Friday, January 03, 2014

Christmas Bird Count Season

My winter bird surveys will have to be delayed this week with Monday's temperatures reaching a high of only 3 degrees F. I'm anxious to get out on a sunny day to find kinglets and hermit thrush, and the interesting waterfowl that hang out in a 56 degree Ozark spring. On On December 14, 2013, a snowy and cloudy day in mid-Missouri, 55 birders of all levels of expertise fanned out across the area to participate in my area's 51st Annual Christmas Bird Count. The 12 teams of birders had veteran leaders who were familiar with their areas, well aware of such details like the best place to find winter wrens and Virginia rail. Weather conditions were not optimum for the count, with the skies socked in with heavy clouds, frozen ponds and the early rounds of the area's first ugly snow and sleet event. Nevertheless, the seasoned birders documented 95 species of birds that day, only one shy of 2012’s 96 species.

Even though the species count was very similar, there were quite a few differences between the two years’ counts, including the absence in 2013 of pine siskins and red-breasted nuthatches. Cedar waxwings were not as commonly detected in 2013 compared to 2012, with only 230 total this year compared to last year’s 1,490 individuals. In 2012, no group detected either ruby-crowned kinglet or golden-crowned kinglet; they were back this year with Area 5 and 2N finding all 6 golden-crowned and Area 5 finding both ruby-crowned kinglets. Coots were also not as prevalent this year compared to 2012 with only 10 seen in 2013 compared to 140 in 2012. However, 2013 was a great year for sparrows! This year we doubled the number of white-crowned sparrows from 55 in 2012 to 106 in 2013. Swamp sparrow occurrences also increased from 64 last year to 229 in 2013, and 356 American tree sparrows were seen this December, compared to 117 in 2012.

One group found a the year’s only golden eagle along a trail, a rightful cause of much excitement during the final tally. Eight of twelve count circles saw bald eagles that day. Area 1S was responsible for the only Northern bobwhite quail this year, with 9 total. 1S also documented 198 horned larks in 2013. Area 7E found the only canvasbacks, two individuals, for the whole count, and Area 6 discovered the only Virginia rail this year. Area 5 was responsible for bolstering the numbers of swamp sparrows with 117 individuals counted. The 2013 Christmas Bird Count may be one of the first counts in many years in which no feeder watchers participated.

As in years’ past, all of the data will be housed on the official Christmas Bird Count website for all to see. If you’ve always wanted to participate in a Christmas Bird Count but can’t bear the thought of braving inclement weather, we can always use eyes on backyard bird feeders to add to our winter bird data collection!

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