The Mast-Head: Seeing the Birds

So far this time around, birders have submitted more than 100,000 sighting lists

   The Great Backyard Bird Count observation period ended Monday, and as I have since 2007, I tried to do my part. The count is run by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the Audubon Society and helps researchers get a three-day snapshot of bird populations in North America and, to some degree, around the world.
    So far this time around, birders have submitted more than 100,000 sighting lists, tallying almost 3,000 species. Suffolk birdwatchers have logged 128 species; Victoria Bustamante, whose fine nature photographs can be seen occasionally with Larry Penny’s column in this newspaper, observed 30.
    This year I put in a bit of an effort, though at best I have only average skills at telling one passerine from another. Between the relentless north wind and family responsibilities, I was only able to sneak in a little time with the binoculars.
    The high point for me was at Sagg Pond on Sunday afternoon, where I counted 65 ruddy ducks bobbing in the lee of the bridge. Around them swam a few hooded mergansers, a dozen red-breasted mergansers, seven mute swans, and four mallards.
    Ruddy ducks were a species unfamiliar to me, but paging through a birding app on my iPhone, their identification was clear. They are charming, stubby little things, and the males have tails that jut up at a jaunty angle. Paint them yellow and they’d look for all the world like bathtub rubber ducks.
    Monday morning at Lazy Point, where during counts in other years I had observed rafts of common goldeneye, the 30-knot wind made it too difficult to see much. I logged 120 gulls of undetermined species. At Pond o’ Pines, I was able to see a good number of black duck, one bufflehead, and 14 red-breasted mergansers, the males preening, scooting around, and showing off their spiked crests.
    It will be interesting to get the results once they are aggregated and posted online at As of Tuesday, more than 2.2 million birds in all were counted — an astonishing effort, if you ask me.