20 May 2024

Christmas Count

Saturday, December 18th, 2010
American wigeon (juvenile), Chickawaukie Lake, Rockport, Maine, 18 December 2010.

American wigeon.

The day began early. I rose and dressed in many layers, as I had an 8 a.m. date at the Rockland Breakwater—the nearly-mile-long granite structure that stretches out into Rockland’s wide harbor. In the past few years, it’s seemed that our local Christmas Bird Count happens to fall on one of the coldest, windiest days of the year so far. Today was a happy exception.

Herring gull (juvenile), Rockland Breakwater, Rockland, Maine, 18 December 2010.

Herring gull (juvenile).

Oh, it was chilly. I was happy to have on a few layers. But the air was still, and the temperature soon rose into the upper-20s (F)—as opposed to the low-teens of recent years—and this mostly sunny day delivered an ample supply of birds.

As always, I met my friends Kristen and Paul, along with Joe from Coastal Mountains Land Trust. Notable was the state of the tide: high. I thought first, on seeing this, that we might miss out on purple sandpipers. In my experience, they seem to prefer mid-tide, when they can poke around in the marine plant life clinging low on the granite stones. But the thought soon vanished amid the calls of the large raft of Canada geese floating in the lee of the breakwater (a challenge to count) and the adult bald eagle that sailed overhead within minutes of the beginning of our excursion.

Soon we were counting eiders, guillemots, mergansers, gulls, long-tailed ducks, loons, great cormorants. Across the way, the Owls Head Light stood sentinel against a golden morning sky. And about half-way out—a sandpiper.

Mallards, Chickawaukie Lake, Rockland, Maine, 18 December 2010.


All told, we saw at least a half-dozen purple sandpipers. Herring and ring-billed gulls. And around the shore of the Samoset Resort property, goldeneyes, black-ducks, mallards, horned and red-necked grebes. The air warmed genially. Finally, with the fifteenth species, we counted a regular ol’ songbird: an American goldfinch.

In other locations nearby, we saw finches, sparrows, chickadees, woodpeckers, and other common passerines. We even saw a solitary great blue heron flapping away across the harbor. At Clam Cove, a large flock of small gulls swept in: Bonaparte’s. Soon after, we stopped at the entrance to a hillside subdivision, a place marked by alders and cattails, and spotted a small flock of common redpolls.

At the southern shore of Chickawakie Lake (also in our territory), we counted the usual dozens of mallards—but among them Kristen spotted a single American wigeon. A young bird, it seemed, and not very skittish. I managed many photos.

An adult eagle sat on the ice far across the lake. A tight-bunched collection of coots hung together just beyond. And overhead, a red-tailed hawk soared just this side of the sun.

Purple sandpiper, Rockland Breakwater, Rockland, Maine, 18 December 2010.

Purple sandpiper.

I ditched the count in early afternoon—and no doubt Kristen and Paul found many more interesting species this afternoon—but that’s OK. I so appreciate this single momentous annual birding day. It seems even more momentous being so near the solstice.

Later, Jack and I walked Beech Hill, as usual. Only a crow and a flicker up there this afternoon—and I could only tell from their voices—but a lovely hillside, a few small groups of friendly humans (and one young dog), and a lovely rising moon. Our routine hike seemed the perfect ribbon with which to tie a bow on the gift that was this lovely, birdy day.

Beech Hill List
Beginning at 2:45 p.m., I hiked the open trail.

1. Northern flicker (voice)
2. American crow (voice)


3. House sparrow
4. Canada goose
5. Bald eagle
6. Common eider
7. Red-breasted merganser
8. Herring gull
9. Bufflehead
10. Black guillemot
11. Ring-billed gull
12. Long-tailed duck
13. Common loon
14. Great cormorant
15. Purple sandpiper
16. Common goldeneye
17. American goldfinch
18. Black duck
19. Mallard
20. Horned grebe
21. Red-necked grebe
22. Blue jay
23. House finch
24. White-throated sparrow
25. Black-capped chickadee
26. Northern cardinal
27. Downy woodpecker
28. White-breasted nuthatch
29. Hairy woodpecker
30. American robin
31. Great black-backed gull
32. Great blue heron
33. European starling
34. Bonaparte’s gull
35. Tufted titmouse
36. Common redpoll
37. American coot
38. American wigeon
39. Red-tailed hawk

Owls Head Light, from the Rockland Breakwater, Rockland, Maine, 18 December 2010.

Owls Head Light.

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Bird Report is a (sometimes intermittent) record of the birds I encounter while hiking, see while driving, or spy outside my window. —Brian Willson

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