17,405 birds spotted in annual count
The rain stayed away for the most part on Sunday as 41 birding enthusiasts took part in the local circle of the Audubon Society’s 114th annual Christmas Bird Count, according to Mathews count coordinator Joyce McKelvey.
Local volunteers counted a total of 17,405 birds of 106 species, as they walked through fields, along waterfronts and down country roads in Mathews County and the Ware Neck area of Gloucester.
While the number of species remained relatively unchanged from the previous year, the total number of birds rose significantly. In 2013, approximately 14,000 birds of 108 species were recorded. That count was held under much colder and windy conditions.
This year’s data reflects 20 adult and four immature bald eagles, 418 eastern bluebirds, and an impressive 404 American pipits reported by at least three sectors multiple times during their day, McKelvey said.
New Point observers spotted three peregrine falcons together. Also of note were the single out-of-season solitary willet and a least sandpiper. Good numbers of American woodcocks were heard before light in recently cutover areas with standing water as well as great horned owls. Birds absent from this year’s count included the northern bobwhite, merlin, American oystercatcher, eastern screech-owl, barred owl, boat-tailed grackle, and pine siskin.
In a neighboring count, in Walkerton in King and Queen County, volunteers had “an unbelievable sighting that steals the show this year”—a vermilion flycatcher—that breaks records for this area, McKelvey said.
McKelvey and her husband, count compiler Don McKelvey, said they were grateful for the continued support of long-time observers and newcomers alike, as well as Bruce Shomaker, manager of Foster-Faulkner Funeral Home, who allowed that facility to be used for the post-count tally. They also expressed their appreciation to all the landowners who permit access to their properties for the count.