ESCALANTE/BOULDER – Happy New Year to my fellow birders and to everyone! As 2018 begins, it is time once again to report results of the recent area bird counts.
The Escalante Christmas Bird Count was held on 14 December, the earliest possible date for Christmas counts. There were fewer participants than in past years, 18 in the field and 5 observing their feeders and yards. Our field parties rose to the challenge of scouring the 150-square-mile count circle, driving 136 miles in 10 hours. Lack of snow meant more birding on foot was possible; 16 miles were covered in 15 hours. Our diligent feeder counters logged 25 hours of observation.
Seventy-one species were recorded on count day, including Belted Kingfisher (see photo), a new count species. Our cumulative count species list is now at 124. The Roadrunners which have been observed in the last few months perversely chose not to make an appearance on count day, but one was seen during count week. A second count-week species, Short-eared Owl, was also identified. This owl has been recorded a couple of times during count week in past years, but never on count day. We need to make more concerted owling efforts!
During the last few months there have been vast stretches of virtually birdless, territory in our area. Concentrations of birds have been seen only where there is open water, at the sewer ponds and Wide Hollow Reservoir, and at feeders. Birds have otherwise been hard to find. I first attributed this to the lack of snow which, when present, tends to concentrate birds in our warmer and wetter valley, but there are doubtless other factors involved. An ornithologist friend wintering in Arizona recently observed that dry washes in the Tucson area, famous for their variety of sparrows, are deserted, and that Rufous-winged Sparrows are showing up at feeders in the area for the first time. He hypothesized that the warm, dry year limited seed production by native vegetation, forcing seed eaters to seek food elsewhere. Judging by the number of seed eaters reported by our feeder counters, such conditions may be at work here. Warm, dry conditions may also effect insect populations, which would account for bark-gleaners frequenting area feeders in greater numbers than previously.
In past reports, I’ve discussed other factors influencing the distribution of migrating and wintering birds. These factors include our changing climate – come on, even you skeptics out there have to admit things are different than they used to be – and habitat destruction. This year, as a local example, what natural habitat remained along the old sawmill road has been devastated. Recently, I saw a report on yet another influencing factor, the effect of light pollution on birds and other creatures, including humans. Readings from satellites have shown that artificial outdoor lighting grew by 2.2 percent each year between 2012 and 2016. This is due in part to increased access to electricity by developing nations, but also to increased used of LED lights. Because LEDs are cheaper to operate than traditional lights, people are using them more and for longer. Not only is the blue light emitted by LEDs disruptive to circadian rhythms (natural body rhythms set by light and dark), but plants and wildlife suddenly exposed to light where it does not naturally occur have had no chance to adapt to the new conditions. Natural behaviors such as migration, feeding, pollination and reproduction are being affected.
But, back on subject…What did we actually see on our count? There was a raft of 650 American Coot and a good variety of ducks. It was a pleasure to see a dozen Wood Duck, a beautiful species recorded in only a handful of years, but there were also Canada Goose (145), a single Gadwall, American Wigeon (25), Mallard (260), Northern Pintail (2), Green-winged Teal (100), Canvasback (3), Redhead (60), Ring-necked Duck (300), Lesser Scaup (10), Bufflehead (11), Common Goldeneye (4), one Common Merganser, Ruddy Duck (22) and Eared Grebe (3). The only shorebirds observed were 3 Killdeer.
Among the raptors, high altitude or high latitude species such as Northern Goshawk and Rough-legged Hawk were missing, but most usually-recorded species were observed. There were 3 adult Bald Eagle, an unusual number of Northern Harrier (5), Sharp-shinned Hawk (3, but no Cooper’s), Red-tailed Hawk (13), Ferruginous Hawk (4), Golden Eagle (7), American Kestrel (4), one Merlin, and a single Prairie Falcon.
Miscellaneous land birds included Wild Turkey (138), 1 Great-horned Owl, Mourning Dove (10, nice to see as they’ve decreased as the population of Collared Dove has increased), 3 Loggerhead Shrike, Horned Lark (25), Bewick’s Wren (2, the only wrens), Ruby-crowned Kinglet (2), and Cedar Waxwing (24). Introduced pest birds were characteristically abundant. There were 358 Starling, 78 House Sparrow, and 126 Eurasian Collared Dove.
Corvids were well represented on count day. In addition to Scrub Jay (63), there were 6 Steller’s Jay and abundant Pinyon Jay (218). Black-billed Magpie (31), American Crow (30), and Common Raven (136) were also recorded, but Clark’s Nutcracker was noticeably absent. Some woodpeckers and bark- gleaners were more numerous than is usual and many were counted at area feeders. They included Downy Woodpecker (3), Hairy Woodpecker (4), Northern Flicker (53), Black-capped Chickadee (2), Mountain Chickadee (40, a record), Juniper Titmouse (12), and Red-breasted (4) and White-breasted (8) Nuthatches, also records. All of the expected thrushes were seen. There were Western Bluebird (26), Mountain Bluebird (44), and Townsend’s Solitaire (6), but only 12 American Robin (some years we’ve had many hundreds).
Sparrows and relatives were not diverse. The 4 species recorded were Spotted Towhee (12), White-crowned Sparrow (555), Dark-eyed Junco (303), and a single Song Sparrow. Among blackbirds and relatives, Brewer’s Blackbird was not seen this year, but there were Red-winged Blackbird (107), Western Meadowlark (5), a rare Great-tailed Grackle, and one Brown-headed Cowbird. Within the finch group, 2 Cassin’s Finch were identified among the more numerous House Finch (25), and there were 63 Pine Siskin. Goldfinches included both American (129) and Lesser (11, a record for them). Evening Grosbeak (14) were also seen.
There were other Christmas Counts in our general area, including the Boulder Count held on 19 December. Compiler Terry Tolbert reports there were 12 participants who drove 131 miles in 15 hours and walked over 12 miles in 12 hours. At the end of the day, 50 species had been recorded, including 3 species new to that count: White-throated Sparrow, Brown Creeper, and…Greater Roadrunner! This one was near the Garkane plant, and if that isn’t weird, I don’t know what is. There were 7 species of waterfowl seen, including 315 Canada Goose. The only shorebird was a single Wilson’s Snipe. Mourning Dove (6) made an appearance in Boulder, as did most of the raptor species seen in Escalante. There were no Sharp-shinned Hawk, Merlin, or Prairie Falcon however. Other differences from the Escalante count included the presence of Clark’s Nutcracker (2), Canyon Wren (1), and Chipping Sparrow (30), and the absence of Black-capped Chickadee, Red-breasted Nuthatch, and American Crow. Western Bluebird (130) far out numbered Mountain Bluebird (4), and there was only a single American Robin. Brewer’s Blackbird (54) were counted, along with 33 Western Meadowlark, and the always-wonderful American Dipper (4). Forty Rosy Finch were seen by several parties in “the usual place” along the Hog Back. For a while, there was a debate as to whether these were Black (probably) or Grey-crowned (maybe) Rosy-Finch.. They were Black.
Both Terry and I want to thank everyone who participated in any way in the Escalante and Boulder Bird Counts. You know who you are – these counts wouldn’t be successful without you. I would also like to thank the Waggoner family and staff, who made The Outfitters available to us for an after-count get-together, and all those who provided food for the occasion. Thanks from Terry to the staff at the Anasazi Museum in Boulder for providing us with a home base.
Until next year, happy birding!
—Kathleen Munthe, Compiler, Escalante Christmas Bird Count