Bird list & natural events, January 2014

January’s weather isn’t news: it was wintry. We missed some of the worst conditions while away on our annual winter break from the farm, but plenty remained once we returned. Monthly temperatures averaged well below normal, and snowfall met or exceed normal.
Fittingly in light of last month’s discussion of winter temperature extremes, within the space of a week this area reached a degree above daily record low (-11ºF, 1/7) and a degree below record daily high (65ºF, 1/12), according to NWS records. In fairness, both daily records fell well short of monthly records (-20ºF & 77ºF), but it’s still an impressive feat.

At this point we’ve had two months of mostly harsh winter weather, with February looking no better so far. We’re wondering if the periods of the winter in which the landscape has been encased in ice will help suppress our local deer population, an outcome much to be desired. There’s also the question of whether a cold, mostly open winter suppresses overwintering crop pests, which we won’t really “know” until summer. Beneficial insects may take a hit, as well, leading to higher populations of pests which rebound faster than their predators. These are the kinds of things we think about on long winter nights.


We’ll also remember this month for the large flocks of birds streaming through. Canada Geese were extremely active, and for over a week massive flocks of mixed blackbirds came streaming through daily, all heading south. They’d be going overhead when Eric went out to do evening chores, and would be a constant presence as he walked around the farm. Their numbers must have been well into the thousands. Eventually, for several days these flocks settled on the farm, swirling around our woods and fields like noisy smoke, difficult to photograph but indelibly etched into our memories. These close-up flocks seemed to be largely Common Grackles, with some Red Winged Blackbirds, but it’s quite likely other birds were mixed in and impossible to identify in the chaos. We wonder if these flocks were being pushed south, looking for food, by even more severe weather to our north.

This will be the fourth year we’ve kept monthly bird records on the farm, and so we’ve been discussing ways to collect and present these data in a way possibly more interesting to readers. There are really two different types of data in these records; linear comparisons between different months (how did the bird populations change from December to January to February) and long-term comparisons between the same month (January in different years). Up until now, we’ve focused on the linear version online, noting which birds are new or missing since the previous month. Now, we have enough data to start presenting the other version. Ideally we’re interested in both, and are still thinking and experimenting with ways to handle these concepts, but for now will try presenting tables of bird presence over our 4 years of records. Comments on what’s more or less interesting are appreciated.

2014 2013 2012 2011
Great Blue Heron x
Ducks, unidentified in flight x
Snow Goose x x
Canada Goose x x x x
Turkey Vulture
Red-Shouldered Hawk x x x
Red-Tailed Hawk x x
Bald Eagle x x
Barred Owl x x x x
Great Horned Owl x x
Mourning Dove x
Belted Kingfisher x
Red-Bellied Woodpecker x x x x
Downy Woodpecker x x x
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker x x x x
Pileated Woodpecker x x x x
Blue Jay x x x x
American Crow x x x x
Tufted Titmouse x x x x
Black-Capped Chickadee x x x x
White-Breasted Nuthatch x x x x
Carolina Wren x x x x
Golden-Crowned Kinglet x
Winter Wren
Eastern Bluebird x x x x
American Robin x x x x
Hermit Thrush ? x x
Cedar Waxwing x x x
Yellow-Rumped Warbler x x x x
Northern Cardinal x x x x
Fox Sparrow x
Song Sparrow x
American Tree Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco x x x x
Blackbird, mixed flock x
Red-Winged Blackbird x
Common Grackle x
American Goldfinch x x
Purple Finch x
Pine Siskin x
Species count 25 25 24 24

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