Conditions: mostly sunny skies at sunset, wind SW 7MPH, temp at 29F: sunset time 4:26PM

While on my way back to Boston, after being in NYC for family time and Christmas celebrations, made a stopover in Hartford in search of the longstanding Winter Crow Roost. After scouting out numerous staging areas, was only able to make a few Crow sightings between Talcott Road and Flatbush Ave. area. As day light was running out, made one final push up and over the CTBusway bridge for elevated views, and while scanning off to the SE, spotted Crows streaming towards a probable overnight roost area. This image below was captured about 24 minutes after sunset time.

Thousands of Crows, streaming in flight, made their way into the action packed roost area located along the extended Brookfield Street area just south of Flatbush. My initial primary vantage point was from the east side of the Charter Oak Marketplace, a 300,00 thousand foot shopping center with 25 stores. Moved to the east side of Brookfield as the light diminished and for better views against the colorful cloud layers and sunset sky. This image below was captured about 39 minutes after sunset time.

It was an amazing show watching the Crows stream in and then slowly move towards, and consolidate into a dense grove of trees with loud vocalizations that diminished after a while! This image below was captured about 52 minutes after sunset time with a long exposure methods using manual exposure settings and manual focus.

Over past few days, have had a chance to connect with local Hartford birders who regularly monitor the roost and also track the roost for the local Christmas Bird Count. On behalf of the Hartford Audubon Society and as part of the 2019 Hartford CBC written summary, Mona Cavallero noted that “it was very difficult to count the crows flying toward the roost as they first descended into a linear park to the west of the roost. Many did not fly in until after dark. The crows were spread out over a large area and there may have been other “sub-roosts” that we did not locate.  As such, we have decreased the crow count for this year, but it is quite possible we are off in our estimation.”  A roost count like this is a very specialized effort and always fraught with a multitude of challenges!

A member of the  seven person 2020 Hartford Crow Roost count team shared this about the challenges of getting an accurate count, “periodically thousands of crows in the roost trees took off, flew west or north, and re-landed out of the roost before returning, so it was a little tricky not to double-count them.”  A further reflection included this:  “we had 10,000 crows last year, more of an estimate due to never being sure we even were watching in all the directions from which they were flying in.”  Another thought in regard to the big variance in count numbers: “I assume some of the big fluctuations are due to fewer migrants settling in the Hartford area for the winter in some years, and more in others.  This year’s roost is definitely not as big as the roost from 2018 was, which was at least twice as wide and long with trees full of crows.” 

On a final note, another 2020 CBC team member, mentioned that “last year’s roost site made it difficult to get as accurate a count, so we may have missed some.”  For Hartford, the 2020 CBC count for the Winter Crow Roost was 11,000 Crows. in 2019, they had 10,000 and in 2018 they had 19,000. These are big variations in count numbers with many reasons behind the dramatic swing in the numbers!

Lessons learned from our friends in Hartford:

  1. use a group or team of experienced counters to monitor all directions, especially with larger roosts
  2. monitor all of the activity until at least 60, if not 90 minutes past sunset time
  3. use multiple locations among your counting team members
  4. recognize the difficulty in counting while streaming and staging
  5. be aware of full scale take-offs and landings before the Crows reach the final overnight roost
  6. avoid any possibility of double counting
  7. make every effort to watch from all possible directions
  8. allow for dramatically different numbers from year to year – be flexible and adjust as needed
  9. CBC count fluctuations are to be expected, the count for each year is independent of prior year counts
  10. the roost site may pose significant challenges in terms of open and unobstructed viewing access
  11. attempt to position each counter with the best wide open views, not from inside a car, or any type of limited viewing location
  12. use one of many photography methods to provide a quantitative, accurate, and comparable source of data
  13. have fun, work together as a team, enjoy the mystery of it all, learn, mentor, and share with others

Check out the newly launched Crow Patrol Podcast:

Photo gear used for this outing:

Canon EOS 80D with Canon EF-S 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS 

Canon EOS 80D with Canon EF-S 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS (Infrared)

Canon 1DX MK II with Canon EF Telephoto Zoom 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM

ATN BinoX 4K 4-16x Day and Night Smart HD Binoculars with photo/video

SiOnyx Aurora Pro Digital Color Night Vision Optics

Follow us on Instagram: wintercrowroost

Follow us on YouTube: birdsoftheair1

Blog post and photos by Craig Gibson, 2020 Crow Patrol, Lawrence, MA