Bird watching a holiday tradition in region

Brian McAllister of Saranac Lake (Right with binoculars) and Linda LaPan of Lake Placid watch for CBCs.

Brian McAllister of Saranac Lake (Right with binoculars) and Linda LaPan of Lake Placid watch for CBCs. Alan Belford

— Birdwatchers across the country flock together every holiday season to conduct Christmas Bird Counts (CBCs) between mid-December and early January. Local birders joined this long-time tradition this year, taking part in several counts throughout the region.

New York state birders surveyed the Westport portion of the Ferrisburgh, Vt. count on Dec. 17, finding 51 species of birds (a total of 83 were found on the entire count), including a greater white-fronted goose (a species much more common west of the Mississippi) and six short-eared owls. The following day 20 birders found over 9,000 birds of 38 species on the Elizabethtown count, and 33 Plattsburgh counters (including 3 kids) found over 12,000 individual birds of 62 species.

Lower elevations and subsequent warmer temperatures (which often means more food) as well as Lake Champlain’s propensity to attract waterfowl often make CBCs in the Champlain Valley much more productive than counts in the mountains. But the 56th year of the popular Saranac Lake CBC, held on New Year’s Day, was not to be completely outdone this time around.

“We had our fourth best count ever,” count organizer and compiler Larry Master of Lake Placid said, owing the count’s success to recent warm temperatures.

“It was pretty great,” said Sean O’Brien of Saranac Lake, who also helped with the Pt. AuRoche portion of the Vermont Islands Count on Dec. 18. “The gray jays were fun. They were vocalizing, and they were just everywhere.”

Indeed, the count broke its record with 26 gray jays, a popular species of boreal bogs and coniferous forests, and a species that attracts out-of-state birders to the region. In addition, the count’s 44 species (just three off the record), also included white-winged crossbills (northern finches dropping south this winter to feed on abundant conifer cones), the second-ever record of a great-horned owl, and the count’s first golden eagle (an immature bird flying south).

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