|Ron Ryel dutifully counting birds on a snowy Logan Christmas Bird Count in 2008.|
This year, I'm trying something new: I'm going to predict some of the highs and lows of this year's count. My schedule has been pretty flexible lately, so I've been spending more time than usual birding, and I feel I have a decent sense of what's going on in the local bird world right now. In addition, and perhaps more importantly, eBird use has really caught on locally in the last few years, so there's much more data available to both serve as a baseline, and to give one access to recent sightings from this year. Let's take these predictions group-by-group:
|This wing-tagged American White Pelican was one of two seen on the count last year, and it has been seen around the valley again this fall. Will we turn it up on count day?|
Grebes, Pelicans, Cormorants, etc.:
The warm weather this fall may have kept enough water open to give us a good chance of higher diversity in this group than usual. Double-crested Cormorants, American White Pelicans, and Eared Grebes all usually leave the valley before our count, and all have been seen in the valley this month. The individual pelican seen earlier this month is almost certainly one of the two birds seen on last year's count, a wing-tagged individual, and there's a good chance he or she is still in the count circle somewhere.
Herons and Egrets:
Warm weather recently also has probably kept more of this group around than usual. Great Blue Herons in particular are likely to be well above average. We had nine total last year, and I counted 12 at the Sewage Lagoons alone last week. Any other species of heron or egret would be a surprise.
|These FOUR Long-tailed Ducks were at Hyrum Reservoir, just outside the count circle, at least as recently as two weeks before count day. Will we find any in the circle on December 20th?|
Open water helps the duck numbers and diversity, of course. We're likely to get both higher numbers of the common species and also pick up a few rarer ones, like maybe Cinnamon Teal, Greater Scaup, or a Long-tailed Duck. FOUR Long-tailed Ducks were at Hyrum Reservoir last week, doubling the record high count for Cache County, but the reservoir is outside of our count circle. Hooded Mergansers get missed about one out of every two or three years, and several have been at First Dam recently.
|Early indications are that this year could be well above average for Red-tailed Hawks like this one.|
It has seemed like a good year for voles, maybe just because they're not all under snow already. I feel like I've seen more voles running around than usual. If so, it could be good for the medium-sized raptors, and might result in higher-than-average counts of Northern Harriers, Red-tailed Hawks, Rough-legged Hawks, and Short-eared Owls. The first winter raptor count survey of the season, by the Hogle Zoo, was just conducted last week, and it did support these predictions, including very high counts of Red-tailed Hawks.
Pheasants and Grouse:
I don't expect any major deviations from normal patterns in this group.
Rails and relatives:
I expect higher-than-average numbers of American Coots, but not much changes otherwise. Lots of open water increases our chances for a lingering Sora, which have been detected only once in the last ten years of counts. Chances of picking up a late Sandhill Crane are likewise increased.
Cutler Reservoir is again drawn down, greatly increasing shorebird habitat in the valley. This could in part counteract the benefit of open water for ducks, making the increase in duck diversity and abundance due to the open water less dramatic than it would be otherwise. But, it also increases the habitat for shorebirds substantially. Any shorebird other than Killdeer or Wilson's Snipe is very rare in our count circle, but I think we're likely to pick up at least one other species, maybe a Long-billed Dowitcher, Greater or Lesser Yellowlegs, or perhaps even a Dunlin. A yellowlegs was just reported from the Benson Marina area yesterday, and could stick around until count day.
I've been watching the gulls at the Logan Landfill closely lately, and there have been some good surprises around. This month, I've seen an adult Glaucous Gull, two different Lesser Black-backed Gulls, several Thayer's Gulls, and a dozen or two Herring Gulls. Usually, Ring-billed Gulls and California Gulls are the only species that can really be counted on, and last year we had zero California Gulls and only one Ring-billed Gull! We get at least one Herring Gull in about 8 out of 10 years, and at least one Thayer's Gull in about half the years. I think we have good chances of four or five gull species this year. The count record is six species, in 2006, and if we're lucky we could even reach that.
Eurasian Collared-Doves have not declined from one year to the next since they were first detected on the count in 2004 (except for being missed the next year, in 2005). In fact, numbers have roughly doubled each year since then. Last year we set a new record again, with 895 in the count area, more than doubling the previous year's count of 352. I see no reason the trend will reverse this year, and I guess we'll break four digits for the first time. It seems improbable that we'd actually double 895, but I'd expect a final count between 1,000 and 1,500. Fortunately, Mourning Dove numbers don't seem to have suffered as a result (yet?), and numbers of this species have remained relatively steady in the 20s and 30s in the last few years.
This has been an exceptional fall for mountain birds in the valley. (You'll hear this theme repeated below in the corvids and passerines.) I haven't noticed this happening with the woodpeckers, but it's possible they'd be equally affected. The mild temperatures may have also helped a sapsucker stick around. I don't expect any big surprises in the woodpeckers, but a late Red-naped Sapsucker is possible, as is a high count of Hairy Woodpeckers.
|This Steller's Jay in my Logan yard last month was new to my yard list. It is one of about six or eight that I've seen in the valley already this fall, so I think we'll have more of these on the count this year than usual.|
I expect much higher than usual counts of Steller's Jays this year. They seem to be around the valley more right now than at any previous winter I've been here. We average about two per year, and miss them entirely about 40% of years. I predict this will be one of the more dramatic shifts in numbers this year. Western Scrub-Jays have also been reported around the valley in higher-than-usual numbers this year, and could be another high count. This is a very rare species in our circle, with none reported on count day in the last 12 years. The general down-slope movements of mountain birds this year might include more Clark's Nutcrackers, too.
I predict that the most dramatic increase (among regularly-detected species) will be in Mountain Chickadees. This has been an incredible fall for them in the valley and in lowlands around the state, even appearing regularly on Antelope Island in the Great Salt Lake this fall. At my own feeders on the Cache Valley floor in Logan, I'm still getting two to four each day. We rarely miss this species in recent years (but we have, in 2008), and we average about 18 birds. I expect we'll be in the triple digits somewhere, over 100. Red-breasted Nuthatches and Brown Creepers seem to be making similar movements, but perhaps not in the same numbers. I predict above average years for both of these species.
Townsend's Solitaires likewise seem to be making significant downslope movements. We get this species each year, and are almost always in the mid-two-digits, but in the last ten years have ranged from 25 to 78. I expect high numbers, perhaps 100, but not topping our record of 281 set in 2002.
Bohemian Waxwings are very episodic, often either absent or present in large numbers. I haven't seen any indication yet of large numbers. A few have been reported south of us, so this might be one of the unusual years where we find a handful, but not zero and not hundreds.
I don't see any reason to expect unusual numbers of sparrows. The open water might increase our odds of a Swamp Sparrow or increase our count of Song Sparrows, if it holds. Likewise with most of the finches: I expect mostly typical numbers, but it will be interesting to see if the down-slope movements already seen by Townsend's Solitaires, Steller's Jays, and Mountain Chickadees is also reflected in montane finches like Cassin's Finch, Red Crossbill, White-winged Crossbill, and Pine Grosbeak. Lesser Goldfinches have recently become regular in the Logan count circle, after having first been found in 2008; I think we have a good shot at a new record count of that species, especially if we've effectively recruited a lot of feeder watchers. Evening Grosbeaks seem to be more abundant than usual in northern Utah this fall, so we have a chance of picking up a group or two of those, which are missed in more years than they are found.
|We'll get to test all these predictions in a week, when we compile our results in the evening of December 20th! I'll also post an update here to report how well (or poorly!) I did.|
If the relatively warm temperatures continue for the next week, or at least if deep freezes, snow, and count-day fog can be avoided, we could be setting up for a really great count this year. Add the unusually dramatic down-slope movements of mountain birds to the mix, and we could easily be looking at a new record. The current count record is 104, set in 2012, and each year it always comes down to the last few rare birds to determine whether we break the 100-mark, and we've only done that in one or two other years in the history of the count. I think this year we have a great chance of breaking 100, and maybe even setting a new count record if a few rarities show up for us.