13, 2013; 7:15am-12:15pm, 24F/-4C, high cloud cover, clearing by noon, moving water was open, still water was frozen. 3 participants, 5 daylight hours each.

1. Canada Goose ...................100
2. Turkey Vulture .................... 1
3. Red-tailed Hawk ................ 2
4. Herring Gull ........................ 8
5. Ring-billed Gull ...................13
6. Downy Woodpecker .......... 5
7. Red-bellied Woodpecker .... 2
8. Northern Flicker ................ 1
9. Rock Pigeon .......................27
10. Mourning Dove ................ 10
11. Cedar Waxwing ................ 8
12. American Crow ................15
13. Fish Crow ........................ ?
14. Blue Jay ........................... 7
15. European Starling ............. 83
16. American Robin .. ............ 30
17. Hermit Thrush ....................2
18. Northern Mockingbird ...... 1
19. Carolina Wren .................. 5
20. Black-capped Chickadee .. 4
21. Tufted Titmouse ...............  7
22. White-breasted Nuthatch... 4
23. Brown Creeper ...............  2
24. Northern Cardinal ........... 12
25. Dark-eyed Junco ............ 12
26. White-throated Sparrow .. 42
27. Song Sparrow ................. 1
28. Eastern Towhee ............... 1
29. American Goldfinch ......... 9
30. House Finch .................... 1
31. House Sparrow ............... 15

Past Christmas Count blog posts:

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

New Trails on West Campus

There have been quite a few changes around campus since the last blog post.  The nursing school has moved out to west campus and that has increased our population quite a bit.  Along with their appearance is the appearance of some new 'running' trails on the other side of campus. 

Approximate path of new trails (in part)

I took a walk around one of the trails the other day behind the garden, what we used to refer to as the leaf pile.  Things have drastically changed and I'm assuming they will still change more.  The fantastic thicket that was made up of golden rod and multiflora rose has been largely clear cut.  This thicket in the past has yielded some great birds including, Wilson's Warbler, Brown Thrasher, and other late lingerers.  Although multiflora rose is an invasive, it does provide some great cover and is an excellent food source for wildlife, especially during the winter. 

Area that was clear cut at base of gardens.

The pink is the path I took (heading clockwise), the brown blob
 is my guess of the clearcut as of my walk (27 November 2013)
I actually like the fact that there are trails down there and I think it's a nice addition to the available 'amenities' that make working at west campus so nice.  Hopefully, with time and a little lack of maintenance the thickets will recover some.  There's also a nice patch of Japanese knotweed in the back of this early successional field that should be removed.  With luck they will concentrate on some people and wildlife friendly sustainable upgrades for the future. 

Chickadee working on a rose hip from remaining thicket
The word sustainable is thrown around quite often and I for one wasn't sure of the definition.  Here is what the EPA says in part "Sustainability creates and maintains the conditions under which humans and nature can exist in productive harmony, that permit fulfilling the social, economic and other requirements of present and future generations."

European Starlings and Brown-headed Cowbirds thrive in edge and disturbed habitat.
B-h Cowbirds are nest parasites that may be reducing certain songbird populations
due to increased nest access from habitat fragmentation. 

Here are the birds I did find while I was walking.

This Downy Woodpecker,
a bird most people associate
with trees, explores
a little thicket patch.
Herring Gull
Ring-billed Gull
Red-tailed Hawk
Blue Jay
Black-capped Chickadee
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Mourning Dove
Carolina Wren
Winter Wren
American Robin
European Starling
White-throated Sparrow
Northern Cardinal
American Goldfinch
Brown-headed Cowbird

American Robins like the easy snacks the clear cutting
has made available. 

Friday, April 26, 2013

It Really IS Spring!

After last years blast into summer temperatures, I've been happy to see some cooler temperatures lead into spring this year.  Although, it hasn't helped me be able to find time to post some blogs.  Let's just say that the birds are finally getting on campus.  A small group of us are heading out at lunch to put some time in the woods and hopefully pull some great things out.  BUT the species list for the year is already up to 55 with only a few warblers checking in already. 

Chipping Sparrow

Tom added Yellow-rumped, Palm, and Pine Warblers to the species total.  This morning I heard my FOY and the FOY for West Campus of Yellow Warbler.  The swallows have all checked in for the year, we've had flyby's of Barn and Tree.  Barn Swallows usually nest on campus although last year they nested somewhere near by.  As has happened that last two springs, a few Northern Rough-winged Swallows stopped by the Collections Study Center to see if there were any vacant holes in the wall to nest in. 

Northern Rough-winged Swallows

Rather than try to even recap the first part of the year I'll just give you a comparison.  This week in January we had 16 species on campus.  In February about the same time of the month we had 18 species for the week.  March this time, had crawled up to 22 species with some of the blackbirds showing up for the first time.  Here is the list of last weeks birds a total of 28 species! 

American Kestrel

April 15-19
Northern Cardinal, Song Sparrow, White-throated Sparrow, Black-capped Chickadee, Turkey Vulture, Blue Jay, Downy Woodpecker, Mourning Dove, American Crow, Brown-headed Cowbird, Rock Pigeon, European Starling, house Sparrow, House Finch, American Goldfinch, Herring Gull, Ring-billed Gull, Killdeer, American Robin, Dark-eyed Junco, Red-tailed Hawk, Northern Flicker, American Kestrel, Tufted Titmouse, Savannah Sparrow, Red-winged Blackbird, Northern Rough-winged Swallow, and Double-crested Cormorant!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Winter Line-up

In the heart of winter here on West Campus and the same birds have been teeing up for spotting every day.  Diversity is not amazing but seems to at least be steady.  Memories may be faulty but it seems to me that in the past our coldest, shortest days would leave us with a maximum of 12 species, even forging through the cold looking for life. 

With Sue in New Haven, I have not been my motivated self going out to poke around in the nooks and crannies of campus.  The birds have been cooperating though and coming to us.  We are certainly lucky to have our courtyard with huge picture windows for viewing the feeders and fly by's.  Here are the birds that we have been seeing every week or at least about 15 of them every week.

Winter Birds:
Black-capped Chickadee- at the feeder every day
House Finch- at the feeder every day
Mourning Dove- at the feeder, almost every day
American Goldfinch- at the feeder every day
Northern Cardinal- at the feeder a couple times a week
Song Sparrow- at the feeder a couple times a week
White-throated Sparrow- at the feeder a couple times a week
Blue Jay- seen off and on at the feeder
Downy Woodpecker (finally)- recently seen near the feeder once a week
Sharp-shinned Hawk- at the feeder once a week
Dark-eyed Junco- occasionally at the feeder
Rock Pigeon- on campus daily
Herring Gull- on campus daily
Ring-billed Gull- on campus daily
European Starling- on campus daily
American Crow- on campus daily
Canada Goose- on campus a couple times a week
American Robin- on campus a coupe times a week (more lately)
Turkey Vulture- flying over campus once a week
Red-tailed Hawk- flying over campus once a week

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

A Birdy New Year

January has started and gone, all the lists have been wiped clean and we start afresh.  A new year to try for as many birds as possible, simply in an effort to get outside when you would rather be inside and warm.  A new year list is started for campus trying to see how this year will compare with the past few years of great birds.  It seems a fitting and unsurprisingly good time to do a recap of 2012 as we welcome in 2013.

Something Surprising:
Winter Wren finally made it on the list.  This small wren is seen most often in winter and likes to find little wooded moist areas to winter in.  They are not uncommon species but can be tough to track down especially in certain years.  Luckily, we had a migrant stop right out our front door while it was migrating south.  Then another was heard on the Christmas count illustrating that there are decent numbers of this species around this winter (Nov. and Dec.)

Winter Wren- (actually from out west)

Something Exciting:
A Nashville Warbler!  New to the WC list and a beautiful bird.  This little warbler is fairly common and we got ours.  We had a decent push of spring warblers this summer including Black-throated Blue Warbler, Black-throated Green Warbler, Magnolia Warbler, Black-and-White Warbler, Blue-winged Warbler, and Yellow Warbler to name a few.  The Nashville Warbler made us smile the most though!

Image borrowed from

Something Outstanding:
Well it's actually two somethings, two birds that were both new for our West Campus list and one that was a life bird for both Sue and myself.  I spotted a Sandhill Crane one day while returning from a lunchtime walk.  The crane was a flyby and fairly distant but still falls within our 'protocol' for what we put onto our list.  The second bird a Lark Sparrow, I first spotted it on my drive in and then Sue and I quickly turned around and went to relocate it.  This is a definitive life bird for me and a pseudo-life birds for Sue. Luckily we had some great looks at this one!

Lark Sparrow- super zoomed

Something Amazing:
It's a number 106.  That is the number of species that made it onto our year list this year.  When you look at the list to the right in this blog you can see that we have only seen 128 species in the four years we have been birding on campus and we saw 106 of those 128.  I would say that's a fantastic percentage.  If we could only spend more time outside and less time inside working I'm sure we could make that number even better.  ;-) 

Hope you all had a great 2012 of birding and we wish you all an even better year of birding for 2013!  It's not the numbers the count, it's the birds.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

CBC WC Style 2012

Within the last few days of work before the end of the year I was battling a cold and the urge to get out and bird.  Birding won.  My first official National Audubon Christmas Bird Count was on Dec. 15th in New Haven.  As a little prep for it and to also see if any important birds on West Campus weren't found during the actual count day, I went out on the Friday before to do a mini-CBC here.

I'll just put the list in below but the end results were this.  Total bird numbers were down and total species (25) were down, likely do to the lack of berries and fruit out in the wild this winter.   Though there were some species lingering probably because of the warmer weather we have been experiencing.  It was a fun morning to get outside.  Here's the results. 

Sharp-shinned Hawk (1)
Red-tailed Hawk (1)
Ring-billed Gull (2)
Herring Gull (8)
Rock Pigeon (9)
Mourning Dove (4)
Red-bellied Woodpecker (2)
Downy Woodpecker (3)
Northern Flicker (1)
Blue Jay (5)
American Crow (27)
Black-capped Chickadee (3)
White-breasted Nuthatch (3)
Carolina Wren (5)
Winter Wren (1)
Golden-crowned Kinglet (3)
American Robin (36)
Gray Catbird (1)
European Starling (6)
Cedar Waxwing (4)
Song Sparrow (3)
White-throated Sparrow (34)
Dark-eyed Junco (15)
Northern Cardinal (6)
American Goldfinch (5)

Nothing was outstanding although the Gray Catbird and Carolina Wren are good birds for this late in the season (at least it found some food).  Some interesting misses are the lack of Canada Geese on our grassy areas, House Finch, Fish Crow, and any exceptional winter finches.  It really would have been a good time to find a Common Redpoll, Red Crossbill, or White-winged Crossbill.  These three finches are irruptive during years of poor seed crops up north. 

"whitewash"- fecal evidence of an owl... no owl though :-(

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Sometimes Noise Equals Quiet

From December 13th:  Yale West Campus (WC to some of us) is currently in the path of great change.  With an increase of human occupation on campus, there seems to be a decrease in bird occupation. Winter is always a less diverse time here on campus, even looking back at past years, we haven't had many species.  Now the total number of birds seems to be less, even common species are rarer on our usual drives and walks.  With an increase in human activity, it seems we're having a decrease in animal activity.

Anyway, here's the low down (and I mean low down) for species over the last couple of weeks.  This week will likely have similar results since I've been feeling under the weather. 

Bird List (in approximate increasing size order)
1. Black-capped Chickadee
2. American Goldfinch
3. Dark-eyed Junco
4. House Finch
5. House Sparrow
6. White-throated Sparrow
7. Fox Sparrow
8. Northern Cardinal
9. European Starling
10. Red-winged Blackbird
11. American Robin
12. Blue Jay
13. Common Grackle
14. Mourning Dove
15. Northern Flicker
16. Rock Pigeon
17. American Crow
18. Ring-billed Gull
19. Herring Gull
20. Red-tailed Hawk
21. Wild Turkey

I'm hoping to get out and do a little Christmas Bird Count here next week.  In case I do find something good we will be able to add it to the New Haven areas count if they don't find it in another spot.