Here is an overview of the National Audubon Society’s Christmas Bird Counts conducted in central Maine between mid-December and early January.

The Waterville count was held Dec. 18. A lower-than-normal total of 47 species were detected, owing in large part to freezing rain that delayed the start of the count and restricted birding on foot.

A northern pintail, six Barrow’s goldeneyes and a bufflehead were the most unusual of nine species of waterfowl. Two red-bellied woodpeckers and a lingering northern flicker were notable. Thirteen pine grosbeaks were the only northern finches. Two northern shrikes graced the count with their presence.

Dairy farms in the northern part of the count circle are usually good for ground-dwelling land birds. This agricultural habitat did not disappoint this year, yielding three Lapland longspurs, six snow buntings, six savannah sparrows and an all-time high count of 325 horned larks.

The highlight of the count was a buteo hawk with characteristics of both a red-tailed hawk and a red-shouldered hawk (the latter rare in the winter in Kennebec County). Louis Bevier photographed the bird and determined it was a hybrid between these two species.

The Augusta count took place Dec. 31, rescheduled from Dec. 17 because of snow. This count yielded 54 species. Three sandhill cranes were a big surprise.

The Hatch Hill transfer station is usually good for white-winged gulls. This year one glaucous and five Iceland gulls were spotted.

Boreal chickadees are common in the mountains and coastal spruce-fir forests of Maine but are rare in Kennebec County. One appeared at a suet feeder in Augusta just after Christmas and stuck around long enough to be tallied in the Augusta bird count.

This count did produce a few irruptive finches: two pine grosbeaks, 56 purple finches, a pine siskin and nine common redpolls.

Just a bit north of Augusta, the Unity bird count took place in the snow on Dec. 17. A total of 39 species were found, fewer than in past years. The heavy snow is no doubt the explanation for the failure to find any mallards, as well as the low numbers of many other species.

A lingering American kestrel and savannah sparrow were nice finds. Northern visitors included 125 snow buntings, a northern shrike, a pine siskin and 27 pine grosbeaks.

Evening grosbeaks staged a modest incursion into Maine in the fall, although most seem to have passed through the state. The 36 evening grosbeaks in Unity were excellent finds.

Let’s move west to Farmington for highlights of their Dec. 28 count. A total of 35 species were detected. With most water frozen over, waterfowl were nearly absent. In fact, a single snow goose (an unusual species for this time of year) was the only waterfowl species. A lingering northern harrier was a highlight.

Northern visitors included 206 bohemian waxwings, 36 snow buntings, 42 pine grosbeaks and a nice total of 37 evening grosbeaks.

Participants tallied 25 tufted titmice, a clear indication that this species has established itself in Franklin County. Titmice continue their invasion of Maine. The species was essentially absent in central Maine 25 years ago.

Lingering birds in Farmington included four song sparrows and an eastern bluebird.

Continuing to the southwest, we’ll cover the Sweden count in Oxford County on Dec. 28. This count produced 37 species.

Four American black ducks and 244 mallards were the only waterfowl. Gamebirds included three ruffed grouse and 194 wild turkeys. A lingering northern flicker and six red-bellied woodpeckers were nice additions to the expected eowny, hairy and pileated woodpecker counts.

Northern visitors included a single northern shrike, a single bohemian waxwing and a lone snow bunting.

Hardy lingering birds included a winter wren and seven eastern bluebirds.

Herb Wilson teaches ornithology and other biology courses at Colby College. He welcomes reader comments and questions at

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