On this year’s count, held on December 17, 2017, we had relatively cold weather; it seemed seasonally appropriate, with morning lows near 27 oF and afternoon highs of only 37 oF. Thank goodness it was pretty calm all day. Most still water was frozen, but there were some areas of open water, particularly along the rivers. We had 41 participants, a great effort, over 138 party hours (#hours in the field x #field parties). We tallied a total of 71 species, the fourth highest in our 30 years. A total of 14,759 individuals were counted.
Kyle Davis’ group (Troy & Ethan Herrel, Adriana Losey, Maria Losey), Jim Peoples’ group (Jim & Bernard Derr), and Rich Bradley were out well before 5:00 am and we managed to pick up two Screech Owls and four Great Horned Owls. This year we failed to find any Barred Owls during the count, but they were present during the count week (Kirsten Lehtoma near the USDA laboratory).
Similar to the dip-out on Barred Owl, there had been several reports of Merlin in the circle before and after the count. Even though Jim Peoples and Bernard Derr (Eastern Shores south) as well as Megan’s (Greater Delaware) team searched, there was no sign of one during the count itself, but it was sighted during the count week. Here is a photo I took of an adult male Merlin near the marina in Delaware State Park on 28 December.
Once again, Dan Bobb’s Western Shores team (Gary & Karen Deighton, Silas & Todd Jolliff, and David Johnson) found a Double-crested Cormorant , a rare find in winter. They had six last year in the same area.
The rarest bird by far was a LeConte’s Sparrow found near the north end of Delaware Wildlife area by Bryan Sharp, Dan & Colleen Fink (Eastern Shores N). They had excellent views of this secretive species. Numerous birders tried to re-find the bird in the days after the count with no success, so we are fortunate that it was visible on the day. This species is rarely seen at any time in Ohio, and almost never found on Christmas Counts here. This is our first record for the species.
Once again Ben Warner’s group (Lauren Blyth, Kelly Ball, Jessica Melfi and Ben) found quite a few species not seen by others; they had seven species which were tallied by no other group. Since their report was not included in our preliminary total at the compiling meeting on Sunday it increased our list considerably. Many of these were waterfowl, including 15 Ring-necked Ducks! They also found a Chipping Sparrow (only a few stay into the winter). This highlights the need for all of us to check through those flocks of Tree Sparrows for the odd straggler, either chippers or in some years Field Sparrows.
Snow Geese were seen by the Western Shores team (three) and by Megan Shoemaker’s Greater Delaware team (one by Geoffrey and Amy Winningham and Chris Harvey). This is only the second time that Snow Geese have been found on our count, the last being three back in 2004.
Kirsten Lehtoma and Steve Weate (Refuge North) found our only two Ring-necked Pheasants this year. This introduced species is probably only hanging on in our area because of stocking releases for hunting. There just isn’t much breeding habitat left for them.
Our total of 568 Mourning Doves was just below the average of 608, but when you consider the increased number of party hours this year, the effort-adjusted total was very low (only 4.1/party-hour). This is in keeping with the trend of lower numbers that has followed the opening of a hunting season on this species. Prior to the advent of hunting, the average yearly figure was 11.7/party-hour.
Three groups located Winter Wrens: Rich Bradley’s Alum Creek-Bohannan south group (Laura Kearns, Bob Klips, Terry Hermsen, Lisle Gibbs, Linnea Rowse & Alana Chriest), Kyle Davis’ Whetstone Wetlands group, and Kirsten Lehtoma’s Refuge North group. In addition Linnea Rowse (Alum Creek-Bohannan area) found the only Red-breasted Nuthatch on the count this year. The overall count had the second highest total ever of Carolina Wrens with 73 individuals.
Woodpeckers were well represented with seven species, including an all-time high of 108 Red-bellied Woodpeckers. Ed Lux’s NW Plains group (Dan Lux, Randy Zibell, Ryan Chilton and Tania Perry) found a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, as did Rich Bradley’s Alum Creek group.
This year we were joined by two Preservation Parks of Delaware County staff who helped by covering the northern half of the Alum Creek-Bohannan area (Craig Flockerzie and Logan Dunn). We also had a strong group of “feeder counters” whose results were compiled by Bob Tannehill.
As is usual, the most numerous bird on our count was the introduced European Starling, with 5,998 tallied. This seems high, but not even close to the 2010 total of 13,755. In fact, it is only a moderately high number (mean is 4,810). At 902, the number of House Sparrows was a bit below the average of 1,035.
Of course, at the end of the compilation on Sunday evening everyone anxiously awaits the result of the Horned Lark guesses. This year the total of Horned Larks was 44, with Bryan Sharp winning the coveted “Horned Lark Award” with his guess of 77 larks. On Monday I added the report from Ben Warner’s group and the number of larks on the count swelled to 92. Nevertheless the award goes to the closest guess to the total tally at the compilation evening. Bryan seems to have a knack for guessing; this is his third win. Only Kirsten Lehtoma has won more times (five!).