Bird count updates from Josh Heiser 2023 Dans Rock Bird Count 2023 Special Projects

Late November at Dans Rock – 11/16 – 11/30

And just like that, the 2023 fall count at Dans Rock is a wrap! The final weeks of the count were cold and slow as winter’s grip grew stronger in the mountains and birds settled into winter territories. Just a handful of species were still moving as the count ended, but we still had a few days with decent movement.

Dark-eyed Juncos were one the few birds still hanging around the rock in late November.  © Josh Heiser
Dark-eyed Juncos were one of the few birds still hanging around the Rock in late November. © Josh Heiser

American Robins and American Goldfinches made up the bulk of birds detected in late November. Goldfinches flew over every day these last few weeks, even in the foggiest and snowiest of conditions. The 52 goldfinches counted on the 24th were the second highest single-day count total for the entire season (55 on Nov. 8 was the season high count). The stream of robins flying over the ridge around sunrise had trickled out by mid-month, but small flocks of robins were still making appearances most days through the end of November. Purple Finches continued to move in late November, turning up on 8 days this period. Eastern Bluebirds were also semi-regular through the 26th, flying over in loose flocks of 3-5 birds most mornings and sometimes even landing on the radio towers. Small numbers of European Starlings, Red-winged Blackbirds, or Cedar Waxwings rounded out the average day’s species totals.

Eastern Bluebirds © Josh Heiser
Eastern Bluebirds © Josh Heiser

Despite migration winding down, we added two new species in the last weeks of the count. We finally got a Red Crossbill on November 23, detected by call as it flew down the ridge mid-morning. And on November 26, three separate flocks of Tundra Swans summing up to 64 individuals flew over the Rock en route to their coastal wintering grounds. On November 17, a large flock of ducks, scoped moving fast over the ridge about three miles to the north, almost certainly represented a new species for the count, but they were too far away to identify with any confidence. Other late November notables were a handful of winter field species: American Pipits on November 20 and 23, a Snow Bunting on November 25, and 3 Horned Larks on November 26.

Tundra Swans © Josh Heiser
Tundra Swans © Josh Heiser

Late November also saw some decent raptor movement. Golden Eagles were one of the few species that hit their highest numbers this month. We finished the season with 8 of these majestic raptors, 7 of which were seen in the last two weeks of November. On the few warm, sunny days this month that allowed for thermals, Turkey Vultures and Red-tailed Hawks were frequently detected, often turning up in the last hour of the count. A migrant Red-shouldered Hawk made an appearance on the 20th, and a male Northern Harrier flying low over the ridge was the highlight of an otherwise slow count on November 29.

Red-shouldered Hawk © Josh Heiser
Red-shouldered Hawk © Josh Heiser

It’s been an amazing experience getting to observe the entire span of fall migration at Dans Rock this year. I’ve learned so much and am so grateful for the privilege to contribute to our understanding of bird migration in the mountains of Maryland. A complete season report is on its way (to be published in Maryland Birdlife in the spring), but all data from the 2023 count can be viewed right now in Trektellen. This endeavor would not be possible without the great folks at MBP and generous donations from readers like you. Thank you.


Final sunrise of the 2023 Count © Josh Heiser
Final sunrise of the 2023 count © Josh Heiser

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