North American Birds

VOLUME 68 NO2 2015

A Quarterly Journal of Ornithological Record Published by the American Birding Association. The mission of the journal is to provide a complete overview of the changing panorama of our continent’s birdlife.

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N O R T H A M E R I C A N B I R D S 180 T h e c h a n g i n g s e a s o n s : W i n T e r o f o u r d i s c o n T e n T recorded in apparent escape fights, such as that of February 1994. In her master's thesis, Bonnie Stout (1995) suggests Lake Ontario, which rarely freezes completely, would be a likely place for numbers of Red-necked Grebes to winter. Writing about the subse- quent fight, of 2003, Mike Morgante (2003) indicated that Lakes Superior or Huron seemed more likely sources for the grebes. Do our data in from this most recent win- ter shed any further light on the question? A thorough analysis of available data will hope- fully make its way into print (or online) some day, but for now, looking at our reporting re- gions, at listserve postings, and at eBird data, we can piece together a bare-bones portrait of the magnitude of the fight in midwinter (Table 1). We are still a long way from having an easy time of it, whether looking at Snowy Owls or Red-necked Grebes: information is certainly fowing, but observers' data are diffcult to interpret, as observers often use many different names (and mapped points) for the same location, and it is almost im- possible to know which data are redundant, both because observers are not coordi- nated and because birds move around so much. Thus the contents of Table 1 are very crude indeed for the states that recorded more than a few dozen grebes. What we see in February 2014 is very similar to the map from the 2003 fight (Brinkley 2003): rela- tively few grebes found to the south of the western Great Lakes (Superior, Huron, Michigan), largest numbers of grebes found south and southeast of the eastern Great Lakes (Ontario, Erie), and peak of numbers in these areas occurring in mid-February. For Table 1, I have focused mostly on records away from the ocean coasts, where good numbers of the species regularly winter north of New York and smaller numbers to the south. Red-necked Grebes appearing in late January to early/mid-February in places like Pennsylvania and interior upstate New York are exceptional, and we know that they are not mi - grants trying to return northward: spring migration in the species oc- curs mostly from late March through April, as abundantly documented by large fallouts during bad weather in places like New York's Finger Lakes. Such birds are also in breeding plum- age, unlike the birds observed in the 2014 records. necked Grebes found south and southeast of the Great Lakes in February 1994 were attempting to escape the freezing of some of the lakes, many observers who had lived in the Great Lakes region were surprised—they had not suspected that appreciable num- bers of the species might overwinter in the region. Prior to 1994, there was little hint that they might have wintered there, except for the massive wreck of Red-necked Grebes in February 1934, which could have had its origin in the Lakes (Brinkley et al. 1994), and a smaller wreck in 1979. Red-necked Grebe is not a gamebird, of course, so waterfowl biologists are not generally focused on it. We do know a bit about fall migration of the species in the Great Lakes, thanks largely to bird obser- vatories' long-term monitoring programs, but how many remain there in winter, and exactly where they winter (on which por- tions of which lakes), still isn't known. Stout and Nuechterlein (1999) reckon that a few thousand might winter on the lakes, but that estimate is based on the numbers of birds average, according to the National Climate Assessment. Waterbirds have surely adapted to the warming conditions. Most of our understanding of wintering birds on the lakes comes from birders stand- ing on shorelines; much information gath- ered by birders can now be gleaned online (as in eBird). The aerial surveys of the Great Lakes, such as the Mid-Winter Waterfowl Survey conducted since 1935, are fown mostly along ice-free shorelines. The Lower Great Lakes January Waterfowl Survey, be- gun in 2002, also mostly stays along shore- lines. Both surveys are invaluable for con- servation biologists and birders interested in the changing status and distribution of the birds detected, and they probably detect a large percentage of the waterfowl present in the areas surveyed. What of the birds that winter on the lakes farther from the shorelines? Far less is known about what birds are "out there," as one ob- server calls the punishing environment of the lakes' open waters in winter. When Kaufman (1994) suggested that some of the Red- Table 1. Estimated numbers of Red-necked Grebes in selected states and provinces, January and February 2014 (away from ocean coasts unless otherwise noted). State/Province No. Date(s) Notes Québec 7 30 Jan–13 Feb all in s. part of province from Ottawa almost to Montréal Ontario 40 26 Jan–27 Feb all from about Bracebridge southward, spanning entire s. tier of province from Windsor; exceptional dates 5 Jan at Oshawa, 13 Jan at Windsor Michigan 8 3 Jan–16 Feb early singles at Lake Erie Metropark 3 Jan, n. of Traverse City 5 Jan, and Inspiration Point 12 Jan Indiana 6 20 Jan–23 Feb 14 accepted 17 Feb in Clark Co.; exceptional date 2 in Warrick Co. 1 Jan (both eBird) Ohio 4 4-28 Feb above average Tennessee 7 26 Jan–16 Feb exceptional date 1 Jan, Gibson County Lake Kentucky 5 22-Feb above average upstate New York 60 30 Jan–28 Feb exceptional date 18 Jan, Lake Champlain Vermont 2 7 & 27 Jan rare in Jan in the state Pennsylvania 45 26 Jan–28 Feb well above average w. Virginia 18 6-28 Feb about 10 more in Virginia coastal plain, slightly above average West Virginia 8 11-28 Feb well above average Maryland 111 25 Jan–28 Feb exceptional date 19 Jan, Port Deposit; another 12+ on the Atlantic coast New Jersey 75 26 Jan–28 Feb mostly coastal; Cape May had additional 15+; scattered singles on coast throughout early and mid-Jan Delaware 20 31 Jan–28 Feb almost all on Atlantic coast

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