ice-free conditions in a photo by Ashley Hayes
Red-necked Grebe photo from www.utahbirds.org
Great Blue Heron photo by Bob Stanowski
Belted Kingfisher photo by Darlene Knox
December, 2011 will be remembered by us birders as an incredibly good month for the bird numbers and variety that it produced at White Memorial and Bantam Lake. We can thank unusually mild weather for much of the month for this. Though there were a few cold nights, and fewer cold days, Bantam Lake never froze-over more than 50% of its surface area. Little Pond was at least 50% open for the first 3 weeks of the month, and Cemetery Pond had open water at various times this month. Even our marshes and swamps remained at least partially ice-free for much of the month. Amazingly, there was no snow cover at any time this month. The 20" of snow which fell last October 29 and 30 had long-since melted. These favorable conditions, coupled with an abundance of wild food of all types, made life relatively easy for birds around here. It also allowed many birds to linger and not migrate farther south. Waterbirds, especially, benefited from the mild conditions and resultant open water. An abundance of fish in Bantam Lake also helped attract and keep a good variety and number of these birds. Imagine how many fish must have been consumed there on 12/31 when the Lake hosted 1,000 Common Mergansers, 87 Hooded Mergansers, a Red-breasted Merganser, a Pied-billed Grebe, a Great Cormorant, 7 Bald Eagles, and 2 Belted Kingfishers. The Great Cormorant is a rare species in this part of CT., having been found on Bantam Lake only 4 times in the past. It stayed around for almost 2 weeks, so it must have found the fishing to be good. That was probably also true for the Pied-billed Grebe, which was found here all month. They are common in October and November, but seldom stay beyond that time. Its much rarer cousin, the Red-necked Grebe, has occasionally lingered into the first week of December at the Lake, but never as late as 12/20, as it did this year. Consequently, it was a first for the Christmas Bird Count. Other "goodies" found on the Lake this month included as many as 10 Gadwalls, American Wigeons on a few occasions, Northern Shovelers all month, 2 Northern Pintails almost all month, a Green-winged Teal 1 day, as many as 9 Lesser Scaup during the second half of the month, 2 White-winged Scoters and a Long-tailed Duck 1 day, single Red-throated and Common Loons each 1 day, and a Horned Grebe during the first week of the month. The Gadwalls and N. Pintails were also seen at Little and Cemetery Ponds when they were ice-free. Landbirds of note seen this month included a Red-shouldered Hawk at the Morris Town Beach, an Eastern Screech-Owl at Little Pond, a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker around the Museum Area, Common Ravens, Red-breasted Nuthatches, Brown Creepers, a Carolina Wren at the Campground Store, a Winter Wren at Pike Marsh, a Hermit Thrush and Yellow-rumped Warbler at Little Pond , a Fox Sparrow at Van Winkle Rd., Swamp Sparrows, 86 Rusty Blackbirds at Little Pond on the 1st, and 13 Purple Finches at the Museum Feeders on the 18th. While most of the birds not noted at an exact locality in the last run-on sentence were seen around the Museum Area, some were also regularly seen at Pine Island. In general, spots around Bantam Lake, the Museum Area, and Little Pond were the most productive for birds at White Memorial in December.