The Washington Post

108 species spotted in annual bird count but where are the diving ducks?


A flock of Canada geese fly along the Potomac River at Hains Point. (Astrid Riecken for The Washington Post)

Let us begin with the good.

Several species that rarely tiptoe on our tree limbs were spotted.

“Namely, a purple sandpiper (spotted three times since 1954), and a flock of white-winged crossbills (last seen in 1963),” according to the Capital Gazette. “One counter even found two rufous hummingbirds, a species that breeds on the West Coast.”

Some 108 species were spotted. Good times!

“Any year you’re going to miss a few,”said Hal Wierenga, the Annapolis count coordinator. “We got a lot of good oddballs.”

Now the bad news, according to the paper:

Some species once abundant in the Annapolis area are now scarce.

The canvasback duck, for instance, had a record low count this year with less than 60 sightings, compared to the highest count in 1995 of 29,038.

Another species, the American Kestrel, was not sighted at all in the area, though counters years ago found several dozen annually.

Why?

The main reason is obvious.

“Every time you take a farm and turn it into houses, a bunch of wildlife habitats disappear,” Wierenga said.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says there’s another reason, at least for the canvasback duck (aka the diving duck): We don’t have as much as wild celery submerged in the Chesapeake Bay. The decline, according to the agency, “has forced the ducks to winter on other coastal brackish waters where food is more abundant.”

I give the ducks credit for not settling for anything less than the best wild celery that brackish waters have to offer.

Michael Rosenwald is a reporter on the Post's local enterprise team. He writes about the intersection of technology, business and culture.

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