© Kent McFarland

A Record-Setting Morning – Birdwatching Windsor's Lake Runnemede


Submitted 8 months ago

Below is a note sent out by Chris Rimmer, executive director of the Center for Ecostudies, regarding a recent visit to Windsor's Lake Runnemede: 

Kent McFarland, Spencer Hardy and I had a morning we will long remember at Lake Runnemede, more for the numbers of several migrant species we encountered than for overall diversity. Most phenomenal was the fallout of Eastern Phoebes. Many of us have observed unusual numbers of phoebes along the Connecticut River over the past few days, as weather-stressed birds foraged over exposed mud flats and shorelines. Seeing 5-6+ birds at a single site became the norm. Today's concentration at Runnemede blew those numbers out of the water.

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This may sound fanciful, but we counted no fewer than 125 individuals!! They were literally swarming the shoreline and dominating the corn stubble. At one point, I counted carefully with my scope along a ~250-yard stretch of shoreline at the lake's back (western) fringe and tallied 75 phoebes. Several minutes later Spencer counted 31 birds teeing up on corn stubble and weed stalks between ground-based foraging bouts in the big central field. There were easily another 15-20 birds along the shoreline and main dike on the lake's eastern section. It was truly mind-boggling!

Wondering if our numbers might be verging on uncharted territory, I searched eBird to determine individual high spring (March through May) phoebe checklist totals across New England and NY. Here's what I found. It's admittedly crude, but below are the all-time high total spring count and birds/hour for each state, with the week each was recorded (they're not necessarily from the same checklist). I didn't try to track down each individual checklist...

High spring eBird checklist counts of Eastern Phoebe:

VT: 19 total week of 4/8, 5.9 birds/hr week of 3/8
NH: 28 total week of 4/8, 3.25/hr week of 4/8
ME: 25 total week of 4/8, 12.05/hr week of 3/8
MA: 83 week of 4/8, 3.28/hr week of 4/1
CT: 35 week of 4/8, 3.22 week of 4/1
RI: 16 week of 4/8, 3.49 week of 4/1
NY: 71 week of 3/22, 3.48/hr week of 4/1

By my calculations, our count of (at least) 125 phoebes in 2 hours and 25 minutes translates to 55.56 phoebes/hr, pretty well obliterating any earlier records in the Northeast. Interestingly, I don't believe that any of the birds uttered a single call, let alone song, during our observations (granted my hearing isn’t what it used to be...)—they were too intent on foraging. It was an experience not to be forgotten.

While phoebes definitely stole the show, there were some other notable birds. You can view the list of birds spotted along with many photos here.

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