In Search of Tomorrow River Birds – the Amherst Christmas Bird Count

By Joe Passineau

Amherst Circle CBC

As anyone with a birdfeeder knows, watching the winter birds is a great tonic for the “winter blues.” This is especially true when the temperature drops below zero along with dangerous winds. Blue Jays, Cardinals, Goldfinches, Chickadees, and Woodpeckers all bring a pulse of life and a splash of color to our cold winter landscape. But what other birds stay around for the winter? And how many can you find if you search the rolling hills, valleys, and fields along the Tomorrow River or simply keep a record of the birds that come to your birdfeeders? You may also want to add a “spark to your winter” by keeping your feeders filled and by taking a short walk to nearby parks and trails.

To answer many of these questions, members of the local Aldo Leopold Audubon Society joined together December 16 to carefully count birdlife in the Amherst area, as part of the National Audubon Christmas Bird Count (CBC).

This year marks the 42nd year that the Amherst Area has participated in the Christmas Bird Count and the 124th year that the National Audubon Society has sponsored this citizen-based science and conservation program. In addition to being a great outdoor event for participants, the survey results help scientists study trends in bird populations and track related environmental influences, such as global climate change. The Christmas Bird Count, now an international event, is the largest and longest-running citizen-science project in the world.

The Amherst event was sponsored by the Aldo Leopold Chapter of the Audubon Society, which also sponsored Christmas Bird Counts in Stevens Point, Wisconsin Rapids, and Wausau the same day.

With Amherst at the center of a 15-mile diameter circle, the Amherst Circle covers 177 square miles — reaching from Sunset Lake on the North, Scandinavia and Iola on the East, Custer on the West, and Spring Creek on the South. The rolling glacial topography includes the Tomorrow and Waupaca River watersheds, many small lakes and wetlands, and a diversity of woodlands, farms, and rustic roads. To coordinate the efforts of participants, and to better track the results, the whole Circle is divided into six equal sections, much like slicing a pie, with Amherst in the center.

This year, a record 39 volunteers participated (28 drove roads and 11 watched birdfeeders). In total, they counted 6,206 individual birds and 43 different species (tying a species record set in 2021). This year, the Snow Goose, Osprey, and Ring-neck Gull were also seen for the first time in the Amherst Circle. Chances of seeing the Tufted Titmouse have also increased. First observed in the Circle in 2016, 23 were observed this year.

Amherst Circle Compiler Eric Anderson said, “Participants drove 425.1 miles on the roads of our circle (equivalent to driving to Chicago and back!) for 46.9 hours, walked 5.2 miles for 4.3 hours, and watched seven bird-feeding stations for 20 hours.”

The weather on the day of the count was warm, with temperatures in the 40s, little wind, and cloudy skies. The unusually warm weather this autumn likely contributed to the very high bird and species count. With the lack of snow cover providing ample feeding grounds, most species seemed to be widely dispersed. With open lakes, rivers, and agriculture fields, large numbers of late migrating waterfowl were also observed including 1,514 Canada Geese, 187 Mallards, 150 Herring Gulls, and 270 Ring-billed Gulls. Remarkably, just these four species combined for a full 34% (just over one-third) of the total birds seen.

As expected, the “birdfeeder favorites” were found in good numbers, including Cardinal (29), Blue Jay (503), Chickadee (423), Goldfinch (263), Junco (377), Pine Siskin (59), White Breasted Nuthatch (75), Red Breasted Nuthatch (11), Hairy Woodpecker (42), Downy Woodpecker (71), and Pileated Woodpecker (12).

Analyzing the numbers, Anderson said, “Belted Kingfisher, Great Blue Heron, Herring and Ring-billed Gull, Osprey, and Snow Goose — all denizens of open water — were unusual birds sighted this year. As a matter of fact, the Osprey, Snow Goose, and Ring-billed Gull have never been previously reported in the Amherst CBC.

“We also had an unusual sighting of a White-throated Sparrow, only reported twice before in 2009 and 2013. Evening Grosbeaks were absent again this year, making it 28 years since they have been recorded in the Amherst Circle.”

If you would like to get involved in next year’s event, please contact the CBC Coordinators Karen Dostal at (715) 592-4706 or Eric Anderson at (715) 592-4423. Until then, enjoy the birds!

 

Totals for the 2023 Amherst Count

Canada Goose, 1,514

Mallard,187

Ruffed Grouse, 2

Wild Turkey, 56

Bald Eagle, 10

Northern Harrier, 1

Sharp shinned Hawk, 1

Cooper’s Hawk, 2

Red-tailed Hawk, 9

American Kestrel, 2

Rock Pigeon, 385

Mourning Dove, 126

Belted Kingfisher, 1

Red-bellied Woodpecker, 39

Downy Woodpecker, 71

Hairy Woodpecker, 42

Pileated Woodpecker, 12

Northern Shrike, 2

Blue Jay, 503

American Crow, 791

Common Raven, 9

Black-capped Chickadee, 423

Tufted Titmouse, 23

Red breasted Nuthatch, 11

White breasted Nuthatch, 78

Brown Creeper, 2

American Robin, 7

European Starling, 668

Cedar Waxwing, 101

American Tree Sparrow, 40

White-throated Sparrow, 1

Dark-eyed Junco, 377

Northern Cardinal, 91

Purple Finch, 30

House Finch, 8

Common Redpoll, 21

Pine Siskin, 59

American Goldfinch, 263

House Sparrow, 87

 

Unusual Species

Great Blue Heron, 1

Herring Gull, 150

Osprey, 1

Snow Goose, 2

Ring-billed Gull, 270

 

Amherst Count volunteers

Section 1

Karen and Mark Dostal

Mike and Caryn Hurst

Joe and Lyn Passineau

Section 2

Todd Knepfel

BJ and Carol Welling

Section 3

Reed Turner and Aaron Reser

Susan Anderson

Section 4

Dan Sivek

Scott, Sarah, and Liam Reilly

Eric and Sue Anderson

Jen and John Zach

Section 5

Bob and Andrew Lane

Amy Powers

Section 6

Tim and Pam Corcoran

Susan, Kai, and Joy Schuller

 

Birdfeeder observers (at seven sites)

Al Young

Bob Henke

Mary Jo Pfankuch and Rick Foris

Ron and Donna Zimmerman

Glenn Coenen and Cindy Irvine

Sally Ellingboe

Dana and Marilyn Rima

 

Eric Anderson served as Compiler. Karen Dostal and Joe Passineau served as coordinators for the Amherst Circle. Results are submitted each year to the National Audubon CBC office and can be found on the CBC website.

 

First sighted in 2016, this year participants found 23 Tufted Titmice in the Amherst Christmas Bird Count Circle.

 

The Amherst Christmas Bird Count included the first-ever sighting of Snow Geese. One of the pair is the white bird among the Canadian Geese above. Photo by Reed Turner

 

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