A Great Day for Birds ─ The 19th Annual Central Loudoun Christmas Bird Count
By Joe Coleman
Because of a weather forecast calling for rain and heavy fog the first part of the day, none of our 20 or so teams went out owling early, and in fact, several of the teams created options for their team members to join them later than their normal beginning times. While the birding did start slowly because of the weather, the fog and rain lifted about 9:30 a.m. and it turned into a beautiful day with stunning cloud formations occasionally pierced by the sun. And that is when the birding really began!
While the 92 species found by the 110 participants was average for the count, the 46,782 individuals were the most we have ever found in our 19 years of counting. And among those 92 species were some pretty unusual ones. The team covering the area north of Leesburg found our first-ever Eurasian Wigeon, which was only Virginia’s fifth Piedmont record of this duck. Our second-ever Black-crowned Night-Heron, a juvenile, was found by the team covering the east side of Route 15 south of Oatlands. As always, the County Landfill proved to be very productive with two Lesser Black-backed Gulls, a juvenile and an adult, only the second time this species has been found on the count. A Palm Warbler and six Horned Grebes, only the third time these two species have been seen on this count, were found by the team that covers the Beaverdam Reservoir area. Four of these species were found on properties not normally open to the public, pointing out how important the special permissions we receive are to the overall success of the count.
Our species count was only average because this winter’s mild weather (at least up to that point) had not encouraged many northern species to migrate this far south yet. As a result we missed a number of ducks as well as some other species. However, that same mild weather appears to have led to especially large numbers of American Robins (11,719) and Cedar Waxwings (1,066), both feeding on the extensive berry and fruit crops that occurred because of last spring and summer’s rains. We also had unusually high numbers of Ring-billed Gulls (5,171), Herring Gulls (400), Black Vultures (640), and Fish Crows (1,356).
About 5:30 p.m., 40 of us gathered at Morven Park’s Stone Barn to share in a delicious potluck dinner and share stories and some tall tales about our day, as well as go through the checklist for unusual sightings. Our thanks go out to the volunteers, some of whom couldn’t join us for the count because they had to work, who made the potluck a success.
One of the best aspects of this year’s count was how many families joined us. On December 12 we sponsored an introduction to bird-watching for families. We were thrilled that many of the participants, and some who couldn’t make the 12th, joined us for the count and indicated they’ll be coming out for more birding events in the future!
Loudoun Wildlife thanks the many landowners, private and public, who let us visit their properties. Without that access, this count would not be nearly as successful.
We also want to thank all the birders, experienced and beginner, and especially the 20 sector leaders who spent hours in the field and made this a very successful count.