Monday, March 2, 2015

The 2014 Tucson Valley CBC in Review

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.

Killdeer 61
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

Species List from 2014

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

Canada Goose 1
Wood Duck 12
Gadwall 50
American Wigeon 1474
Mallard 293
Mallard (Mexican) 2
Blue-winged Teal 2
Cinnamon Teal 25
teal sp. 1
Northern Shoveler 524
Northern Pintail 17
Green-winged Teal 46
Canvasback 25
Redhead CW
Ring-necked Duck 117
Lesser Scaup 23
Bufflehead 5
Hooded Merganser 10
Common Merganser CW
Ruddy Duck 80
Gambel's Quail 778
Pied-billed Grebe 28
Eared Grebe 7
Neotropic Cormorant 2
Double-crested Cormorant 18
cormorant sp. 4
Great Blue Heron (Blue form) 8
Great Egret 26
Snowy Egret 3
Green Heron 4
Black-crowned Night-Heron 23
Northern Harrier 7
Sharp-shinned Hawk 21
Cooper's Hawk 136
Accipiter sp. 1
Harris's Hawk 28
Red-tailed Hawk 122
Golden Eagle 1
American Kestrel 112
Merlin 5
Peregrine Falcon 14
Prairie Falcon 9
Virginia Rail 4
Sora 11
Common Gallinule 4
American Coot 670
Killdeer 61
American Avocet 1
Spotted Sandpiper 12
Least Sandpiper 26
Wilson's Snipe 7
Rock Pigeon 5362
Eurasian Collared-Dove 178
White-winged Dove 11
Mourning Dove 5570
Inca Dove 5
Greater Roadrunner 11
Western Screech-Owl 5
Great Horned Owl 10
Common Poorwill 1
White-throated Swift 31
Broad-billed Hummingbird 59
Anna's Hummingbird 408
Costa's Hummingbird 56
hummingbird sp. 55
Belted Kingfisher 10
Lewis's Woodpecker 1
Gila Woodpecker 787
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker 2
Red-naped Sapsucker 17
Red-breasted Sapsucker 1
Ladder-backed Woodpecker 84
Hairy Woodpecker 1
Arizona Woodpecker 4
Northern Flicker (total) 106
Northern (Red-shafted) Flicker 104
Northern (Yellow-shafted) Flicker 1
Northern Flicker (Red- x Yellow-shafted intergrade) 1
Gilded Flicker 17
flicker sp. 3
Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet 1
Hammond's Flycatcher 1
Gray Flycatcher 3
Black Phoebe 41
Say's Phoebe 77
Vermilion Flycatcher 384
Ash-throated Flycatcher 2
Cassin's Kingbird 5
Loggerhead Shrike 6
Bell's Vireo 1
Plumbeous Vireo 19
Cassin's Vireo 12
Hutton's Vireo 12
Steller's Jay 5
Western Scrub-Jay 18
Mexican Jay 11
Common Raven 70
Tree Swallow 4
Northern Rough-winged Swallow 13
Barn Swallow 2
Bridled Titmouse 11
Verdin 877
Bushtit 17
Red-breasted Nuthatch 27
White-breasted Nuthatch 16
Brown Creeper 3
Cactus Wren 182
Rock Wren 44
Canyon Wren 25
Bewick's Wren 30
House Wren 55
Marsh Wren 23
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 334
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 25
Black-tailed Gnatcatcher 84
gnatcatcher sp. 4
Eastern Bluebird 4
Western Bluebird 74
Hermit Thrush 39
American Robin 1
Northern Mockingbird 150
Curve-billed Thrasher 198
European Starling 1064
American Pipit 55
Cedar Waxwing 12
Phainopepla 314
Louisiana Waterthrush 1
Orange-crowned Warbler 94
Lucy's Warbler 1
Virginia's Warbler 1
Northern Parula 1
Yellow Warbler 2
Yellow-rumped Warbler (total) 1540
Yellow-rumped Warbler (Audubon's) 1536
Yellow-rumped Warbler (Myrtle) 4
Black-throated Gray Warbler 29
Townsend's Warbler 4
Pine Warbler 2
Black-and-white Warbler 2
Common Yellowthroat 11
Wilson's Warbler 3
Summer Tanager 4
Green-tailed Towhee 9
Spotted Towhee 22
Canyon Towhee 22
Abert's Towhee 461
Rufous-winged Sparrow 11
Rufous-crowned Sparrow 9
Chipping Sparrow 185
Clay-colored Sparrow 7
Brewer's Sparrow 163
Black-chinned Sparrow 11
Vesper Sparrow 7
Lark Sparrow 68
Black-throated Sparrow 50
Lark Bunting 5
Savannah Sparrow 8
Song Sparrow 95
Lincoln's Sparrow 134
Swamp Sparrow CW
White-throated Sparrow 2
White-crowned Sparrow (total) 1760
White-crowned Sparrow (Gambel's) 1751
White-crowned Sparrow (Mountain) 9
Dark-eyed Junco (total) 134
Dark-eyed Junco (unknown type) 64
Dark-eyed Junco (Oregon) 5
Dark-eyed Junco (Pink-sided) 21
Dark-eyed Junco (Gray-headed) 44
Yellow-eyed Junco 4
Northern Cardinal 51
Pyrrhuloxia 45
Lazuli Bunting 10
Red-winged Blackbird 606
Western Meadowlark 6
Yellow-headed Blackbird 19055
Brewer's Blackbird 467
Great-tailed Grackle 1068
Bronzed Cowbird 54
Brown-headed Cowbird 12
blackbird sp. 620
Bullock's Oriole CW
Baltimore Oriole 1
House Finch 5667
Red Crossbill 6
Pine Siskin 30
Lesser Goldfinch 2486
Lawrence's Goldfinch 5
House Sparrow 1825
Total Species 166
Total Individuals 58886

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Another All-time High: Broad-billed Hummingbird

I just checked Broad-billed Hummingbird numbers. Fifty-nine. 59. Five times ten plus nine.

The previous all-time national high, set by our neighboring Santa Catalina Mountains CBC in 2011 was 40.

Monday, December 15, 2014

A New State Record – 166 Species

As of last night’s countdown, I had counted up 166 species, but I had written down Clay-colored Sparrow twice. So the pretty rock-solid total stood at 165. Then I later found a Canada Goose on one of the lists, so it's back up to 166. There were plenty of rarities, including staked out vagrants as well as some big surprises. But the non-stakeout birds were seen by multiple skilled observers who have already turned in photos or descriptions, making my post-count compiling work so much easier.

It’s hard to pick a “bird of the count,” but I’ll have to go with Vermilion Flycatcher again. If you read in previous posts about the astonishing explosion in Tucson’s resident population, you’ll understand why 387 Vermilion Flycatchers has me simply stunned.

Here’s a quick summary followed with some photos from my day covering Area 22  on bicycle with Jazelle Mondeau.

First what we missed: Seen in the first half of Count Week but missed yesterday: Bullock’s Oriole, Swamp Sparrow, and Redhead. Seen within a week or two and missed: Canada Goose and Magnificent Hummingbird. Not exactly rarities, most certainly present in the circle, and just very local and difficult to locate are Crissal Thrasher, Whiskered Screech-Owl, and Barn Owl. And who knows what rarities are lurking in apartment complexes, lush yards, and blooming eucalyptuses that just weren’t discovered (because a 7.5-mile-radius circle is HUGE)?

Here’s a simple list of the rarities (some staked out, some wonderful surprises) that we can’t expect to get on every year’s CBC, and some certainly not again for a very long time:

American Avocet
Common Poorwill
Lewis's Woodpecker
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Red-breasted Sapsucker
Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet
Hammond's Flycatcher
Ash-throated Flycatcher
Bell's Vireo (new to the CBC)
Tree Swallow
Barn Swallow
Red-breasted Nuthatch
Brown Creeper
Eastern Bluebird
Louisiana Waterthrush
Virginia's Warbler (new to the CBC)
Lucy's Warbler
Northern Parula
Pine Warbler
Wilson's Warbler
Summer Tanager
Clay-colored Sparrow (nine!)
White-throated Sparrow
Lazuli Bunting
Baltimore Oriole (new to the CBC)
Red Crossbill

I’ve not entered any of the data in order to really start analyzing numbers (and won’t be able to for a few weeks now), but I had to take a quick peek at some, so here’s a sneak preview at some of the exciting results.

My recent scouting efforts as well as eBird submissions hinted that we might get a lot of Black-throated Gray Warblers. Jazelle and I had six in our area alone, while the 42-year average for the entire CBC is only four. Yesterday’s total of 26 is amazing, more than twice the previous high.

I wasn’t prepared to see the astounding number of Cassin’s Vireos though. It’s always less common than Plumbeous Vireo and is missed on about a third of recent counts (such as last year). This year we had 12, which is triple our previous high count and sets a new all-time national high (the previous high was 10, set by San Diego 11 years ago, but of course this year’s results aren’t in yet). Not incidentally, we had 19 Plumbeous Vireos, tying our all-time high from two years ago.

Jazelle and I took a short lunch break at the Rillito Downs Farmers Market, seeing  a soaring Cooper’s Hawk in the process.

We found fewer Vermilion Flycatchers in our area than last year, but we saw more of them in odd little places, such as this pair in a tiny strip of desert between two apartment complexes on the south side of River Road.

We saw two Mountain White-crowned Sparrows (notice the black supraloral stripe and the redder bill) in the Rillito River bed; we walked the entire length of the 1.2 mile stretch of it in our area. This is the subspecies Zonotrichia leucophrys oriantha and has a very good chance of being split from the much more abundant arctic-breeding Gambel’s White-crowned Sparrow. A few other groups also noted this subspecies, which normally winters south of here.

It was also a day of celestial phenomena. Those who went owling in the early morning hours enjoyed the Geminid meteor shower (I saw about 3-4 per minute for over a half hour), and we all finished the day with this lovely Sun Dog.

Many thanks again to Tucson Audubon Society for renting the Tucson Junior League room for our countdown and especially to Jennie MacFarland for preparing the potluck for all of us, and to her and all my amazing friends for helping with the cleanup.

After writing the above, I broke away from more urgent duties and just had to look at a few more species numbers. It turns out we're in the running for the national high of House Finches this year (more than 5600), and we broke all-time national highs for Cooper's Hawk, Gila Woodpecker, and Verdin. With Vermilion Flycatcher and Cassin's Vireo, that's an amazing FIVE all-time national highs broken! Stay tuned for the official final numbers in the next several weeks.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

The Storm Has Passed

This evening's sunset view of Mount Kimball from Roger Rd at the end of Vine Ave.
The Pacific storm passed through mid-day today, almost exactly as forecast. One-half to two-thirds of an inch of rain fell throughout the Tucson Basin over the course of about 5 hours, a bit more than predicted. And fortunately for the Area 15 team hiking to the top of Mount Kimball, it seems that the snow level stayed above its 7250-foot peak, rather than the forecast 6000.

Have fun tomorrow, everyone!

Tucson Valley's 2013 High Counts

Tucson Valley is a very special CBC for the large number of birds that call this place home all year. In Brent Ortego’s summary for last year’s CBC, Tucson ranked 4th in the continental United States for the number of species for which it had the high count, tied with the Clewiston, Florida CBC (home to large numbers of mostly wintering birds).  The three CBCs with more species highs were Matagorda County Mad Island Marsh, TX; Atascosa Highlands, AZ; and Santa Barbara, CA.

Seven of the ten species for which we had the high counts last year are residents here with unusually large populations, some of which have grown tremendously in the past five years. Here they are, with some comments.

Cooper’s Hawk – 99
As recently as 25 years ago only 6 were found.

Rock Pigeon 5375
Ho hum. We’ve had a lot more in the past, but no obvious trend here.

Broad-billed Hummingbird 35
An amazing explosion in our resident population.

Gila Woodpecker 496
This is actually a lot fewer than last year.

Vermilion Flycatcher 267
This is mind boggling. I presume our resident population somehow went over a tipping point, but no one really knows why we suddenly have so many. I'm not complaining.

Verdin 624
Not as many as the year before, but we kind of have the corner on the Verdin market, as long as we have lots of participants. The Salt-Verde River CBC usually has a lot of these as well and in the past has held the national high count.

House Finch 2583
This was a surprise, especially since it’s the 6th lowest number per party-hour we’ve ever had. It seems that top honors go to a different CBC each year, almost always in California (though frequently Stockton), and often with numbers over 4000. I think it’s clear that the severe drought there has had an effect.

Finally, we had three highs for birds just visiting here in the winter.

Greater Pewee 1
This is a rarity anywhere in the US in winter, and we’ve had it a few times in the past.

Plumbeous Vireo 7
This is a far cry from the previous year’s all time record of 19, but this is still one of the best places to find this scarce winter bird.

Louisiana Waterthrush 1

Our neighboring CBC, Santa Catalina Mountains also had one, so we each tied for the high count last year. Southeastern Arizona just gets a very few stragglers of this species at the very northern edge of its winter range in the mountains of Middle America.