Archive for Saturday, December 15, 2012

Fewer birds seen in Christmas bird count after months of drought

December 15, 2012


A bald eagle sits on a nest at Bismarck Lake as bird-watchers took part in the annual Christmas bird count in Douglas County on Saturday.

A bald eagle sits on a nest at Bismarck Lake as bird-watchers took part in the annual Christmas bird count in Douglas County on Saturday.

Winter bird feeding tips:

For those thinking about hanging up a bird feeder over the winter, Stan Roth offers this advice:

Put some water out with the bird feed — the birds will need it in these dry months.

Good winter bird feeds include those that contain energy-rich oil, including black-oil sunflower seed and safflower. For finches, thistle feed is the best. These are all widely available at hardware stores and pet shops.

If you want woodpeckers, put out some peanut butter or suet, a kind of fat. Imitation suet, made from a mix of lard and seed, will work just as well.

To keep squirrels from making a buffet of these offerings, Roth suggests hanging the bird feeder from a fine steel wire. It's strong, but too thin for most squirrels to navigate. Alternatively, a feeder can be set atop a pole with a shield under it.

Conditions were perfect for the annual Christmas bird count Saturday in Douglas County, except the area seemed to be a little short on birds.

“The number and the diversity seem to be down from past years,” said John Standing, a biologist surveying Bismarck Lake, north of Lawrence, along with three other bird-watchers. Even so, they counted several flocks of Canada geese, visited a bald eagle guarding a nest of eggs, and spotted many of the usual suspects: red-tailed hawks, ducks and gulls.

The Bismarck Lake group was one of 12 patrolling the area Saturday morning, taking a census of birds and bird species in different sectors around Lawrence. Their efforts will be combined with other bird counts across the state in the coming weeks, part of a nationwide effort organized each year by the National Audubon Society from Dec. 14 to Jan. 5. Stan Roth, the event coordinator in Lawrence, will lead another bird count Dec. 22 in Baldwin City.

The bird count is partly about collecting data, Roth said, but more importantly it’s a reason to get outside and enjoy nature. He started leading groups on bird counts 52 years ago as a high school teacher looking for a way to get his students outside during the winter. For some, it rubbed off: One of his students from the class of 1959 was on the bird count Saturday with him.

Across all 12 sectors, the bird lovers generally expect to count about 90 species in a day. By 11 a.m. Saturday, Roth’s group had counted 41 species, which was below average and skewed heavily toward ducks.

“Ninety-nine percent of them are mallards,” said Bill Busby, a Kansas University zoologist with the bird count. But even those were not out in great numbers, and the bird-watchers had not seen the sparrows or snow geese they expected.

Busby said that was partly because of the drought, which meant less plant growth, less seed production and less bird food. There was also the mild weather, which didn’t drive northern birds into Kansas as fast as a typically cold winter.

For the bird-watchers, it was “perfect duck weather,” but Standing summed up the group’s conclusions when they gave up on Bismarck Lake to bird-watch elsewhere.

“It’s been two dry, hot summers and a dry winter,” he said. “It’s been awful.”


riverdrifter 5 years, 6 months ago

While on my deer stand last week I saw a northern goshawk. It landed across the way in another tree and eyeballed me for several minutes. Then, it vanished into the woods. I have not seen a single snow goose this fall yet, BTW.

George_Braziller 5 years, 6 months ago

I saw one last summer on the street in front of my house. Went out to get in my vehicle and it was about 15 feet away standing on a sparrow it had just caught. It rested for a moment then opened its wings and flew off without a sound with the sparrow clutched in one foot.

riverdrifter 5 years, 6 months ago

Or a shinnie. Just like a Cooper's only smaller. This Cooper's passes through every now and then.

George_Braziller 5 years, 6 months ago

This wasn't it. Must have been a Cooper's Hawk.

Joe Hyde 5 years, 6 months ago

I finally saw snow geese today, upwards of a couple thousand. This was north of Belvue (between St. Marys and Wamego). First snow geese I've seen this year.

riverdrifter 5 years, 6 months ago

They must be hanging around the power plant. Good grief, we were wondering if they were going to bother with migration this year.

Joe Hyde 5 years, 6 months ago

I was told by a retiree from that power plant, that the snows were making feeding forays from their loafing spot on the powerplant lake. Pretty cool.

I finally saw mallards today, here locally. Flocks of 75 or better.

Radar Callaway 5 years, 6 months ago

I have been seeing a lot more geese, ducks, owls, turkeys, and small hawks than I have seen in the last five years of driving the back roads from Ottawa to Lawrence. Of course it helps that I drive past a number of water holes.

blindrabbit 5 years, 6 months ago

Why would a pair of bald eagles be nesting with eggs this time of year as the story indicates? If so, the climate must have really messed them up!

coffeegurl 5 years, 6 months ago

We saw two Pileated woodpeckers yesterday in the woods behind our house neer Clinton Lake. We photographed them and identified a male and female.

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