Yesterday, 31 December — the last day of 2011 — was the 73rd Lancaster Christmas Bird Count. It was an unseasonably warm day for late December in Pennsylvania with an afternoon high of 52 degrees F
. I was teamed up with Joe Meloney and Jonathan Heller on the Lancaster County side of the Susquehanna River sector. Similar to the weather, the species composition was also trending on the unseasonable side. At the Lancaster Area Sewer Authority’s Washington Boro facility we noted at least one Eastern Phoebe, 5 Winter Wrens, 6 Ruby-crowned Kinglets, a Palm Warbler, and upwards of 5 Eastern Towhees. Things were off to an above average start.
Of course, the bird of the day was this glowing immature male Painted Bunting that I was shocked to find among a group of Song and White-throated Sparrows. This little lime green gem amid an otherwise winter-like landscape was totally unexpected and really got my adrenaline flowing. It’s moments like these that make birding so fun. Not surprisingly, Painted Bunting is a first for the Lancaster CBC, only the third-ever Christmas count record for Pennsylvania, and one of only a couple documented in Lancaster County. Much to the delight of local birders, the bunting was readily observed well into the afternoon.
Later, while scouring additional flocks of sparrows I discovered this bright Fox Sparrow among Song and White-throateds.