Wednesday, July 27, 2016
Also, this year Luke Safford will be helping out as a co-compiler and will be primary compiler for the 2017 count.
Wednesday, January 27, 2016
|There seems to be no end to the increase in Cooper's Hawks numbers on the Tucson Valley CBC|
There’s no other birding event like a Christmas Bird Count. Yes, there are other ways one can help census birds and monitor their populations, ranging from the Breeding Bird Survey, the Great Backyard Bird Count, the North American Migration Count, and of course just by using eBird. But none of those bring together a huge group of people on one day and force them to count birds all within 15 miles of each other and in places they’d never think of birding, such as cemeteries, golf courses (something like 20 in the Tucson Circle), desert washes, mobile home parks, and even homeless camps – and then get together for a species countdown in the evening. It’s like a cross between a birding festival and a bird survey, and amazing things happen.
This year we were beset with a fast-moving cold front that presented no sign at the beautiful and relatively warm dawn. It even looked like the weather forecast had been horribly wrong, but it wasn’t. By late morning it was drizzling in most places in the circle, and if it wasn’t raining, it was snowing. Some groups were caught miles up the Santa Catalina foothill canyons during the middle of the front’s passage. But after the 2-3 hours of squalls ended, the remaining hours were lively and bright, and those birders who didn’t quit early were rewarded with some excellent afternoon birding.
So while our species count of 153 sounds low compared to last year’s all-time Arizona high of 164, it’s actually the third highest count in 44 years, well above the average of 139. And thanks to the preparation of birders ready to count the departing roosts of Yellow-headed Blackbirds, we tallied the second highest number of individual birds ever on this CBC: 79,934 (almost half of those Yellow-headed Blackbirds). Subtract those blackbirds, and we still tallied more individuals than two-thirds of all previous counts. One can only imagine the numbers we might have had were it not for the weather.
Rare bird highlights were three new species for the all-time list. A juvenile Gray Hawk had been found by Keith Kamper and Patty Tersey while scouting before the CBC, and it was still present on the CBC day. So more surprising was a second bird found a few miles downstream by Laurens Halsey and Andrew Core. A Bonaparte’s Gull was flying around for Chris McCreedy, Michael Lester, and Homer Hansen at Silverbell Lake. Another big surprise was a Gray Catbird first heard then seen by Andrew Core and Laurens Halsey.
There were other rarities that weren’t new for the list but have been seen only once before. The stakeout Rufous-capped Warbler was in upper Ventana Canyon just beyond the circle’s edge for a while, then it came down just into the circle. A male Blue Grosbeak was big surprise south of Speedway on the Santa Cruz River. Not seen on this CBC since 1978 was Montezuma Quail, when three were flushed from upper Finger Rock Trail.
A Louisiana Waterthrush on the Santa Cruz was likely the same bird that had been there the two previous winters, while we had Pine Warbler and Neotropic Cormorant for only the 4th time each. The latter is certainly increasing and can’t be considered a rarity any more, but who knows what the future holds.
Finally, there were a lot of rare to rarish species seen that we’ve only had on a third or fewer of the past 43 CBCs. If you go out birding around here on your own, you’d consider yourself lucky to find just one or two of these gems. So it’s worth remembering that these were all seen on the same day by an amazing team of volunteer counters. They are:
|This Summer Tanager was found at Evergreen Cemetery by Gavin Bieber|
Of note is that we had multiple Clay-colored Sparrows for only the second time ever (the first was last year), a ridiculous record high 4 Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, and two Greater Pewees for only the second time ever.
The numbers we tallied always provides for some interesting data to mine. We tallied new high counts for 14 species, but Cooper’s Hawk in particular stands out, as we broke the all-time national high last year by a fair margin with 136. This year we had an astounding 152.
Additional new highs for this particular circle are listed below. The first number in the parentheses is our previous high count, and the second is the year in which that number was recorded.
Common Merganser 13 (7 – 2004)
Neotropic Cormorant 22 (2 –2012, 2014)
Eurasian Collared-Dove 617 (327 – 2013)
Barn Owl 6 (5 – 2011)
Costa’s Hummingbird 73 (56 – 2014)
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker 4 (2 – 2014)
Merlin 5 (5 – 2014)
Peregrine Falcon 16 (14 – 2014)
Greater Pewee 2 (2 – 1998)
Gray Flycatcher 4 (3 – 2014)
Black-tailed Gnatcatcher 176 (169 – 1991)
Chipping Sparrow 505 (455 – 1977)
Brewer’s Sparrow 749 (727 – 1999)
Yellow-headed Blackbird 39,725 (19,055, 2014)
I always like to look for birds for which we might get the national high each year. We didn’t see our own record high for the following species, but there are often more of these on the Tucson Valley count than any other. The final results will be known only after all compilers have submitted their lists.
|We most certainly had the national high of Vermilion Flycatchers with 311, but true numbers might have been hampered by the birding conditions.|
Rock Pigeon 5779
Mourning Dove: 6137
Broad-billed Hummingbird: 37
Gila Woodpecker: 538
Vermilion Flycatcher: 311
Plumbeous Vireo: 13
Cassin's Vireo: 10
Black-throated Gray Warbler: 19
Louisiana Waterthrush: 1
House Finch: 3636
Lesser Goldfinch: 2267
Greater Pewee: 2
I looked at species for which we had low counts as well, making a note of those that are below 25% of the long-term average.
Northern Pintail 4
Least Sandpiper 39
Wilson’s Snipe 1
Inca Dove 12
Northern Flicker 20
Canyon Towhee 4
Rufous-crowned Sparrow 4
Spotted Towhee 6
Brown-headed Cowbird 4
The Canyon Towhee numbers were especially shocking, and we nearly missed Brown-headed Cowbird for the first time. Inca Dove seems to be holding steady. But looking at birds that did poorly last year, Gilded Flicker and Loggerhead Shrike numbers are up a bit, but Cactus Wren has dropped a bit.
Then there are our misses. There were six species which were seen during the three days before and after count day and most certainly were in still in the circle. In fact, the Baltimore Oriole suddenly reappeared weeks later.
The following were also reported on eBird within a couple weeks of the count and probably were in the circle, but you can never see them all.
Then there are those residents we know are in the circle but were missed almost certainly because of the weather.
Total Species List:
|Mallard (Mexican intergrade)||3|
|Great Blue Heron (Blue form)||18|
|Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon)||5779|
|Great Horned Owl||11|
|Northern Flicker (total)||20|
|Northern Flicker (Red-shafted)||20|
|Northern Rough-winged Swallow||11|
|Yellow-rumped Warbler (total)||1340|
|Yellow-rumped Warbler (Myrtle)||4|
|Yellow-rumped Warbler (Audubon's)||1336|
|Black-throated Gray Warbler||19|
|Dark-eyed Junco (total)||63|
|Dark-eyed Junco (unknown type)||12|
|Dark-eyed Junco (Slate-colored)||1|
|Dark-eyed Junco (Oregon)||39|
|Dark-eyed Junco (Pink-sided)||8|
|Dark-eyed Junco (Gray-headed)||3|
|White-crowned Sparrow (total)||2127|
|White-crowned Sparrow (oriantha)||5|
|White-crowned Sparrow (Gambel's)||2122|
Total individuals: 79934
Friday, December 11, 2015
Today is the first day of Count Week – the three days before (and after) the Tucson Valley CBC. We'll be keeping track of any species seen on those days but missed on this coming Monday's CBC.
Here's a list of moderate rarities which are very missable. If we get all the rarities that we know are in the circle, if we find some surprises we didn't know about, if we don't miss any expected species, AND if we don't miss any of these moderately rare birds, we might get a new high count. If you find any of these in the next three days, please post to the AZ-NM list or eBird them.
|Tucson Valley had the national high count of Lazuli Bunting in 2014 with ten individuals.|
Just two weeks ago National Audubon officially released the results of last year's Christmas Bird Count on their website, christmasbirdcount.org.
Of most interest to me was the article by Brent Ortego titled:
The 115th CBC Summary of Highest Counts of Individual Species for the United States
In it I found that Tucson Valley ranked second in the nation for the number of high counts – 17 species. It's worth noting that the #1 count, Matagorda County – Mad Island Marsh, Texas, for which Brent is compiler, is always a bit of an anomaly, something of a twilight zone for rarities and big numbers. They also have the national high count for species every year, last year with 234.
In my previous analysis, I didn't count on the fact that no other CBC would have more than 1 Bell's Vireo, Virginia's Warbler, and Lucy's Warbler, and we tied a few other counts for those high counts. I also didn't realize that 10 Lazuli Buntings would be the high count, but Patagonia (the usual leader) only had 2, and Ramsey Canyon (also sometimes the leader) didn't have a real CBC last year.
The Springfield, Illinois CBC was the dark horse that pushed us out of the annual high for Rock Pigeon – by only 5 individuals. And the San Diego reported six Summer Tanagers, two more than we did.
Here's the official list for our high counts in 2014:
Cooper's Hawk: 136
Mourning Dove: 5570
Broad-billed Hummingbird: 59
Gila Woodpecker: 787
Vermilion Flycatcher: 384
Bell's Vireo: 1
Plumbeous Vireo: 19
Cassin's Vireo: 12
Virginia's Warbler: 1
Lucy's Warbler: 1
Black-throated Gray Warbler: 29
Louisiana Waterthrush: 1
Lazuli Bunting: 10
Yellow-headed Blackbird: 19055
House Finch: 5667
Lesser Goldfinch: 2486
Monday, March 2, 2015
|Our 12 Cassin's Vireos broke an eleven-year-old record national high count.|
If you missed the Tucson Valley CBC this past December 14, or if you did participate and missed the countdown and potluck, you missed an exciting time. At the end of the initial reading down the main species list, we still had no idea how many species had been tallied, as there seemed to be plenty of misses – silences when I called out expected species. But then we went group by group and heard of some amazing finds, and it seemed we might have a pretty good species total after all. By the end of the countdown, the total came to an amazing 165 species. The previous high for Arizona was 164, which was set only two years ago by Green Valley, and which we tied just last year. Then when entering the data into a spreadsheet I discovered a Canada Goose that hadn't been noticed during the countdown. 166 species was our official tally.
To see what's possible in the future I'll go over our misses.
Crissal Thrasher, present in very small numbers only in a few spots, and sometimes hopelessly secretive, was missed for only the 3rd time. Redhead was missed for only the 4th time and was especially painful as two were at Reid Park the night before the count (and not reported there again until 11 days later). Common Merganser is a rare bird here, but it was a bit frustrating when one was found at Sweetwater Wetlands three days after the count. Also a frustrating miss was Swamp Sparrow, as our single staked-out bird was findable the day before and again two days after the count, but it wouldn't cooperate on count day. A similar miss was the Bullock's Oriole at a feeder in the NW which was back for its fourth year but disappeared just a couple days before the count. A Magnificent Hummingbird at the Ventana Canyon trailhead had been present just a few days before the count as well. Other species we missed that have been seen on more than half of the counts since 1971 are Eastern Meadowlark, Long-billed Dowitcher, Acorn Woodpecker, and Barn Owl. Black-necked Stilt was a big miss, only the second time in the past 16 years.
In any event it's clear that 170 species is certainly a possibility – maybe even 175 or more. But to do that we'd have to get all those expected species, no misses of anything seen on more than half the counts, as well as find a bunch of unusual birds. But to get even 166, we had a lot of unusual species.
Most unusual were three species new for the all-time list: Baltimore Oriole (found in November and still around today, but wandering widely); Virginia's Warbler (on the lower Santa Cruz River), and Bell's Vireo (in Pima Canyon). Nearly rare and found for only the second time were Red-breasted Sapsucker (the continuing bird at McCormick Park), Hammond's Flycatcher (in Pima Canyon, and though common south of here we just don't have much habitat for it), and Louisiana Waterthrush (probably a returning bird for its second year on the Santa Cruz River). Species with only two previous CBC records were American Avocet, Hairy Woodpecker, Pine Warbler, and Tree Swallow; those with three previous records were Common Poorwill, Lucy's Warbler, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker; and those with four previous records were Clay-colored Sparrow and Lazuli Bunting. What is most amazing about these latter two is that, as expected with birds this rare, we had only ever recorded just one individual in those previous years; this time we had seven of the former and ten of the latter.
A final note regarding rarities, here is a simple list of the 18 species seen on fewer than a third of historic CBCs and therefore not a slam-dunk in the future and commendable finds: Double-crested Cormorant, Snowy Egret, Lewis's Woodpecker, Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet, Ash-throated Flycatcher, Cassin's Kingbird, Steller's Jay, Barn Swallow, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Brown Creeper, Eastern Bluebird, Northern Parula, Yellow Warbler, Townsend's Warbler, Black-and-white Warbler, Wilson's Warbler, Summer Tanager, White-throated Sparrow, and Red Crossbill. Virginia Rail also statistically ranks in this category, except that almost all the years it was missed date to pre-Sweetwater Wetlands time; we've missed it only four times since 1998. Eurasian Collared-Dove has been seen on only seven previous counts, but that's another story that we're all quite familiar with. Neither of these two species can be counted as rarities, and we can expect them in the future.
Now for some interesting numbers. We broke our own previous high counts for 27 species, tying quite a few more, mostly rarities. Of special note are five species for which we usually hold the national high count each year, but by topping our own previous high we also set a new all-time national high. There are only about 30-40 species which have their all-time highs broken each year, scattered among hundreds of circles, so for our one circle to claim five of those is quite amazing. They were (with the previous national high with count name and year in parentheses):
Cooper's Hawk 136 (104, Tucson Valley 2012)
Broad-billed Hummingbird 59 (40, Santa Catalina Mountains 2011)
Vermilion Flycatcher 384 (267, Tucson Valley 2013)
Cassin's Vireo 12 (10, San Diego 2003)
Verdin 877 (797, Tucson Valley 2012)
It's worth mentioning that we tied 19 Plumbeous Vireos, the all-time high for which we set in 2012.
Speaking of national highs, each year Tucson Valley regularly ranks among the top ten counts in the country for the number of species with the annual high, often for about ten species. In addition to the six all-time records above, barring any dark horses, we had the national high count for another nine species: Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Gila Woodpecker, Black-throated Gray Warbler, Louisiana Waterthrush (our single bird tied with at least three other counts), Summer Tanager, Yellow-headed Blackbird, Lesser Goldfinch, and House Finch. Fifteen national highs would rank us in the top three or four, with the the usual top contenders being Matagorda County-Mad Island Marsh, Texas and our own Atascosa Highlands.
We topped several of our own high counts. Seven of our own record highs were of rare birds for which we just saw a few more, except for the already-mentioned surprises of Lazuli Bunting and Clay-colored Sparrow. The others were (our previous high in parentheses):
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker 2 (1)
Gray Flycatcher 3 (2)
Tree Swallow 4 (1)
Townsend's Warbler 4 (1)
Pine Warbler 2 (1)
Wilson's Warbler 3 (2)
Other species were counted in record numbers for all sorts of reasons. They were:
Anna's Hummingbird 408 (357)
Costa's Hummingbird 56 (52)
Ladder-backed Woodpecker 84 (81)
Red-breasted Nuthatch 27 (8)
Black-throated Gray Warbler 29 (12)
Abert's Towhee 461 (397)
Yellow-headed Blackbird 19055 (13600)
Lesser Goldfinch 2486 (1739)
In the case of Ladder-backed Woodpecker, barely topping our old record, having a lot observers in the field seems to be an obvious factor. But it was clear already in early November that there were a lot of Black-throated Gray Warblers around. Abert's Towhees have been increasing into urban Tucson in past years, so that wasn't a surprise. It was an invasion year for Red-breasted Nuthatches with strays being seen already in September, but having a team hike up to Mount Kimball helped boost those numbers.
Finally, it's worth mentioning a few species for which we recorded fewer than normal numbers. Each one could be the topic of an extensive discussion, with many theories that would need to be examined in detail. In each case there may be multiple causes, with the effect being local or regional, temporary or long-term, random or meaningful. But the ones that repeat from last year are in boldface below. I thought I should mention that this is our lowest count ever for Inca Dove, and there seems the distinct possibility that we'll miss it entirely in the future. The high count from 1980 reported 3932 Inca Doves.
Least Sandpiper 26
Inca Dove 5
Greater Roadrunner 11
Gilded Flicker 17
Loggerhead Shrike 6
Cactus Wren 182
European Starling 1064
Canyon Towhee 22
Rufous-crowned Sparrow 9
Lark Bunting 5
Western Meadowlark 6
Brown-headed Cowbird 12
I want to thank all of the Area Leaders for all their help in organizing their teams, getting their data to me on time, and keeping track of all the effort data. I also wanted to especially thank Jennie MacFarland for setting up the potluck countdown and Tucson Audubon Society for paying for the rental space. And thanks to everyone who helped chip in to cover my costs.
Sunday, January 4, 2015
Pending final edits, this is the simple list of species and numbers from the December 14, 2014 Tucson Valley CBC.
Updated with final proofreading on Feb 2, 2015