Rene Wendell, captain of the Southern Berkshire Christmas Count, held on Jan. 1, sent me a copy of the count, condensed:
“This is the 29th year for this count and we had some notables. Some all-time high-count numbers were: Northern Saw-whet owl -- 4; Red-bellied woodpecker -- 74; Common Raven -- 25; Tufted Titmouse -- 180; White-breasted Nuthatch -- 144; Carolina Wren -- 30; Eastern Bluebird -- 125.
“So, we counted 65 species this year! This ties last year for the all-time record for species! However, I did make an executive decision and counted a feral chicken. The team that spotted the bird was split on whether to count it. To quote one of the spotters (the bird was in the middle of nowhere), 'It was not associated with any house or homestead.' I readily admit that this bird did come from a house somewhere, but has now become feral. It will probably become predated upon and will not make it through the winter. However, this is how feral populations become established, and since this is a count where documentation of all species is used in research, I opted to count it. We also tallied 5,658 individual birds. This is down from last year's total of 8,588 birds.”
[The top three species seen during this census were: European starling, 1,182; Canada geese, 544; black-capped chickadee, 480.]
Q: Some say clean out your bluebird house in the fall, some say in the spring. When do you say? And what about for millions of years before we made houses for them?
-- Nancy, Williamstown
A: I was told that it is better to clean out nest boxes in the late winter (late February) during a Nature Hour at the Berkshire Museum by Alva Sanborn, who ran the “bird sanctuary” in Lenox (Pleasant Valley Wildlife Sanctuary), and although it was maybe 30 years before I would have a backyard birdhouse, I remembered his advice. The reason given to wait, is mice may use the house during the winter and soil it. And by cleaning it just before habitation by the birds, there would be a better chance for having a clean site.
Q: Is it spring already? Just before the snow last week, I saw about a dozen, if not more, robins in our miniature crab apple tree that is not so miniature anymore. What is the story?
-- Alice, Pittsfield
A: There was a time not long ago when winters were much worse than in recent years, and very few robins wintered over. Robins arrive in the spring; although, there is a presence when they come, it is no longer the harbinger it once was. Also, I believe that in recent years the demand for shrubs has increased, many providing berries throughout the winter months, providing sustenance for lingering robins, bluebirds, Carolina wrens and, even in some instances, hermit thrushes.
Just this morning, I was delayed writing this column when I caught activity in one of our winterberry bushes; there were a small group of six bluebirds. I continued looking around the yard, and maybe a dozen American robins were feeding in the crab apple tree.
Last week, we had two pairs of bluebirds at our feeder. This is the first time we have ever seen bluebirds in our yard. The two pairs were also here Jan. 1, but I wasn't able to get a picture then. The red-bellied has been around for a numbers of winters -- sometimes just the female, sometimes male and female.
-- Helen K., Pittsfield
Following your column about snow fleas, I took a walk through the fields behind Springside House, and as there was snow on the ground and it was sunny. I went looking for those tiny things that might be around trees. After maybe an hour and an otherwise enjoyable walk careful of icy patches, I spotted them, maybe close to a thousand! I wish I had a camera. Some were sitting and others were hoping until I disturbed them with a goldenrod stem, and then there was havoc.
-- Phillip, Pittsfield