Christmas Counting

Sunday 20th saw the first real cold front push into the NYC area. Listservs and twitterspheres abounded with news of lark sparrows, painted buntings and the occasional rare gull. Would the northerlies bring fresh birds for the Christmas Bird Count?

Spoiler alert; not really. At least not for the Lower Hudson count.

But we tried anyway. I was assigned a northern section of the Lower Hudson count  (which spans Manhattan, the Hudson River, and much of Jersey City and Secaucus). Whilst those in Central Park had hundreds of eyes on their teams, I was relying on Coloradan artist and birder Cathy Sheeter to double the eye-count.

The early strategy involved checking those iconic, apocalyptic Jersey wasteland-type places. Industrial warehouses lining fetid canals. Overgrown and long-forgotten parking lots. Those last redoubts of concrete-interred mafia bodies, starlings and the occasional ghostly barn owl.

promising wildlife habitat in Hudson, NJ

My local Hoboken wasteland was empty, save for a song sparrow, two newly arrived ruddy ducks (a full month after they arrived here last year), and two flightless canada geese who are being kept alive by a crazy woman who cooks them pasta dishes.

Next I hit James Braddock park for woodpeckers. Mike Britt (our NJ compiler) had told me it was wise to carry a knife here. Um, ok.

Anyway, given the early hour, it was boringly devoid of gangstas. And despite forgetting to bring any weapons, I managed to get good numbers of fox sparrows, a new wave of juncos, the common woodpeckers and some nice hooded mergansers on the pool. The song of white-throated sparrows rang out through the woodland as if it were a mid-spring day.

Tracking back along the river I hit a few parking lots, getting hassled by two mall cops who couldn't fathom my accent or what I was doing squeezing through the chain link at the back of their warehouse. I later heard from Mike that one of his crew had a more serious stop-and-search by NJTransit police whilst trying to sneak into a black-crowned night heron roost.

The rest of the day went more smoothly. I met up with Cathy, we worked some of Hudson County's remnant natural habitats, picked up a pair of great horned owls, dipped on the parakeets, and watched an aerial fight between a merlin and peregrine.

All told, we got 2251 birds representing 51 species, which I think was the highest species-diversity for any of the Hudson county groups; not bad considering we didn't have any coastal or real saltwater habitat on our territory.

an adaptable resident peregrine uses flood lights for a hunting perch

Postscript: I worked out my year count for the Lower Hudson Circle was 215 this year. This might make a good (and equally arbitrary as a county boundary) territory for a Big Year, given I live and work across a state border.....

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I work in NYC and own a wildlife and wilderness agency specializing in the southern cone of South America. I still do some guiding down there, especially looking for Fuegian and Patagonian avifauna. I'm particularly interested in the wintering ecology of neotropical migrants, and in avian biogeography in general. You can follow me at - @domhall And find me at - AventuraArgentina.com