2015 Columbus CBC: Cursed by Good Weather; Totals Suffer

Wood Thrush - Photo Lee Trott

Summary

On December 20, 72 observers sponsored by CAS spent the day counting birds in different areas of Columbus.  A cool, clear day capped a month of mild weather, but seemed to depress bird numbers for many teams. Despite this, observers were still able to ring up totals of 79 species and 36,865 individual birds.

Count Date: December 20; 6:00 a.m. To 6:00 p.m.     Temp. 26-40 ºF.  Wind WSW 0-3 mph   Still water partly frozen, moving water open.  A.M. Mostly clear;  P.M. hazy.  Observers: 72 in the field in 16-18 parties, 2 at feeders.   Total party hours:  126 (94 on foot, 32 in cars, 2 owling).   Total Party miles: 305 (85 on foot, 220 in cars, 3 owling)

Pied-billed Grebe – 7;  Double-crested Cormorant –38;  Great Blue Heron – 28;  Mute Swan – 13Snow Goose – 1 (CB);  Canada Goose – 2463;  Black Duck – 204;  Mallard – 819; N. Shoveler – 5;  Green-winged Teal – 2;  Gadwall – 16;  American Wigeon – 6; Ring-necked Duck – 20;  Bufflehead – 1; Hooded Merganser – 125; White-winged Scoter1 (JP,MB,JM) ; Bald Eagle – 6;  Sharp-shinned Hawk – 3; Cooper’s Hawk – 17; N. Harrier – 2;  Red-shouldered Hawk – 3;  Red-tailed Hawk – 45;  Peregrine1 (2 teams);  American Kestrel – 10;  Wild Turkey – 83;  American Coot – 1; Killdeer – 6; Ring-billed Gull – 3270;  Herring Gull – 11;  Rock Dove –1789;  Mourning Dove – 468;  E. Screech Owl – 1; Great Horned Owl – 2;  Barred Owl – 5;  Belted Kingfisher – 20;  Red-headed Woodpecker – 1; Red-bellied Woodpecker – 144;  Yellow-bellied Sapsucker – 4;  Downy Woodpecker – 181;  Hairy Woodpecker – 16;  N.Flicker – 60;  Pileated Woodpecker – 16;  Blue Jay – 213;  American Crow – 316;  Horned Lark – 8;  Carolina Chickadee – 316;  Tufted Titmouse – 169;  White-breasted Nuthatch – 161;   Red-breasted Nuthatch – 1;  Brown Creeper – 16;  Carolina Wren – 84; Winter Wren – 2;  Golden-crowned Kinglet – 11;  Eastern Bluebird – 54;  Hermit Thrush – 1;  Wood Thrush – 1 (HL, good details), American Robin – 3439;  N.Mockingbird – 16;  European Starling – 17,306;  Cedar Waxwing – 52;  Yellow-rumped Warbler – 57;  Northern Cardinal – 542;  Eastern Towhee – 5;  American Tree Sparrow – 176;  Field Sparrow – 1;  Chipping Sparrow – 2;  Song Sparrow – 148;  Swamp Sparrow – 1;  Eastern Fox Sparrow – 3; White-throated Sparrow – 419;  White-crowned Sparrow – 4;  Dark-eyed Junco – 679;  Red-winged Blackbird – 2;  Brown-headed Cowbird – 31;  House Finch – 371;  Purple Finch – 2;   American Goldfinch – 312;  Pine Siskin – 6;  House Sparrow – 1903

Totals:   79 species,  36, 865 individuals

Birds seen Count Period, but not Count Day:  Red-throated Loon,  Ross’s Goose, Wood Duck, Merlin, Bonaparte’s Gull, Eastern Phoebe, Common Grackle

Observers

Jeremy Bantz, Rick Bantz, Wendy Becker, John Bergstrom, Steven Bischoff, Charlie Bombaci,  Jenny Bowman,  Marcia Brehmer,  John & Gerry Brevoort, Justin Cale,  Zhane Cervantes,  Ashley & Matt Collins, Brad & Lyndsey Deering,  Alex Eberts, Craig Ebersole,  John Finn,  Mike Flynn, Diana Fowler, Brad Gambill, Louise Gambill, Paul Graham, Bill & Mary Heck,  Becky & Mike Jordan, David Kelley, Jonathan Knape, Keith Kraut, Jennifer Kuehn, Helen & Bruce Lindsay, Heather Luedecke, Neil Marquard,  Bernie Master, Carolyn May, Jim McCormac,  Bob & Elaine McNulty, Joe Meara, Barbara Merritt, Dick & Kathy Miller, Greg Miller, Susan Moore, Diana Morse, James Muller, Sharon Newell, Richard Oxley, Sam Pollock, Jeff Pontius, Pam Raver, Cheri Rida, Sam Rockwell, Amanda Rogers, Robert Royse, Dan Sanders, Marcia Scott, Colleen Shaw, Darlene Sillick, Bruce Simpson, Shaun Skinner, Gene Stauffer, Rick Stelzer, Rob Thorn (compiler), Dick Tuttle, Pam Unger, Mary Wildemuth, Carl & Karen Winstead, Patti Wutzler

Narrative

2015 will go down in CBC lore as the Year of the Perplexing Totals.  Almost every team had a blah day, despite good weather.   For virtually every field team, the mantra was the same: “Good in the early morning, bad thereafter.”  Totals for some birds, like diving ducks, kinglets, most sparrows, blackbirds, and finches, were well below our long-term averages.  It’s a truly mysterious Count when Waterman Farms – one of our best areas – had lower totals than the nearby suburban areas of Upper Arlington.   It was a weird Count when Scioto MetroPark had fewer birds than adjacent areas in Downtown and Grandview.

Despite the complaining, most teams did have some decent birds to report.  As often happen on down years, Blendon Woods had an ‘up’ day, with good dabbling ducks (Gadwall, Wigeon, Shovelers, and Green-winged Teal) along with lots of Red:  Red-headed Woodpecker, Red-shouldered hawk, Red-br.Nuthatch, and a Fox Sparrow (Bruce Simpson, m.ob.).  In nearby Blendon Township, Charlie Bombaci managed to pull out a Snow Goose, Red-shouldered Hawk, and Barred Owl, while dedicated feeder watcher Patti Wutzler snagged a Great Horned Owl and Purple Finches.  Along Alum Creek south to the Airport, the Ohio Dominican team carved out a good list that included a Harrier, 3 Brown Creepers, and 2 Mockingbirds, among others (James Muller, David Kelley, Zhane Cervantes).

The Gahanna Team scored a Bald Eagle, 2 Barred Owls, and a Hermit Thrush (Bob McNulty, Diana Fowler).  The Jefferson Township team pulled in 2 Sharp-shins, a Harrier, 2 Red-shouldered hawks, a Screech Owl, a Great Horned Owl, an impressive 26 Bluebirds, and yet another Fox Sparrow (Dick & Kathy Miller, Brad & Louise Gambill, et al.).  The Reynoldsburg-Blacklick Team had a wigeon, a Barred Owl, a striking 16 Yellow-rumped Warblers, and a Field Sparrow (Pam Raver, Rob Thorn, Gene Stauffer, Wendy Becker).  The neighboring Noe-Bixby team found a Coot, 2 Cooper’s Hawks, and a Winter Wren (John Bergstrom).

In the Southeast, the 3-Creeks team highlighted 2 Bald Eagles, 11 Red-tails, 4 Mockingbirds, 8 Horned Larks, and another Fox Sparrow (Rick Stelzer, Darlene Sillick, Stephen Bischoff, et al.).  Jim McCormac & Bernie Master scoured the Greenlawn cemetery and nearby quarries to discover 25 cormorants, a Bufflehead (one of our few diving ducks this year), 5 Killdeer, a Sapsucker, and 6 Pine Siskins.  The Scioto-Berliner team scared up 12 more cormorants, 10 Mute Swans, a rare White-winged Scoter, a Bald Eagle, and a Swamp Sparrow.  The Downtown-Bexley team found a Bald Eagle, 2 Mockingbirds, and 8000 Starlings among other birds in the concrete canyons of their urban area (Lindsay & Brad Deering, Susan Moore).

In the northeast, the Grandview team ferreted out 20 Ring-necked Ducks, a Peregrine, a Killdeer, and 2 red-winged Blackbirds, among other birds (Jenny Bowman, Kate&Carl Winstead).  Bob Royse prowled the areas from Marble Cliff up to Griggs, bringing in another Sapsucker, a Winter Wren, and 2 Towhees, among others.  The OSU West-Upper Arlington Team  mounted a multi-team effort, bringing in another Sapsucker, a very late Wood Thrush, and 2 Chipping Sparrows, among a good list (Heather Luedecke, Alex Ebert, John Finn, Bill & Mary Heck, Gerry & John Brevoort).  The OSU East – Clintonville Team spotted 2 Cooper’s Hawks, a Peregrine, and 5 Cedar Waxwings in a decent total (Paul Graham, Neil Marquard, Cheri Rida, Carolyn May).   The Beechwold Team had 12 Bluebirds and 3 Cowbirds along with a good list of regulars in their built-up territory (Jeremy Bantz & co.).

So what does it all mean?  Clearly, some birds had an off year, while others had a fairly good year.   The short list goes  as follows:

Off-year

Diving Ducks – startlingly scarce this year, probably because the mild early winter allowed them to stay further north.  High totals in northern Ohio reinforce this view.

Grebes – few Pied-bills and no other species, it’s not been a kind winter for these little divers.  They often winter below our dams, but for some reason or another are scarce this winter.

Insect-eaters – kinglets, creepers, and most warblers (other than yellow-rumped) had a low year, despite the mild weather.  The mild temperatures may have inadvertently ‘hatched’ many of their food bugs and bug eggs, putting them ‘on the wing’ just before the cold temperatures around the CBC froze them.

Swamp Sparrows – a bird that should increase for use every year, with ‘new’ mitigation wetlands sprouting all around.  But this year they nose-dived, possibly because they’re more of an insect-gleaner than we realized (see above).

Blackbirds – we’re always just flirting with the northern edge of their winter roosts.  Some years they’re nearby; in others, like this year, they’re not.  Even grackles, which we normally have as stragglers in urban parks, were very scarce this year.

Good Year

Dabbling Ducks – It never gets old now, finding formerly scarce dabblers like Gadwalls, wigeon, shovelers, and teal on CBCs.  All of our mitigation wetlands, plus nearby attractors like Pickerington Ponds, will probably keep these birds around for winters to come.

Raptors – it may not look like much, but with our reduced party hours, this years totals for birds of prey were outstanding.  It helped we found Harriers & peregrines, but other totals were healthy, too.  Hmmm, maybe this is why so many other birds had an off year.

Woodpeckers – with same accounting as raptors, our birds-per-hour totals were very good.  Pileateds were common even without this correction.  We must just have a lot of dead wood in Columbus (and I hope that doesn’t reflect on our academic & political landscapes).

Fruit-eaters – if it seemed like Robins were the common birds of the season, your perceptions were probably correct.  They weren’t the only fruit -eaters to have a decent December.  Bluebirds, waxwings, and mockingbirds were also in healthy numbers.  Even non-traditional fruit-eaters like Yellow-rumped warblers had a good CBC period

Tree Sparrows, Juncos – while neither set any records, these little ‘irruptive sparrows’ seemed to be everywhere around town this December, and it showed in the CBC totals.  I don’t know what pushed them down, but they’ve sure been an enjoyable presence around feeders so far.

Next Year

As always, we end with a plea for next year.  The Columbus CBC is what we make of it.  Through good years and bad now, we build up our knowledge base of Columbus’ winter birds.  And what it shows is that we have a good list of interesting birds, despite (or maybe even because of) our urban habitat.  Hope to see you all again next year!