Kent McFarland, Spencer Hardy and I had a morning we'll long remember at
Lake Runnemede in Windsor today, more for the numbers of several migrant
species we encountered than for overall diversity.  Most phenomenal was the
fallout of Eastern Phoebes. Many of us have observed unusual numbers of
phoebes along the Connecticut River over the past few days, as
weather-stressed birds foraged over exposed mud flats and shorelines.
Seeing 5-6+ birds at a single site became the norm. Today's concentration
at Runnemede blew those numbers out of the water. This may sound fanciful,
but we counted no fewer than 125 individuals!! They were literally swarming
the shoreline and dominating the corn stubble. At one point, I counted
carefully with my scope along a ~250-yard stretch of shoreline at the
lake's back (western) fringe and tallied 75 phoebes. Several minutes later
Spencer counted 31 birds teeing up on corn stubble and weed stalks between
ground-based foraging bouts in the big central field. There were easily
another 15-20 birds along the shoreline and and main dike on the lake's
eastern section. It was truly mind-boggling!

Wondering if our numbers might be verging on uncharted territory, I
searched eBird to determine individual high spring (March through May)
phoebe checklist totals across New England and NY. Here's what I found.
It's admittedly crude, but below are the all-time high total spring count
and birds/hour for each state, with the week each was recorded (they're not
necessarily from the same checklist). I didn't try to track down each
individual checklist...

High spring eBird checklist counts of Eastern Phoebe:
VT: 19 total week of 4/8, 5.9 birds/hr week of 3/8
NH: 28 total week of 4/8, 3.25/hr week of 4/8
ME: 25 total week of 4/8, 12.05/hr week of 3/8
MA: 83 week of 4/8, 3.28/hr week of 4/1
CT: 35 week of 4/8, 3.22 week of 4/1
RI: 16 week of 4/8, 3.49 week of 4/1
NY: 71 week of 3/22, 3.48/hr week of 4/1

By my calculations, our count of (at least) 125 phoebes in 2 hours and 25
minutes translates to 55.56 phoebes/hr, pretty well obliterating any
earlier records in the Northeast. Interestingly, I don't believe that any
of the birds uttered a single call, let alone song, during our observations
(granted my hearing isn;t what it used to be...) -- they were too intent on
foraging. It was an experience not to be forgotten.

While phoebes definitely stole the show, there were some other notable
birds. Overall highlights among our 55 species included:

Canada Goose  5 (1 female on nest)
Blue-winged Teal  3
Green-winged Teal  5
Ring-necked Duck  54
Lesser Scaup  5
Bufflehead  5
Hooded Merganser  2
Common Merganser  30
Pied-billed Grebe  2
Great Blue Heron  4
Great Egret  1
Broad-winged Hawk  1     Clear overhead views of an adult being
persistently harassed by a crow
Virginia Rail  1     Heard and seen in a Phragmites stand, back corner of
western dike
Wilson's Snipe  1
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker  1 drumming
Northern Flicker  15
Eastern Phoebe  125     Staggering fallout! 75 counted foraging along
shoreline of western 'oxbow', 31 in the corn field, 10 along the front
dike; many more likely missed.
Northern Rough-winged Swallow  6
Tree Swallow  30
Carolina Wren  2
Ruby-crowned Kinglet  6
Eastern Bluebird  2
Hermit Thrush  4
American Robin  25
Palm Warbler (Yellow)  15     7 in front on the dike, 5 along the back
Yellow-rumped Warbler (Myrtle)  8
American Tree Sparrow  2
Field Sparrow  2
Fox Sparrow (Red)  2 (1 singing)
Dark-eyed Junco  5
White-throated Sparrow  2
Vesper Sparrow  3     In the corn stubble; Upper Valley regional fall out
Savannah Sparrow  60     Undoubtedly a low count; difficult to count via
repeated flushing and movement; most birds in corn stubble
Song Sparrow  60     Probably a low count; ubiquitous
Swamp Sparrow  3
Rusty Blackbird  10
Evening Grosbeak  1
House Finch  2
Purple Finch  1
Pine Siskin  1

View this checklist online at


Chris Rimmer
Vermont Center for Ecostudies
PO Box 420 | Norwich, Vermont 05055
802.649.1431 x202