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Rare snow goose, gadwall duck found during Christmas Bird Count |
Valley News Dispatch

Rare snow goose, gadwall duck found during Christmas Bird Count

Mary Ann Thomas
| Wednesday, January 16, 2019 5:18 p.m
Courtesy of the Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania
This snow goose, a rarity in Allegheny County, was documented in Lawrenceville’s Allegheny Cemetery during the Christmas Bird Count last month.

A snow goose in Allegheny Cemetery in Lawrenceville and a gadwall duck in Harmar were among the rare finds for the Pittsburgh Christmas Bird Count, part of the annual census of the birds.

On the Dec. 29 count day, Pittsburgh’s bird count tallied 24,877 birds of 71 varieties, according to the Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania, the local sponsor for the national bird study.

While rare and unusual birds do turn up for the bird count, the local count did break a record this time: The highest number of counters ever at 228 volunteers, according to Brian Shema, compiler of the bird count and operations manager of the Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania.

In its 119th year, the Pittsburgh bird count is part of the national Christmas Bird Count that began as a movement to document birds rather than kill them on Christmas Day bird shoots. The bird count since has become the largest volunteer citizen science project in the country, documenting bird population trends, habitat changes and other information.

Pittsburgh might even rank nationally with its high volunteer turnout as it did in 2013 with fewer volunteers — 183 watchers — landing it in the top 10 count circles in terms of volunteers out of more than 1,000 counts across the country.

Shema knew it was going to be a banner year when he received several hundred emails from residents in the Pittsburgh area interested in participating.

“Over one weekend, I received 60 emails about the bird count and a total of 310, which is mind-boggling to me,” he said.

The interest likely was stoked by personal communications from Audubon and volunteer hike leaders as well as recruiting volunteers in media stories and social media, Shema said.

Volunteers fanned out in a 15-mile count circle centered in Shaler, stretching from Schenley Park in the south to North Park in the north, and from Kilbuck Township in the west to Harmar in the east.

Findings include:

  • A gadwall in a small wetland in Harmar and a snow goose in Pittsburgh. Both do not typically winter in the area, but do occasionally show up in the region and hang out with other birds.
  • The record amount of rainfall in 2018 resulted in a “significant amount of natural food resources in our forests,” according to Shema. That means tons of fruits for fruit-eating birds like cedar waxwings with 576 individuals found. Not a record but second to only 2007, when 778 individuals were found, according to Shema.
  • A record seven red-breasted mergansers were counted on the Allegheny River.
  • The American crow, fish Crow and common raven were all found on the count day.

Somewhat disappointing to birdwatchers was the lack of winter finches expected to invade the region. Although some birds such as pine siskins were found in small pockets, they are not as prevalent as hoped.

“We know the birds have moved south from their normal northern wintering grounds,” Shema said. “My guess is there are ample food resources and the birds are happy somewhere north of us.”

Mary Ann Thomas is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Mary Ann at 724-226-4691, or via Twitter @MaThomas_Trib.

Mary Ann Thomas is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Mary at 724-226-4691, or via Twitter .

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