Contests & Special Counts
Annual Wood Duck Count

  Posted 4/18/17   

Wood Duck, photo by Steve Davis
Wood Duck - Photo by Steve Davis
Click photo to enlarge
For 21 years Sullivan County Audubon Society has been counting the Wood Ducks as they come in to roost for the night at the Bashakill in Wurtsboro. We meet on Haven Road at 5pm, grab a chair and some snacks and sit and wait for the spectacle to begin. Some years it starts late and other years it’s much earlier. Sept 29th 2016 started early. We barely sat down to eat our hot dogs when a few groups of woodies flew over. Needless to say we ate fast and got down to business. I have to say that was one of the most pleasurable counts that I have ever done.   (See photos of these beautiful ducks on color insert.)

The birds came in steady for two hours spaced out so they were easy to count. Many times over the years it gets pretty hectic with me calling tallies and Ruth Shursky and Ruth McKeon trying to keep up recording, but it was not that bad this year. Many years we have close to a thousand ducks come in between 6:30 and 7:00pm.

This past count we had a steady flow of ducks over the two hour period that added up to 1568 on the first day. The second day turned out to be one that I would have never expected! The day was beautiful, warm, sunny, calm, what more could you ask for! The ducks started coming in like normal, a few here, a few there. It seemed like it was going to be a good count. Then----in the distance we heard a strange sound that seemed to be getting louder. I couldn't quite figure out what it was until it came up the valley from Wurtsboro airport. An ultralight aircraft! Great, just what we needed. The pilot came slowly up the valley to Haven Road where we were. I tried to flag him away but he probably thought I was waving at him! Needless to say he scared most of the ducks and only 604 braved the strange object in the sky that night. It just goes to show how one little change can wreak havoc in the natural world. Almost a thousand Wood Ducks had to find a different place to spend the night, and do it quickly as night was falling.

Over the years we’ve had weather events that produced low numbers. In 2011 we had fall flooding and only 165 birds were counted as a high. Fog in 2005 had only 144 birds, but never did I think that an ultralight airplane would mess up our count. It just goes to show you really never know what might show up in the sky. It’s a bird, it’s a plane, what next?

Renee Davis
, Spring 2017

You know you’re a birder when someone yells duck------and you look up! That's exactly what we duck watchers did for the 19th year in a row. Our annual Wood Duck count had many eyes watching the sky for the nightly roost of woodies at the Bashakill. Many people are amazed at how we do it. “How can you possibly count over a thousand ducks?” I explain how they fly in, in random groups of various amounts, 10, 20, 50 or even 1 or 2. I call out numbers to our recorders and at the end of the day -Voilà!- ducks by the hundreds and into the thousands. I get the disbelieving look, a polite “Yeah, right”, and then they politely walk away.

Our count is always done the last week of September and the first week of October. It is the time when ducks are most abundant and just before the opening of hunting season, which scatters everything in all different directions. This year we had a high count of 1344 which brings our grand total up to 29,118 ducks. That’s hard to imagine. 29,118 ducks! Valerie Freer counted our highest count of 2397 in 1997. Our lowest count of 42 was in 2011 which we attributed to unusually high fall floods at the Bashakill. High water covered all the foliage and hiding spots, so the ducks moved on to a safer place. The numbers are steadily creeping back up since then.

Of course, we count other things too. Geese, warblers, Blue Jays, Monarchs and whatever flies by or sounds off. This year we had a flight of 9 Great Egrets go over. That was a treat you don’t see often. Well, if you’re one of the doubters, come join us next year, same time, same place and see for yourself that we’re not a bunch of quacks!

Renee Davis
, Winter 2014-15