The 2011 Hamburg Breeding Bird Survey

 

(This 1061st Buffalo Sunday News column was first published on July 24, 2011.)

 

This is about the fifth year that I have assisted Mike Morgante on his Hamburg Breeding Bird Survey. I used to run my own survey route south of Silver Creek, but in birding, age catches up with you and my declining hearing and eyesight has relegated me to driver.

 

These annual surveys are not just fun; they also add significant information to our knowledge of the changing status of bird populations. Each year almost 3000 of these routes are run by capable birders and the information is gathered and made available for research by the U.S. Geological Survey.

 

Each route is 24.5 miles long and comprises 50 3-minute road stops a half-mile apart. At each stop the observer reports every bird seen or heard. The toughest part for me is starting a half-hour before sunrise, which means getting up before 4 a.m. to make our 5 a.m. first count.

 

The Hamburg route runs from south of the village through town and on toward East Aurora. This year, after a mix-up on my part - I drove past the meeting place at routes 219 and 20A and had to hustle back - we set out on a beautiful morning with very little wind, few clouds and shirtsleeve temperature.

 

This route is especially interesting as it takes us through rural, suburban and urban areas, each with its distinctive birds. There are two features of beginning early that we appreciate: we are treated to the dawn chorus of birds and the traffic is light until after about 8:00 a.m.

 

The Hamburg route has been censused since 1967, shortly after the national program was initiated. Even this single route is rich with information. This year we added two species not previously recorded: osprey and common merganser, and we recorded new maximums for

Canada goose 3, rough-winged swallow 7, redstart 4, hooded warbler 3, and cardinal 51. The buzzy way-be-oh call of an alder flycatcher was only the fourth recorded on the 43 surveys.

 

By examining the Hamburg counts over the years, I found a number of trends. Although some of these changes are due to the increased suburbanization of the survey area, others reflect more general population differences.

 

A few species increased in numbers: turkey vulture, ring-billed gull, several of the woodpeckers and other feeder visitors, bluebird, redstart, pine and hooded warblers, junco and cardinal. Declining populations include: pheasant, rock pigeon, purple martin, wood thrush, and virtually all of the meadow birds: towhee; field, vesper, savannah, grasshopper and Henslow's sparrows; and meadowlark. Those missing meadow birds are despite our stops at a number of open fields.

 

We didn't have any of our usual experiences such as stops by police asking if we needed assistance, but I found among the reports from last year some interesting incidents:

 

Oregon: "With the keys on the driver's seat, our border collie Heidi put her paw on the door handle and triggered the electric locks, with all of the windows closed. This is in a remote part of the Ochoco Mountains, so we didn't know how long we might wait for someone with modern tools to come along. So we used a bit of Stone Age technology (a roadside rock) to smash the back window so that Wil could crawl through. After getting out the first aid kit to bandage my hand, we continued to the next stop, though forgetting my binoculars on the ground! I borrowed Wil's bin's for the last few stops. Then we went back to retrieve my bins, clean up broken glass, and rig up a way to keep the dust out for the ride home."

 

Wyoming: "I was by the stock pond when a lively young horse trots around (it's open range) headed for the hood of my Highlander, which he proceeds to rub with his nose, and then lick. I am continuing to count, but when the horse starts hoofing and pawing at my hood, I stop, hop into my vehicle and honk madly. I cannot think of the expression on that horse's face without laughing! He did back off and I hightailed it for the other side of the cattle guard, horse following the whole way. Since then, my friends have said, oh yeah, they have a thing for car paint!-- Gerry Rising"