Tomorrow, December 14 will mark the 50th anniversary of the Catskill-Coxsackie CBC, which covers most of eastern Greene County and extreme western Columbia County in Eastern New York. This will be the 5th year I have participated on this count and the 3rd year in a row with Danika.
But since this is the 50th year, I thought it would be fun to take a look back at CBC past and look at how things have changed on the Count since it was first run in 1960.
The early CBCers on the Catskill-Coxsackie CBC obviously didn’t spend much time near water even though the entire Hudson River is in the County Circle! For the entire decade (1960-1969) only 2 species of waterfowl were recorded. Canada Goose, with one lonely individual in 1968 and American Black Duck which totaled 38 for the entire decade, peaking with 35 in 1965. No other waterfowl were recorded, not even a Mallard.
Pheasant, Grouse and Turkey
By and large the Coxsackie-Athens area was largely agricultural, so it’s no surprise that Ring-necked Pheasant (and introduced species) had its hey-day in the 1960’s, with a total of 58 individuals recorded for the decade, with a max of 17 in 1968. Ruffed Grouse was also fairly common in those days in the more wooded sections of the count circle with 38 total for the decade, with a max of 11 in 1963. It may be hard for birders today to comprehend, but no Wild Turkey were recorded during the 1960’s.
The Coxsackie-Athens flats is well-known for its winter populations of raptors and despite their being far more habitat available in the 1960’s then compared to today, overall raptor numbers were low. This may also be a result of DDT which wasn’t banned in the US until 1970 and would lead to a boom in raptors thereafter. Only 2 Sharp-Shinned Hawks for the decade, seen in back to back years (1965-1966, same bird perhaps?). 4 Red-Shouldered Hawks, which is a good winter bird in Upstate New York, no doubt took advantage of the riparian woodlots surrounding the agricultural areas. Red-tailed Hawk, today the most abundant raptor totaled only 54 for the 10 year period, peaking with 19 in 1968. Rough-Legged Hawk, which is also normally abundant on the flats had a total of 42 birds, with a max of 17 in 1961.
As for Falcons, Peregrine Falcon was pretty much extirpated from the area during those years and endangered and Merlin was always rare (this has changed today in fact 2009 was the first year, more Merlin were recorded on the count than Kestrels!, but I’m getting ahead of myself). American Kestrel was never abundant but reliably recorded with 23 individuals for the decade, with a max of 9 in 1968.
Since waterfowl numbers were extremely low, it’s no surprise that Gull numbers were absurdly low as well. A grand total of 50 Herring Gulls were recorded for the decade, more than half of them (32) in 1964. No other Gull species were reported, which actually might not be too far off. Great Black-backed Gull was more of coastal species and Ring-billed Gull was only just becoming established inland. With no great concentrations of gulls, species like Iceland and Glaucous were hard to find. And Lesser Black-backed Gull wouldn’t even be found in the area for another 20 years!
For the moment we are going to forgive those pioneer CBCers (who still should have known better) for not counting Rock Dove. There are many Rock Doves and there were then too. But not a single one was recorded. Mourning Dove only totaled 116 for the decade (perhaps still hunted then) with a max of 45 in 1966 (I often find that many in one tree these days!).
Owing more to lack of effort than lack of birds, owl numbers are very low. Owls no doubt were also affected by DDT and I would expect lower numbers, but only 2 Eastern Screech Owls for the decade and 5 Great-Horned Owls (3 in 1967 alone) seem low. No Short-Eared Owls which the area is famous for, Long-Eared Owls or Snowy Owl.
So far it seems numbers were quite low, but rest assured Catskill-Coxsackie CBCers of the 1960’s could count their woodpeckers. In fact a Red-bellied Woodpecker was recorded in 1965, some 30 years before they would become event remotely common in the area. Downy Woodpecker was well represented with 335 for the decade with a max of 56 in 1968, Hairy Woodpecker with 171 and a max of 30 in 1963, Northern Flicker with 6 total, half of them in (3) in 1967. Pileated Woodpecker had 29 over the period with 6 in 1966.
Northern Shrike was seen a total of 3 times in the 1960’s, 2 of which were found in 1961. While almost annual in the area, they can be quite difficult to find.
Blue Jay numbers actually seem on par with today, with 1196 for the 10 year period and max of 290 in 1966. American Crow numbers are low compared to today, but totaled 3334 for the decade and a max of 670 in 1966. Common Raven had not rebounded yet and Fish Crow was still rare, especially in winter.
As I mentioned earlier the Catskill-Coxsackie area was heavily agricultural, as result of nicely manured fields (not the spray they use today), this led to excellent habitat for Horned Lark which was fairly abundant for the decade with 915 total and a nice max of 250 in 1968.
Chickadees, Titmice, Nuthatches and Creeper
Because these birds are very common in winter, can be seen from inside a warm house at a feeder and often travel together, its no surprise that numbers for all these species were fairly robust. Black-capped Chickadee totaled 1517 for the decade with a max 250 in 1968. Tufted Titmouse, which was still only becoming established had 134 for the decade with a peak of 28 in 1968. Red-breasted Nuthatch was low with a total of 12 and a max of 3 in both 1962 and 1963. White-breasted Nuthatch was solid with 337 for the decade, and a max of 54 in 1968. Brown Creeper is largely missed because it blends in so well, but observers found a respectable 21 for the decade with a max of 5 in 1963 and 1966.
Carolina Wren, another southern species that was only just becoming established in the are was represented with 2 birds, both found in 1961. Winter Wren, while uncommon totaled 7 for the decade with a max of 2 in both 1962 and 1963.
Golden Crowned Kinglet has enjoyed a boom over the last few decades due in large part to artificial plantations of evergreens across the state. This boom was just beginning in the 1960’s, so numbers were a bit lower than more modern counts. 12 individuals were recorded for the period, but 9! of those were found on one count (1962).
Thrush numbers seem low, but Eastern Bluebird was perhaps at its lowest point with its competition against House Sparrow and European Starling, with only 6 for the entire decade, 4 of which were seen on the 1965 Count. American Robin also seemed very low, with only 39 spotted for the decade (as opposed to often 1000’s today) and a max of 11 in 1963.
Much like Carolina Wren, Tufted Titmouse and Northern Cardinal, Northern Mockingbird was only just becoming established in the region. Yet the counts produced a respectable 8 individuals for the period with a max of 3 in 1966. One Brown Thrasher was found in 1964, which remains a very rare bird on this CBC.
The most abundant bird in North America was certainly abundant during the 1960’s. 6684 were spotted over the decade with a max of 2100 in 1967, low by some standards but compared to other species, very, very abundant.
Much like American Robin, Cedar Waxwing numbers seem very low, but not surprising since both species are often found together in fruiting trees in the winter. Only 56 were found for the decade, but 41 of them were found in 1966 alone.
Sparrows, Buntings and Longspurs
The agricultural habitat, with hedges to separate fields and to help with erosion, make it great Sparrow habitat. Rufous-Sided Towhee is a lingering species, with 4 total for the decade and a max of 2 in 1968. American Tree Sparrow comparatively was abundant with 3452 for the same period, with a max of 920 in 1968! Chipping Sparrow, another lingering bird was found on one count, but 3 individuals (some concern here with perhaps these birds being mis-identified with American Tree Sparrow) 6 Field Sparrows for the decade seems about average, with 4 in 1969 a respectable number. Fox Sparrow registered 12 for the period, kind of high with 10 of them in 1968. Song Sparrow was shockingly abundant with 90 for the decade with a max of 26 in 1963. Swamp Sparrow remained rare, perhaps a bit less common than today, with only 2 (individuals in 1965 and 1968). White-throated Sparrow was likely more abundant than what was reported, 37 seems low for the decade, with a max of 17 in 1969. One White-Crowned Sparrow was found in 1968, this species remains rare. Dark-eyed Junco was fairly common with 1998 for the period, with a max of 500 in 1967. Much like Horned Lark, habitat was conducive for Snow Buntings with 959 for the decade and a max of 330 in 1968. Despite solid numbers of both Lark and Buntings, no Lapland Longspurs were reported.
Red-winged Blackbird was reported in low numbers and remains so today. 4 individuals were found in the 1960’s, 2 in 1967 alone. Eastern Meadowlark was uncommon, but regular with 72 for the decade and a max of 28 in 1963, numbers we wish we still saw today. A lone Rusty Blackbird was found in 1966, this species is very rare in winter. Common Grackle also remained uncommon to rare with 6 reported for the decade, half of them (3) in 1967. Brown-headed Cowbird, a species many birders despised was perhaps the most abundant blackbird, with a total of 467 and a max of 270 in 1967.
Cardinals and Finches
Northern Cardinal arrived well ahead of Carolina Wren, Mockingbird et al and was well established by the time the Catskill-Coxsackie CBC started. The decade total of 501 and max of 120 in 1968 were a sure sign of things to come. Pine Grosbeak had a respectable 97 for the decade, somewhat higher than modern times and a max of 38 in 1968. Purple Finch only totaled 40, with a max of 12 in both 1961 and 1967. Common Redpoll was irruptive with 466 total, but 350 in 1968. Pine Siskin was also irruptive with a total of 96 for the decade and max of 74 in 1963. American Goldfinch was common, 830 for the decade and a max of 240 in 1965. Evening Grosbeak was just starting to peak in the region, 624 for the decade with a max of 190 in 1963, a far cry from today’s numbers.
Perhaps the most loathed species after Starling and Cowbird, House Sparrow was very common on the Catskill-Coxsackie CBC due in large part to the many active farms. 4022 for the decade was respectable with a max of 750 in 1966.
As with any counts there are a number of factors which contribute to how many species and the numbers recorded. typically these early counts were late start/early Finish days between a relative few amount of people. Weather also plays a big role, with cold weather and mild weather each have serious impacts on what species are found. Deep snows tend to limit raptor numbers, but often increase sparrow numbers near roadsides. With better participation in the 1970’s and beyond and more enthusiastic observers, no doubt we will see some significant number changes in the 1970’s and increase in total species seen.