2013 Cache Valley (Logan) Christmas Bird Count Report

Despite all the history of the Christmas Bird Count beginning in 1900 to replace the destructive Christmas side hunt, and all the stuff about the longest running citizen science project in the world, and all the supposed insights on global weirding by “science types” from all this data, I’m convinced the real purpose of the CBC is to catch us off guard-to make us realize how little we know about nature and birds. I mean, it was COLD in the two weeks leading up to this year’s CBC. And yet, with most of the water frozen, fewer participants than usual, and air that could gag a skunk, we found over 27,000 birds and (tentatively) 100 species. Who’d a thunk?

November and the first few days of December were so pleasant-it was over 53 degrees on December 2-but then, the calendar caught up with us. In the ten days leading up to the count, the average high was only 18 degrees and the average low was below zero! Thanks, Ma (Nature). But despite a forecast for subzero temps on Count Day, we awoke to a “balmy” 22 degrees. What’s with that? Didn’t help the air quality any, but we didn’t lose any observers to Frosty’s snowy clutches, either.

The compilation dinner yielded 98 species with several surprises, as usual, including never-before-seen-in-Cache-Valley Rusty Blackbirds found by Craig Fosdick. Unexpectedly, using un-ubiquitous un-unctuous unveiling (is that enough “U”s? in a row?) birding photography techniques, Ryan O’Donnell may have added two more to round us up to an even 100-a Slaty-backed Gull and a Winter Wren (the eastern species was split from Pacific Wren in 2010). I say, “may have” only because these two finds were so unusual that we’re seeking professional review from other experts, just to make sure.

As expected, the cold and frozen water kept waterfowl numbers low, except for a record number of Hooded Mergansers. Most of the ducks that had stayed were packed into tight swirls churning the few open patches of the Logan sewage lagoons. (You duck hunters should think on that one…) It also reduced the total gull count to four-total-one each of four different species! Oddly, we had two American Pelicans camped out at the Logan Fish Hatchery. They didn’t even seem to be injured, because we saw them fly.

The cold may have also pushed raptors down from the north; we recorded unusually high numbers of both Red-tailed and Rough-legged hawks. And eagle counts, both Bald and Golden, continued high.

Some chicken birds (“gallinaceous” in technical parlance) were well represented, with high numbers of Sharp-tailed Grouse, but we totally missed the more mountain members of that family-Chukars, Dusky Grouse, and Ruffed Grouse. Species artificially stuck up here by the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources to raise money from hunting licenses were mixed-lots of Wild Turkeys but no California Quail.

Despite the frozen water, we still managed to find a few Virginia Rails lurking in the cattails and Wilson’s snipe numbers seemed to be doing fine.

Rock Pigeon numbers remained high, and Eurasian Collard-Doves more than doubled their previous record numbers, illustrating once again the dynamic nature of avian species, even across continents.

We found six of the seven possible owl species (missed Long-eared), but numbers were generally low, except for Short-eared Owls, which were up from previous years, perhaps because observers walked the fields instead of sticking to roads.

Corvids didn’t set any records, but healthy numbers suggest a successful resistance to West Nile Virus. Hooray!

“Micro birds” (chickadees, nuthatches, etc.) were well represented. And two parties found Troglodytes species, with possibly a first record for the eastern Winter Wren.

Thrushes seem to be doing fine, with a very high number of American Robins and even a Hermit Thrush.

The only notable high numbers among sparrow-like birds were record numbers of Spotted Towhees and a high count of White-crowned Sparrows.

Except for Western Meadowlarks, blackbird numbers were higher than usual, and the Rusty Blackbirds made for a very interesting icing on the cake. That’s one bird that looks so much like our regular, run-of-the-mill-hohum-boring Brewer’s Blackbird that it may well have been here in the past but none of us actually noticed it before. Stay alert, folks!

Among the finches, it’s interesting how Lesser Goldfinches continue their steady increase in numbers, while Pine Siskins were still lower than the average over the last decade (perhaps a result of disease noticed a few years ago?).

Some of the “misses” apparently were just hiding on count day. “Count week” finds (three days either side of count day) included Cackling Goose, Tundra Swan, and Wood Duck.

A summary of new records includes:

Species 2013 Record Count Previous High
(Year of Previous Record)
American White Pelican 2 1 (2012)
Hooded Merganser 10 7 (1995)
Slaty-backed Gull 1 New 2013
Eurasian Collared-Dove 895 352 (2012)
Spotted Towhee 46 37 (2005)
Rusty Blackbird 2 New 2013

As usual, we convened at the Cache Valley Unitarian Univeralists Church later that evening to compile our results, chow down, and rekindle our inner warmth (it WAS the Unitarian building, after all…). We tallied 27,358 individual birds and 98 species, which increased to 100 after reviewing photographs in the next few days. Fourteen of those species were represented by individual birds, which is a bit higher than usual. In all, we did very well, especially considering the bitter temperatures in preceding weeks.

Participants were fewer this year than in a long time-only 49, whereas we usually have 55-65 folks. My own theory is the lack of Stilt newsletters (hint to some enterprising, artistic and linguistic volunteer!). Facebook and Econet notices just don’t get out to a wide enough readership. Quantity isn’t everything, obviously, as our count results show. We certainly had quality observers! Thanks to everyone who joined us this year: Grant Allen, Robert Atwood, Dennis Austin, Leanna Ballard, Martha Balph, Eddy Berry, Chris Call, Jim Cane, Denise Cheung, Allen Christensen, Stephanie Cobbold, Jennifer Courtwright, Mary Debyle, Norb Debyle, Bryan Dixon, John Ellerbeck, Barbara Farris, Mike Fish, Craig Fosdick, Heather Godding, C.Val Grant, Jack Greene, Frank Howe, Julie Kelso, Linda Kervin, Jim Kingsland, Carol Kochan, Dave Kotter, Kurt Kotter, Caitlin Laughlin, Leah Lewis, Byron Love, Jean Lown, Kendal Morris, Marion Murray, Sam Nielsen, Ryan O’Donnell, Melissa Ogilvie, Bruce Pendery, Frank Smith, Kim Sullivan, Kelsey Tatton, Mike Taylor, Don Viers, Heath Weaver, Bryan Williams, Nancy Williams, Mike Wolfe, and Dan Zamecnik.

For more information on CBCs across the hemisphere, see the Audubon Society’s webpage: http://www.audubon.org/Bird/cbc. Thanks to CVUU for providing our post-count meeting spot, to all the landowners who let us access their land to count their birds each December, and most of all to those of you who helped with the count itself. To get an electronic version of the Logan CBC count data, either visit Audubon’s CBC website, or contact me: bdixon (at) xmission.com.

Bryan Dixon