LWC’s Year-end bird count

Twenty-five years of love, wonder, and reverence

By Joe Colman

Great Horned Owl- Photo by Michael Sciortino

In spite of the pandemic, 110 observers came out for the 24th Central Loudoun Christmas Bird Count as 2020 came to a close.  Sponsored by the Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy (LWC), the bird count will celebrate its 25th anniversary this year.  My, my, my what an accomplishment.

LWC excels at what is known as citizen science.  Wildlife monitoring by everyday citizens is a deadly serious business.  It can make your heart soar … or it can smash it to pieces.

In my personal experience, it does both; it’s no easy job to record the loses you see, but, something about it keeps you going.  Our area’s wildlife needs me, so I keep going.

We are so glad you are still here

The 2020 Bird Count found 94 different bird species and 37,439 individuals — all higher than our 24-year count average.

And, while the primary purpose of the Christmas Bird Counts, the world’s longest citizen science project, is to study the population dynamics of birds, it’s always fun to find rare and unusual birds … and this year provided several.

One was a Western Kingbird, a very rare visitor to our area.  We also observed a Golden Eagle, only the second for this count. Both were in an area northeast of Leesburg, which is rich in natural areas.

Cackling Geese were found for only the third time in the history of this count. A Palm Warbler that was found in western Loudoun a little south of the Goose Creek was only the fourth time for that species. A Merlin was another uncommon find.

In terms of sheer numbers the County landfill, usually has the most individuals because of the large flocks of gulls, crows, and starlings that find in it a vast buffet.

The landfill also usually provides some rarities and uncommon species, and this year was no exception. While Lesser Black-backed Gulls are certainly more common than they used to be in the mid-Atlantic.  The one found this year is still a rare visitor to Loudoun County.

Changes from year-to-year are always fascinating.

While last year was a boom year for several species of woodpeckers, only Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers showed up in record numbers this year. In fact, the 10 Red-headed Woodpeckers found were a dramatic decrease from last year’s record 84, but, their decline had a rational reason which we’ve seen before — when the mast (acorn) crop is low, and it was this year, most Red-headed Woodpeckers don’t overwinter in the area.

Hello, Mr. Bluebird, Mr. Crow and more. It was wonderful to see 760 Eastern Bluebirds tallied, not only a record for this count, but a dramatic turnaround from the declines they endured during the height of West Nile Virus’s impact. Also, one can’t help but wonder how much Loudoun Wildlife’s extensive Bluebird Trail program has helped reverse that trend.

Other high counts occurred for Black Vultures (733), Red-shouldered Hawks (163), Fish Crows (1,410), Chipping Sparrows (53), and White-throated Sparrows (2,455), along with 44 Eastern Meadowlarks — especially good news for this grassland species whose numbers have been decreasing for years.

Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy thanks the many participants as well as the numerous landowners who gave us permission to visit their properties. Without both, this count would not be the success it has been for 24 years, and we wouldn’t have this snapshot of what is happening to birds in Loudoun in early winter.

Detailed totals for the county can be seen on www.loudounwildlife.org.  The next count will be on Tuesday, December 28, 2021.

Specific thanks to Bob Abrams, Allison Gallo and Polly Nagell.  Joe Coleman serves as the Compiler for the Central Loudoun Christmas Bird Count.  He is a long term member, leader and board member of the Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy.

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