2016 Columbus CBC Weathers Icy Morning for Good Birds

Sandhill Crane Soaring - Photo Earl Harrison

Summary

On December 18, 66 observers sponsored by CAS spent the day counting birds in different areas of Columbus.  An icy morning shortened the day for many teams, but not before many of them found good birds. The teams were able to skate to totals of 86 species and 21,262 individual birds.

Count Date: December 18; 6:00 a.m. To 6:00 p.m.     Temp. 29-36 ºF.  Wind WSW 0-3 mph   Still water frozen, moving water open.  A.M. overcast;  P.M. partly cloudy.  Observers: 62 in the field in 16-18 parties, 4 at feeders.   Total party hours:  122 (78 on foot, 44 in cars, 2 owling).   Total Party miles: 223 (73 on foot, 150 in cars, 6 owling)

Pied-billed Grebe – 5;  Double-crested Cormorant – 68;  Great Blue Heron – 22;  Mute Swan – 1;  Gr.White-fronted Goose – 2 (RR);  Canada Goose – 5827;  Wood Duck – 10;  Black Duck – 122;  Mallard – 851;  N. Shoveler – 1;  Green-winged Teal – 1;  Gadwall – 7;  Redhead – 1; Lesser Scaup – 1; Ring-necked Duck – 112;  Bufflehead – 2; Common Merganser – 1;  Red-br. Merganser – 1;  Hooded Merganser – 125;  Ruddy Duck – 3;  Sharp-shinned Hawk – 5;  Cooper’s Hawk – 21;  Red-shouldered Hawk – 4;  Red-tailed Hawk – 44;  Bald Eagle – 8;  Peregrine1;  Merlin – 3;  American Kestrel – 5;  Wild Turkey – 27;  Sandhill Cranes – 267 (multiple flocks, m.ob.);  Killdeer – 2; Wilson’s Snipe – 1; Bonaparte’s Gull – 3; Ring-billed Gull – 1328;  Herring Gull – 8;  Rock Dove –272;  Mourning Dove – 202;  E. Screech Owl – 1; Great Horned Owl – 1;  Barred Owl – 3;  Belted Kingfisher – 10;  Red-headed Woodpecker – 15; Red-bellied Woodpecker – 126;  Yellow-bellied Sapsucker – 2;  Downy Woodpecker – 156;  Hairy Woodpecker – 18;  N.Flicker – 60;  Pileated Woodpecker – 6;  E. Phoebe – 1 (RR); Blue Jay – 269;  American Crow – 238;  Horned Lark – 2;  Carolina Chickadee – 294;  Tufted Titmouse – 111;  White-breasted Nuthatch – 120;   Red-breasted Nuthatch – 11;  Brown Creeper – 8;  Carolina Wren – 69; Ruby-crowned Kinglet – 1;  Golden-crowned Kinglet – 11;  Eastern Bluebird – 42;  American Robin – 1076;  N.Mockingbird – 7 (low);  European Starling – 6040;  Cedar Waxwing – 26;  American pipit – 16;  Yellow-rumped Warbler – 13;  Northern Cardinal – 455;  Eastern Towhee – 16;  American Tree Sparrow – 219;  Field Sparrow – 3;  Chipping Sparrow – 1;  Song Sparrow – 98;  Swamp Sparrow – 2;  Eastern Fox Sparrow – 1; White-throated Sparrow – 391;  White-crowned Sparrow – 10;  Dark-eyed Junco – 409;  Lapland Longspur – 47 (LS,AE);  Rusty Blackbird – 3;  Red-winged Blackbird – 68;  Common Grackle – 96;  Brown-headed Cowbird – 50;  House Finch – 166;  American Goldfinch – 313;  House Sparrow – 851

Totals:   86 species,  21,262 individuals

Birds seen Count Period, but not Count Day:  American Wigeon,  Common Goldeneye,  Winter Wren,  Palm Warbler

Observers

Cheryl Arick, Jeremy Bantz, Shannon Branch, Susan Braunig, Linda Brenner, John & Gerry Brevoort, Kristen Burton, Ashley & Matt Collins,  Rose Conrad, Tim Daniel,  Alex Eberts,  John Finn, Diana Fowler, Kandace Glanville, Jeff Grabmeier,  Nina Harfmann,  Bill Heck,  Becky & Mike Jordan, David Kelley, Jennifer Kangas, Jennifer Kuehn,  Donna Kuhn,  Kristan Leedy,  Helen & Bruce Lindsay, Doreen Linzell; Heather Luedecke, Neil Marquard,  Bernie & Susan Master,  Bob McNulty, Joe Meara, Barbara Merritt, Dick & Kathy Miller, Keary Missler, James Muller, Angelika Nelson, Lori Patterson, Jen Pierpont, Pam Raver, Cheri Rida, Stephanie Rogers, Robert Royse, Dan Sanders, Andy Sewall,  Katelyn Shelton, R.Lee Sheppard, Bruce Simpson, John Simonson, Gene Stauffer, Rob Thorn (compiler), Karen & Carl Winstead, John Wuorinen

Narrative

No question that 2016 will go down in Count lore as the year of the Sandhill Cranes.  The Count Day coincided with a dramatic cold front that pushed through lots of birds, but Sandhills were the stars of the movement.  No fewer than 6 different teams had flyover flocks of these grand birds, with the total of 267 smashing any previous numbers.  Each team that saw them seemed to feel that they were given a special visitation…..and ,really, they were.  Almost all flocks were high and flying to the south, but the calling gave them away every time.

The icy morning conditions slowed many teams, but seemed to push in lots of interesting birds beyond cranes.  The Blendon Woods team had a fairly good day, with 6 species of duck, Wild Turkeys, Sharp-shinned & Cooper’s hawks, and Red-br.Nuthatch, along with good numbers of regular birds (Bruce Simpson, Jennifer Kuehn, Matt & Ashley Collins, Sharon Newell.).  Nearby Blendon Township had two non-coordinated observers (Donna Kuhn, John Simonson) that still pulled down 30 species, including another Cooper’s Hawk, a Wood Duck, and a Pileated Woodpecker.  Gahanna’s team was one of the groups to be graced by flyover Sandhill Cranes, but they also scored Mute Swan, 2 kestrels, and 5 Bluebirds (Bob McNulty, Diana Fowler, Susan Moore).  Jefferson Township’s forested parks pulled in 2 Red-shouldered Hawks, Screech & Great Horned Owls, and 9 Red-headed Woodpeckers (Dick & Nancy Miller & crew).

The southeastern teams had a good day despite being the quadrant of the circle that didn’t get any Sandhill Cranes.  The Reynoldsburg team totals featured 4 Wood Ducks, 2 Sharp-shins, 2 Barred Owls (at Blacklick Woods), a Sapsucker, 14 Cedar Waxwings, and a Fox Sparrow (Pam Raver, Rob Thorn, Gene Stauffer, Lori Patterson, Linda Brenner).  Keeping pace, the Three Creeks team pulled out another Wood Duck, a Bald Eagle, a Kestrel, 3 Cedar Waxwings, and 2 White-crowned Sparrows, among lots of more common birds (Tim Daniel, Nina Harfmann, Katelyn Shelton).

The southwestern teams had a very good day.  The Greenlawn & Quarries’ team highlights included 40 cormorants, a Green-winged Teal, Red-br.Merganser,  3 Bald Eagles, 1 Merlin, Sapsucker, and 20 Bluebirds (Bernie & Susan Master, Keary Missler).  The Scioto Audubon – Berliner team scrounged up several flocks of flyover Cranes, along with a Merlin, a Bald Eagle, and rare wintertime Wilson’s Snipe.  The River South team, with an assist from a commuting Bob Royse, scored a surprisingly good list for such an urban area, including more flyover Sandhill Cranes, Red-br.Nuthatches, both kinglets, and a small flock of Redwinged Blackbirds (Jeff Grabmeier, Andy Sewell, Bob Royse).

The Northwestern Teams seemed to have much of the luck of the morning, showing that OSU and the Olentangy & Scioto corridors are good spots for winter bird diversity.  The Grandview Team had nearly 40 species – incredible for a very urban area – highlighted by Sandhill Cranes, Bufflehead, 2 Eagles, 2 Killdeer, and 2 Red-br.Nuthatches (Carl & Karen Winstead).  OSU East-Clintonville also did well, with highlights of a Merlin, large numbers of woodpeckers, Common Grackles, and White-crowned Sparrows.  OSU West-Upper Arlington spread into 3 sub-teams, racking up very good totals, including more flyover cranes, big numbers of flyover geese, Bonaparte’s Gulls, American Pipits, Chipping Sparrow,  a flock of Lapland Longspurs, and 4 kinds of blackbirds (Angelika Nelson, Leslie Sours, Heather Luedecke, Alex Ebert, James Muller, Kandace Glanville< Susan Braunig).  The Scioto Corridor from Hidden Lakes to Griggs had 9 waterfowl, an Eagle, our second-ever Count-day E.Phoebe , and a Field Sparrow (Bob Royse).  Even the Beechwold team got in the act, with a Red-shouldered hawk, Bald Eagle, and 2 more Red-br. Nuthatches (Jeremy Bantz, R. Lee Shepherd, Jennifer Kangas).

What’s Up

As always, we try to take the long view and ask which birds seemed to have a good CBC and which ones had an off-year.  This helps spotlight bird species that we should watch in future winters, to see if these changes were just random blips or parts of long-term trends.  For this year, the ‘Up’ birds included:

Waterfowl – it may not have seemed like a good year, but we wound up with 19 species of waterfowl, including pied-billed grebes and cormorants.  It’s true that numbers for half of them were in single digits, but that’s still something for a count that has often had less than 10 species.

Bald Eagles – 8 birds seen by 6 different teams.  Enough Said.

Shorebirds – it’s rare that we get to say we had a 2-shorebird day in central Ohio in December, but we did have Killdeer and Wilson’s Snipe.  These birds are probably more regular than our counts indicate, so it’s nice to get them both at least this once.

Sandhill Cranes – Yes, it’s probably a fluke that won’t be repeated in most of our lifetimes, but it’s great just to be able to write down that they had a good Count!

Woodpeckers – still the echoing boom from Emerald Ash Borer, our totals for most woodpeckers were very high for the team hours.  Red-bellied Woodpeckers (126) and Downies (156) were noteworthy, but flickers and Red-headeds also had good years.

Sparrows – 11 species marks the fourth year in double digits.  We’re finding more sparrows in the urban parks around Columbus than many rural counts get.

What’s Down

Probably more important are the ‘Down’ birds.  Are they just wintering elsewhere, or are they really in decline locally?  This year’s group included

Pigeons & Doves – might not seem like it, but this year’s totals were the lowest in the past 20 years.  Perhaps they were just hiding in the cold weather; I certainly saw few of the large roosts of either Rock Pigeons or Mourning Doves that I’ve had in prior years.

Sapsuckers – only 2 was well below the typical number, which is 3-4x that total.  Again, they are often easily overlooked, especially on a chilly morning when they wouldn’t be very active.

Brown Creepers – 8 was a meager total; I can find that many just in Berliner Park many years.  They just weren’t very common this winter so far.

Mockingbirds – this is perhaps the red flag bird of the CBC.  7 is a low total, and their numbers have been dwindling for several years.  Perhaps our polar vortexes are bit too harsh for them, or maybe flocking fruit-eaters like Robins and Waxwings are depleting their berry bushes, but they aren’t as common now in winter.

Winter Finches – we were out on a cold, icy morning just following a cold front, perfect weather for stray siskins, crossbills, or purple finches.  But nary a one graced the Count; we really seem to be beyond the fringe of their regular irruption range now.

Last Words

All of this data is due to you all.  For those who’ve helped out, a big ‘Thank You’.  You are what makes these Counts valuable, spending a cold day out counting birds.  We hope you’ll come back next year.  And for those of you who haven’t yet helped out – we welcome your help.  Please think about coming out on next year’s Christmas Bird Count.