LAKE JAMES — The 32th annual Christmas Bird Count, based at Pokagon State Park, recorded five bald eagles on Dec. 28.
Crews of counters took to the field in a 15-mile diameter circle with Angola at the center. This includes a large portion of Steuben County, the most northeastern county in Indiana. The circle has been split into seven zones, which teams of birders search and record birds.
Thirty-one observers in the field and two at feeders tallied 69 species, five more than last year, but falling just one species shy of the 2007 record of 70. The count has been held continuously for 32 years at Pokagon and is part of the 112th National Audubon Society Christmas Bird Count.
Along with the five eagles — two were seen each year from 2007 to 2010 — a record 17 wood ducks were witnessed. The sandhill crane count blew former tallies away at 3,720 birds. The former record was five of the cranes in 2006. A number of other records were made, including six horned grebe and two barred owls.
A killdeer was seen for the first time for the Christmas count, a pair were spotted in a grassy area near the boat ramp of Pigeon Lake located near the Brammall Nature Preserve, off U.S. 20.
The temperature range was 26 to 32 degrees.
“The past week saw some warm weather and a few days before we finally got a thin blanket of snow,” said count tallier Fred Wooley, interpretive naturalist at Pokagon State Park. “Practically all but the smallest puddles were open. There was enough snow, however, to dust our boots most of the day. We lucked out with a beautiful weather day for the count with clear or mostly clear skies and no precipitation. There was a light wind from the northwest throughout the day with a few gusts up to 20 miles per hour here and there.”
Of the 69 species seen, eight (11 percent) were represented by just one individual. Nine more were represented by two or three individuals.
“There was no frozen water this year due to warm temperatures making it difficult to find concentrations of aquatic birds,” said Wooley. “Winter finches and sparrows seemed to be lacking in this year’s count with no white-throated and white-crowned sparrows, one purple finch and a small flock of pine siskins being reported.”
Fewer owls were recorded than in previous counts with only two barred owls and one red-phase screech owl being reported; no short-eared or saw-whet owls were found. A great-horned owl was recorded during count week, but was not recorded on count day.
“It’s common to find some unexpected birds while missing a handful of common birds and that was again the case in 2011,” said Wooley. “Surprisingly absent from our count were cedar waxwings, northern shrikes and golden-crowned kinglets."
John Schaust from Wild Birds Unlimited and Brad Bumgardner from Indiana Dunes State Park stayed an extra day and conducted a bird banding demonstration. Pokagon interpreter Maggie Jaicomo helped with crunching the numbers, comparing results and completing the report.
This year’s Pokagon Christmas Bird Count, including all participant fees paid to the National Audubon Society, was sponsored by the Michael Bultinck Birding Education Fund. The fund was established in memory of Michael Bultinck and is administered by the Steuben County Community Foundation. Bultinck was an avid birder and regular participant in the Pokagon CBC.
Contributions to the Bultinck Birding Education Fund can be made to the Community Foundation at steubenfoundation.org.
The 2012 count will be Friday, Dec. 28.