The 1921 and 1971 Christmas Counts of the NYC Area: A Century of Change

Updated: Dec 24, 2021


Bird Notes: We are close to adding a night walk or two for resident Great Horned Owls, probably at Pelham Bay Park in the Bronx the week after Christmas and New Years. It seems to us though that due to the continuing mild weather, and lack of snow north of us, many fewer owls headed south this autumn than in 2020 - with the exception of Snowy Owls. See the Schedule page of our web site for updates and cancellations due to weather.


22 December 2021


Christmas is a spiritual time for us: we are thankful for all our friends, and that we are lucky enough to continue doing our bird walks together in Central Park.

Muttonbird (Sooty Shearwater) for dinner on Stewart Island. This bird is one of the most common seabirds in the world.

Short-eared Owl at the Shawangunk Grasslands in Ulster County in upstate New York, or about 100 minutes by car from the Bronx. Short-eared Owls bred at Floyd Bennet Field (Brooklyn) until the early 1980s. Photo above taken 21 December 2021 at about 4:15pm - the owls are active before dark at the "Gunks," and viewing platforms make them easy to see.

In this week's Historical Notes we present (a) a "snippet" on a Northern Saw-whet Owl in Central Park in early January 1909 - the observer was Anne A. Crolius. In (b) we send the 1921 Christmas Bird Counts for all areas of Long Island reporting that year. Some quick notes: Can anyone find a report of a Red-bellied Woodpecker on any of the LI counts? Also, note again the large number of American Tree Sparrows found - 465 on one count (= the Long Beach Count)...and the low numbers of Buffleheads (we get more these days on the Reservoir in Central Park than they did even combining ALL the LI counts of 1921)! And overall the low number of species/birds on Long Island for a Christmas Count back then...today (2021) the better LI counts get 125-135 species per count in late December; Finally (c), we send a summary and analysis of one Christmas Count in 1971 (fifty years ago) on Gardiners Island (in Suffolk County, Long Island). Some of the names might be familiar: Peter Post of Central Park (who wanted to see a Turkey on that count - but instead found Kittiwakes); Paul Buckley whom you might recall from our mid-November Newsletter as the bird club member who wanted to "collect" via shotgun, the first known Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross in our waters (29 May 1960); and Grace Tilger of the Bronx - who still lives here in the Bronx, near Deborah and me.

Lots of White-capped Albatrosses (Stewart Island, NZ) on 29 November 2019

Cape Point National Park South Africa 26 November 2021. The "fynbos" (= fine bush) is thought to be the most diverse floral region in the world, with more species (particularly endemic species) than even the Amazon rain forest. That's a Protea shrub in bloom, favorite of Sunbirds and Sugarbirds; the yellow-flowered Protea is surrounded by [above/below] wildflowers in the Composite family - the same family of plants can be found here in NYC.

Good! Bird Walks for late December to Early January 2022

All Walks @ $10/person - all in Central Park (except where noted)

Directions to All Meeting Locations can be found here


1. [CANCELLED: Rain] Saturday, 25 December at 9:30am (Only!) Boathouse Cafe

2. Sunday, 26 December at 9:30am (Only!) Boathouse Cafe; 74th st/East Drive $10


3. Saturday, 1 January 2022 at 9:30am: TBA

4. Sunday, 2 January 2022 at 9:30am (Only!) Boathouse Cafe; 74th st/East Drive $10


5. Saturday, 8 January 2022 at 9:30am: NYBG in the Bronx at 9am.

6. Sunday, 9 January 2022 at 9:30am (Only!) Boathouse Cafe; 74th st/East Drive $10

Any questions send them our way: rdcny@earthlink.net or call: 718-828-8262 (home)

[Gibson's] Wandering Albatross on 22 November 2019 at Kaikoura Bay (South Island, New Zealand)

Franklin's Gull (first winter) 21 December 2021 in Newburgh, New York Deborah Allen


The fine print: Our walks on weekends meet at 9:30am at the Boathouse Restaurant (approx. 74th street and the East Drive) through early January 2020. Please note: the Boathouse is not one of the buildings that surround the nearby Model Boat Pond - people make this mistake all the time!

If in doubt about whether a walk will take place or not the morning of the walk: check the main landing page of this web site as well as the "Schedule" page - if the walk is cancelled, information will be posted there by 6am the day of the walk, and usually by 11pm the night before. If still confused and as a last resort, call us at home - if no one answers it means we left for the bird walk. We end all our Central Park walks (except Fridays) at the Boathouse at about noon; you can get a cup of coffee and a muffin there (around $6 total). Walks last about 3 hrs (less if hot or rainy), and you can leave at anytime - we won't be offended. If you need directions/help to your next destination, just ask someone on the walk - we are a helpful group.

Carolina Wren by Deborah Allen on 10 November at Shakespeare Garden (Central Park)

Franklin's Gull (first winter) with Ring-billed Gulls on 21 December 2021

Newburgh, New York by Deborah Allen

Here is what we saw last week (brief highlights)

This past Sunday was a rough one! So many enthusiastic birders looking for so few birds. We spent much time looking, little time finding, and when we did, the birds were patchily distributed. That brought a few smiles to the cold faces. Some highlights were lots of birds at the Upper Lobe (Oak Bridge) including Fox Sparrows. Heading north, the American Robins eating the bright yellow crab-apples near Sparrow Rock...and the Hooded Mergansers of Turtle Pond. Numbers of Cedar Waxwings had declined from last Sunday...and try as we may we could not locate any warblers (two species a week ago). Thankfully Deborah takes accurate notes...


Deborah's List of Birds for Sunday 19 December 2021: Click Here

White-capped Albatross near Stewart Island, New Zealand on 29 November 2019

Franklin's Gull (first winter) 21 December 2021 in Newburgh, New York Deborah Allen


HISTORICAL NOTEs


Saw-whet Owl in Central Park. On the morning of January 4, 1909, I saw a fine specimen of a Saw-whet Owl in the ramble of the park (quietly sleeping in a low pine tree. I remained an hour in its society and managed by bothering it a little to get a good study of it. It was perched so low, and was so indifferent to things generally, that I could easily have taken it from the branch. It didn't altogether like my opera-glasses when I held them near, for it opened its eyes wide and followed them as I changed position, in the meantime giving me excellent views of it.


A Hermit Thrush, some White-throated Sparrows, and a crowd of English Sparrows, made things lively for a time; but, finding they made no impression on their enemy, they finally left, and let it take its sleep in peace. Anne A. Crolius, New York City.

Red-bellied Woodpecker (male) on 24 October 2021 in Central Park by Deborah Allen


Bird-Lore's Twenty-second Christmas Census – December 1921

THE highest number of species recorded in this census, in the northern and middle Atlantic States, is 37 at Elizabeth, N. J.; comparable, in the northern Mississippi Valley, with 34 at Buckeye Lake, Ohio, (or a combined total of 43 of the Wheaton Club, Columbus, Ohio). Kentucky has 39, Alabama 40, and Oklahoma 38. In the South, 109 at East Goose Creek, Fla., is a larger list than 88 from Santa Barbara, which is the highest for the Pacific coast. It would seem, then, that Florida can successfully rival California in variety of winter birds.


Last year, there were 118 published census reports from the New England and Middle Atlantic States, and Middle Western States north of the Ohio and east of the Mississippi Rivers. Therein the Northern Shrike was recorded ten times, a total of 13 individuals. Except for 1 in Illinois, all (that is 12 individuals) were in the 61 reports from New York and New England. In the corresponding 113 census reports for the present year the Northern Shrike is recorded 37 times, a total of 52 individuals, with a maximum of 3 individuals to any one report (occurring twice). There are 33 individuals in the 57 reports from New York and New England, but none in 8 reports from Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont, as against 3 (of the total 13) in 7 reports from those states last year. For the rest, 15 individuals are reported from New Jersey and Pennsylvania, 2 in Wisconsin, and 2 in Ohio.

Long Island - 1921


East Marion, L. I., N. Y. 27 December 1921; 9.30 to 11.30 a.m. and 2 to 4 p.m. Clear after snow-flurry in early a.m.; wind northwest, light; temp. 28f at start, 31f at return. At least 4 miles on foot along bay shore, fields, and woods/roads. Horned Grebe, 9; Common Loon, 1; Great Black-backed Gull, 1; Herring Gull, 175+; Ring-billed Gull, 1; Scaup, 100+; American Golden-eye, 20; Old Squaw, 11; White-winged Scoter, 6; Horned Lark, 16; Crow, 25 +; Starling, 60+; Meadowlark, 8; Goldfinch, 1; Tree Sparrow, 18; Song Sparrow, 22; Myrtle Warbler, 15; Red-breasted Nuthatch, 1; Black-capped Chickadee, 7; Robin, 1. Total, 20 species, about 498 individuals.


Mabel R. Wiggins.

=========================

Hempstead, L. I., N. Y. 25 December 1921; 8 to 11 a.m., 2 to 4.30 p.m. Hail in a.m., undecided and unfavorable all day; av. temp. 35f. Herring Gull, 315+; Wilson's Snipe, 1; [Bobwhite] Quail, 12+; Cooper's Hawk, (?), 1; Downy Woodpecker, 1; Horned Lark, 60+; Blue Jay, 1; Crow, 397+; Starling, 29; Tree Sparrow, 36; Slate-colored Junco, 17; Song Sparrow, 13; Swamp Sparrow, 3; Winter Wren, 1; Brown Creeper, 3; White-breasted Nuthatch, 2; Chickadee, 6. Total, 17 species, 898 individuals.


Jeanne O. Ritter and Theodore G. Roehne.

============================

Long Beach, L. I., N. Y. 26 December 1921. 9.45 a.m. to 4.15 p.m. Clear in morning, cloudy in afternoon; snow; temp. 26f. Thirteen miles covered on foot. Light northwest breeze. Observers remained together. Horned Grebe, 20; Herring Gull, 300; Great Black-backed Gull, 1; Red-breasted Merganser, 1; Black Duck, 28; Scaup Duck, 2; Bufflehead, 2; Old Squaw, 5; American Scoter, 25; White-winged Scoter, 175; Surf Scoter, 300; Snowy Owl, 1; Horned Lark, 52; Prairie Horned Lark, 1; American Crow, 3; Starling, 1; Snow Bunting, 100; Lapland Longspur, 2; Ipswich Sparrow, 1. Total, 19 species, about 1,020 individuals.


Frank and Robert Mathews.

Short-eared Owl on 21 December 2021 in Ulster County, N.Y.


Long Beach, L. I., N. Y. 26 December 1921; 9.30 a.m. to 5P.M. Clear to overcast; light north wind; temp. 22f at start, 32f at return. Twelve miles on foot. Horned Grebe, 30; Holboell's [Red-necked] Grebe, 1; Black-backed Gull, 40 (chiefly across inlet on Jones Beach); Herring Gull, 500+; Bonaparte Gull, 1; Red-breasted Merganser, 4; Black Duck, 4; Old Squaw, 7; American [Black] Scoter, 10; White-winged Scoter, 500+; Surf Scoter, 100+; Marsh Hawk, 2; Sparrow Hawk [American Kestrel], 2; Snowy Owl, 1; Horned Lark, 75; Prairie Horned Lark, 1; American Crow, 20; Starling, 60; Meadowlark, 1; Snow Bunting, 100; Lapland Longspur, 2; Ipswich Sparrow, 2; Tree Sparrow, 6; Song Sparrow, 2. Total, 24 species. 1,471+ individuals. (Holboell's Grebe and Lapland Longspurs added by Mr. W. R. Boulton.)


CHARLES JOHNSTON

=============================

Long Beach, L. I., N. Y. 26 December 1921. No ice or snow; dandelions still in bloom. Morning cloudy; wind light, southwest; thick haze off-shore; temp, rising from 39f; heavy clouds and northwest gale from early afternoon with quick fall of temperature to 8f by morning. Horned Grebe, 12; Red-throated Loon 2; Black-backed Gull, moderate numbers; Herring Gull, many thousands; Ring-billed Gull, 4 (adult and immature); Red-breasted Merganser, 7; Black Duck, great flocks off-shore on the water and in flight; Old-Squaw, an adult male dead on the beach perfectly fresh; White-winged Scoter, large numbers, one flock of near 2,000; Surf Scoter, numerous; Marsh Hawk, a male (1); Sparrow Hawk [American Kestrel], 2; Crow, common; Starling, say 100; Snow Bunting, flock of about 125; Seaside Sparrow, 1; Tree Sparrow, 465; Song Sparrow, 2. Total, 18 species. Very unusual at this season to miss Old Squaws, Horned Larks, Ipswich Sparrows and Myrtle Warblers.


E. P. Bicknell.

====================================

Mastic, L. I., N. Y. 26 December 1921; between 7 a.m. and 2 p.m.; 5.5 hours in the field. Cloudy, a powdering of new snow, almost gone by noon; open water everywhere, except ice at mouth of creek; wind northeast, dying down; temp. 32f to 40f. Mainland and marsh bordering bay. Observers together and separate. Great Black-backed Gull, 2; Herring Gull, 8; American Merganser, 5; Black Duck, 30; Golden-eye, 5; Ducks, (unidentified, probably mostly Marila/Scaup), 250; Canada Goose, 19 (a flock migrating high); Great Blue Heron, 2; American Coot (Fulica), 170 (J. T. N.); Mourning Dove, 6; Marsh Hawk, 1; Red-tailed Hawk, 2; Rough-legged Hawk, 1; Sparrow Hawk [American Kestrel], 1; Hairy Woodpecker, 6; Downy Woodpecker, 2; Flicker, 6; Blue Jay, 40; American Crow, 30; Starling, 350 (mostly 1 or 2 large flocks in pastures); Meadowlark, 8; Goldfinch, 6; Tree Sparrow, 35; Junco, 15; Song Sparrow, 6; Northern Shrike, 1; Myrtle Warbler, 50; Brown Creeper, 1; White-breasted Nuthatch, 1 (W. F. N.); Black-capped Chickadee, 25; Golden-crowned Kinglet, 12. Total, 30+ species, 1,096 individuals. NO House Sparrows. The Coots were on the bay, many close to the marsh, whence they flew further out when approached. Observed as close and as long as desired, mostly in one straggling flock.


W. F. and J. T. Nichols.

Western Tanager (female) on 17 December 2021 in Manhattan Deborah Allen


Montauk (to Montauk Point) L. L., N. Y. 24 December 1921; daylight until dark. Sky overcast, occasionally drizzling; wind northeast, light; temp. 40f. Observers together. Holboell's [Red-necked] Grebe, 4; Horned Grebe, 25; Loon, 200; Red-throated Loon, 3; Iceland Gull, 1; Great Black-backed Gull, 7; Herring Gull, 1,500; Bonaparte's Gull, 1; Gannet, 1 (ad.); American Merganser, 25; Red-breasted Merganser, 75; Hooded Merganser, 1; Black Duck, 50; Scaup, 2; Goldeneye, 25; Bufflehead, 1; Old Squaw, 40; American Scoter, 50; White-winged Scoter, 750; Surf Scoter, 50; Canada Goose, 85; American Coot, 5; Marsh Hawk, 1; Sharp-shinned (?) Hawk, 1; Horned Lark, 34; Crow, 16; Starling, 2,200; Meadowlark, 5; Tree Sparrow, 9; Song Sparrow, 5; Myrtle Warbler, 25; Chickadee, 3. Total, 32 species, 5,215 individuals. Scarcity of the commoner Ducks and land-birds remarkable.


Julius M. Johnson and Ludlow Griscom.

======================================

Northport, L. I., N. Y. 27 December 1921; 11 a.m. to 4P.M. Clear; 0.5in. of newly fallen snow, bays and Sound clear of ice; wind northwest, light; temp. 35f. Horned Grebe, 3; Herring Gull, 250; Ring-billed Gull, 1 (imm.); Black Duck, 8; Greater Scaup Duck, over 1,000; Old Squaw, 150; American Scoter, 10; White-winged Scoter, 65; Surf Scoter, 300; Crow, 8; Starling, 11; Meadowlark, 1; Tree Sparrow, 4; Juncos, 9; Song Sparrow, 1; Myrtle Warbler, 6; Chickadee, 1. Total, 17 species, about 1800 individuals. All of the Scaup were in Northport Harbor; all of the Scoters and most of the Old Squaws were in the Sound. Land-birds were remarkably scarce though conditions for observation were excellent.


Edward Fleisher.

====================================

Sands Point, L. I., N. Y. 23 December 1921, 12.30 to 1.30 p.m. and 3.20 to 5 p.m. Cloudy; 2 in. of snow; wind west, moderate; temp, about 36f. Three miles on foot. Observers together. Loon, 1; Herring Gull, 20; American Golden-eye, 12; Great Blue Heron, 1; Red-shouldered Hawk, 1; Screech Owl, 2; Downy Woodpecker, 1; Flicker, 1; Horned Lark, 7; American Crow, 3; Meadowlark, 3; Starling, 4; Goldfinch, 7; White-throated Sparrow, 1; Tree Sparrow, 10; Slate-colored Junco, 7; Song Sparrow, 1; Brown Creeper, 1; Black-capped Chickadee, 1; Golden-crowned Kinglet, 3. Total, 20 species, about 84 individuals.


Louise B. Laidlow and Laidlow O. Williams.

Merlin on 16 December 2021 in Pelham Bay Park, The Bronx (NYC) Deborah Allen


Bird Count Up During Annual Yule Tally on L.I. - 1971

James A. Hudson

26 December 1971


GARDINERS ISLAND, Long Island. A hardy band of birdwatchers braved heavy seas last week to journey here and participate In the National Audubon Society's annual Christmas bird census. Their reward for their efforts was the sighting of more birds than had been seen in recent years.

The Gardiners Island count was done in concert with one at Captree, and the 132 observers who participated in the two accounted for the largest such effort on Long Island.

A total of 160 species was sighted. “That's more than have been sighted in the entire metropolitan area on some Christmas counts,” said Dr. P. A. Buckley, a professor of biology at Hofstra University.

Of the 132 participants, 23 surveyed the bird population of this relatively untouched island on a day that began with discomfort. They ignored small‐craft warnings to shove off from Three Mile Harbor in a 41‐foot lobster boat at 6:30 A.M.

However, after a day of bird counting — highlighted by the sighting of a bald eagle and a number of species of birds unlikely to be found in this area at this time of year — all the watchers agreed that the trip had been worth it.

Dr. Buckley said that two species of birds had been sighted in the Montauk census that had never been sighted in previous Christmas counts in that area. These were the European or common teal and the least sandpiper.

The professor said the Captree count added seven new species. These were the green heron, Cooper's hawk, the Western Kingbird, the magpie, phoebe, bluebird and loggerhead shrike.

Dr. Buckley attributed the high count to two factors—the unusually mild weather that had affected migratory habits and the fact that each year's census generally attracts a larger number of well qualified spotters than previous years.

“Get more eyes out there looking and you'll sight more species,” he said.

Guests of Manor's Lord

The birdwatchers were invited to the island by Robert David Lion Gardiner, the 16th Lord of the Manor of Gardiners Island.

Other census takers who made the trip included Dr. Buckley's wife, Francine, a biology professor at Suffolk County Community College who is known professionally as Dr. F. G. Buckley; Grace Tilger of the Bronx, a friend of the Buckleys; Bill Ward of Islip, an officer of the State Department of Environmental Conservation, and Olney M. Raymond of Shinnecock Hills, a retired lawyer for the old Kings County Lighting Company.


“One of the most interesting things about Gardiners Island is its hawks and eagles,” Dr. Buckley said. “We'd he quite disappointed if we didn't see a bald eagle. This island is one of the few places around where you can expect to see an eagle.

Sgt. Robert L. Anderson, who is from Norfolk but is now stationed at the Air Force Hospital at Plattsburg, N.Y., said he had studied with Dr. Buckley at Old Dominion University in his hometown and had wanted to accompany his former professor on previous bird counts but had not been able to until now.

As Sergeant Anderson gazed through a telescope at a distant bald eagle swooping over a cliff on the island, he exclaimed: “Oh, man! This makes the whole trip worthwhile!”

Wild Turkey, Point Peninsula Wildlife Management Area, NY, 24 Feb 2021 Deborah Allen


In early afternoon, the participants convened at the Gardiner manor house, where Mr. Gardiner, who had joined in the birdwatching, offered the visitors refreshments.

There the birdwatchers compared notes on the day's findings. Dr. Peter Post, who earlier expressed the hope of sighting a wild turkey, reported that he had not seen a turkey “but we saw seven kittiwakes.”

“No joke!” Dr. Buckley replied.

Another birdwatcher explained to the only non-birdwatcher in the group that kittiwakes, small oceanic gulls, are so pelagic — or ocean‐loving — that outside the breeding season they were seldom seen from shore.

This was the fifth full scale annual count conducted on Gardiners Island as part of the Montauk Christmas count. And the Montauk count was part of the nationwide bird census that is in its second weekend today and will conclude next weekend.

After all reports were in here, Dr. Buckley said that 22 species had been sighted on the island that hadn't been seen elsewhere in the Montauk count.

“It's a fabulous place, ornithologically speaking,” he said.

===========================

Deborah Allen and Robert DeCandido PhD

Follow our Bird Sightings on Twitter: @DAllenNYC and/or @BirdingBobNYC

Bontebok (Damaliscus pygargus) Cape Point Nature Reserve, South Africa

10 November 2021 by Deborah Allen - from our recent trip.

[below] The Fynbos Cape Point Nature Reserve, South Africa

26 November 2021 - this is Bontebok country (they prefer to eat the grasses).

[below] The Fynbos Cape Point Nature Reserve, South Africa on 26 November 2021

[below] Sugarbird on 23 November 2021 in the Fynbos of South Africa by Deborah Allen

[below] Salt Marsh on 8 November 2021 in West Coast National Park, South Africa