Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Simple List of Species and Numbers

Tucson Valley CBC 2013 Results Totals
Greater White-fronted Goose 3
Wood Duck 3
Gadwall 62
American Wigeon 1257
Mallard 406
Mallard (Mexican) 2
Blue-winged Teal 6
Cinnamon Teal 23
Northern Shoveler 1598
Northern Pintail 45
Green-winged Teal 145
Canvasback 19
Redhead 1
Ring-necked Duck 156
Lesser Scaup 25
Black Scoter 1
Bufflehead 29
Hooded Merganser 13
Common Merganser 4
Ruddy Duck 162
Gambel's Quail 748
Pied-billed Grebe 33
Eared Grebe 4
Neotropic Cormorant CW
Double-crested Cormorant 2
Great Blue Heron (Blue form) 9
Great Egret 33
Snowy Egret 6
Green Heron 4
Black-crowned Night-Heron 18
Northern Harrier 10
Sharp-shinned Hawk 20
Cooper's Hawk 99
Accipiter sp. 1
Harris's Hawk 12
Red-shouldered Hawk 1
Red-tailed Hawk 156
Golden Eagle 1
American Kestrel 58
Merlin 1
Peregrine Falcon 7
Prairie Falcon 9
Virginia Rail 4
Sora 15
Common Gallinule 1
American Coot 730
Killdeer 192
Black-necked Stilt 160
Spotted Sandpiper 31
Greater Yellowlegs 9
Least Sandpiper 141
Long-billed Dowitcher 18
Wilson's Snipe 17
Ring-billed Gull 2
Rock Pigeon 5375
Eurasian Collared-Dove 327
White-winged Dove 14
Mourning Dove 3544
Inca Dove 11
Greater Roadrunner 19
Barn Owl 2
Western Screech-Owl 3
Great Horned Owl 7
Burrowing Owl 1
White-throated Swift 152
Broad-billed Hummingbird 35
Violet-crowned Hummingbird CW
Magnificent Hummingbird 1
Anna's Hummingbird 311
Costa's Hummingbird 45
Broad-tailed Hummingbird 2
hummingbird sp. 25
Belted Kingfisher 12
Lewis's Woodpecker 1
Acorn Woodpecker 1
Gila Woodpecker 496
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker CW
Red-naped Sapsucker 13
Ladder-backed Woodpecker 65
Arizona Woodpecker 3
Northern (Red-shafted) Flicker 168
Northern (Yellow-shafted) Flicker 1
Gilded Flicker 10
flicker sp. 1
Greater Pewee 1
Empidonax sp. 1
Black Phoebe 47
Say's Phoebe 52
Vermilion Flycatcher 267
Ash-throated Flycatcher 1
Cassin's Kingbird 4
Loggerhead Shrike 2
Plumbeous Vireo 7
Cassin's Vireo CW
Hutton's Vireo 11
Steller's Jay 3
Western Scrub-Jay 18
Mexican Jay 7
Common Raven 102
Northern Rough-winged Swallow 1
Barn Swallow 1
Bridled Titmouse 14
Juniper Titmouse 2
Verdin 624
Bushtit 35
Red-breasted Nuthatch 1
White-breasted Nuthatch 8
Brown Creeper 2
Cactus Wren 139
Rock Wren 43
Canyon Wren 26
Bewick's Wren 24
House Wren 29
Marsh Wren 60
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 329
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 19
Black-tailed Gnatcatcher 85
Western Bluebird 154
Mountain Bluebird 2
Townsend's Solitaire 1
Hermit Thrush 24
American Robin 14
Northern Mockingbird 133
Curve-billed Thrasher 152
Crissal Thrasher 1
European Starling 2270
American Pipit 45
Cedar Waxwing 1
Phainopepla 287
Louisiana Waterthrush 1
Orange-crowned Warbler 98
Yellow Warbler 2
Palm Warbler 1
Yellow-rumped Warbler (total) 1843
Yellow-rumped Warbler (Audubon's) 1839
Yellow-rumped Warbler (Myrtle) 4
Black-throated Gray Warbler 7
Townsend's Warbler 1
Pine Warbler 1
Common Yellowthroat 17
Wilson's Warbler 2
Summer Tanager 1
Western Tanager CW
Green-tailed Towhee 2
Spotted Towhee 15
Canyon Towhee 31
Abert's Towhee 380
Rufous-winged Sparrow 5
Rufous-crowned Sparrow 15
Chipping Sparrow 159
Brewer's Sparrow 22
Black-chinned Sparrow 18
Vesper Sparrow 7
Lark Sparrow 50
Black-throated Sparrow 35
Savannah Sparrow 11
Fox Sparrow 1
Song Sparrow 158
Lincoln's Sparrow 106
Swamp Sparrow CW
White-crowned Sparrow (total) 1063
White-crowned Sparrow (Gambel's) 1063
Dark-eyed Junco (total) 18
Dark-eyed Junco (unknown type) 1
Dark-eyed Junco (Oregon) 5
Dark-eyed Junco (Pink-sided) 7
Dark-eyed Junco (Gray-headed) 5
Yellow-eyed Junco 1
Northern Cardinal 35
Pyrrhuloxia 34
Red-winged Blackbird 1506
Western Meadowlark 14
Yellow-headed Blackbird 1360
Brewer's Blackbird 212
Great-tailed Grackle 1044
Bronzed Cowbird 36
Brown-headed Cowbird 58
blackbird sp. 20000
Bullock's Oriole 1
House Finch 2583
Lesser Goldfinch 1045
Lawrence's Goldfinch 7
American Goldfinch CW
House Sparrow 1349
Total Species on Count Day 164
Total Individuals 55558
Total Count-week species 7

Monday, January 20, 2014

The 42nd Tucson Valley CBC Summary

Harris's Hawk – A declining species in Tucson?

This was a Christmas Bird Count to remember. A record number of 164 species – tying what seems to be the all-time state high – was well beyond expectations while at the same time setting higher bar that’s clearly attainable in future years.

As it was my second year as compiler, doing my best to recruit observers as much as possible, the showing of 103 participants (98 in the field and five feeder watchers) was a bit below last year’s 117, even if well above the long-term average and miles ahead of any other Arizona CBC. It looked like many CBCs had fewer participants than normal this year, but you wouldn’t know from our species total that we had fewer than last year. So just imagine what the potential is, given maybe 10-15 more skilled birders, 20 more pairs of eyes of any skill level, and another 20-30 feeder watchers, where surely some oddities are going unreported. I do expect that we’ll have more and more in future years, and all participants are welcome to help in future recruiting efforts.

Species seen within three days either side of the CBC day were: a fly-by Neotropic Cormorant photographed a couple days before the count (their numbers begin to increase only in early January), Violet-crowned Hummingbird (at the Birky feeder up until 3 days before the CBC), Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Cassin’s Vireo, Western Tanager (a new species for the master list, along the Santa Cruz River), Swamp Sparrow, and American Goldfinch. Seen just one day before count-week began was a Gray Flycatcher, and a few rarities found well before and after the count may have also been in the circle on count day, including Eastern Phoebe, Northern Parula, Black-and-white Warbler, Harris’s Sparrow, and Dickcissel. And let's not forget what must the most difficult bird to detect that is most certainly in the circle every year: Common Poorwill. That species is known to hibernate, apparently doesn't become active until late January, and there are only 3 CBC records out of the past 42 years. Most years we don't even try, but this year I was up at Finger Rock Canyon shortly after midnight at the start of the day, and after the countdown Larry Liese drove up Tumamoc Hill for another attempt. We'll keep trying for that one in future years. Combine more observers with a good year for northern things that we missed but show up from time-to-time (Common Goldeneye, Lark Bunting, Snow and Canada Goose, Pine Siskin, Red Crossbill, Cassin’s Finch), and it’s clear that 170 or more is a distinctive possibility for this rich CBC circle.

We had several staked-out rarities, some of which were local “megas” – first count-records of Red-shouldered Hawk, Louisiana Waterthrush, and Black Scoter top the list, the latter being the most unexpected from a historical perspective (but present since November 22 and seen by dozens of birders, so not a surprise on count day). The others were three Greater White-fronted Geese at Arthur Pack Golf Course, a Broad-tailed Hummingbird returning for a 3rd year to a West University private yard (and a second in the Catalina Foothills), Lewis’s Woodpecker at Reid Park, Greater Pewee at Evergreen Cemetery, Cassin’s Kingbird at Reid Park (plus a surprise bird in the NE section of the circle), Yellow Warbler (one on the lower Santa Cruz and one at Fort Lowell Park), Townsend’s Warbler (one staked out at Winterhaven a couple days before the CBC), Wilson’s Warbler (the Roger Road WRF stakeout supplemented by a good find in the El Encanto neighborhood), Summer Tanager (only one at Reid Park a poor showing after last year’s record number), and a Bullock’s Oriole (one adult male returning to a feeder in Oro Valley, with details provided by supplemental birders).

Surprises help make the CBC such a fun event. The award for most unexpected rarity goes to the Palm Warbler that appeared just upstream from the Roger Road WRF, and what makes it even more surprising is that it was seen flying off (after good views and even a photo by several very good observers), never to be seen again. Slightly less astounding but still exciting rarities were: two Ring-billed Gulls (one seen by the same team as the Palm Warbler, and another flying along the dry Rillito River several miles upstream – and described to be of a different plumage, so clearly a second individual); a bright male Pine Warbler at the Tucson Country Club golf course (the dull stake-out female was missed at Reid Park, despite being seen the day before and after the CBC – missed not only by the team covering that area but also by many other birders who were coincidentally looking for it that same day); a Magnificent Hummingbird at a feeder near Ventana Canyon; an Empidonax flycatcher on the Pusch Peak Trail; a Barn Swallow at the Silverbell recharge basins; and single Mountain Bluebirds at Reid Park and Evergreen Cemetery. Three other notable species are rare birds for our circle because they occur occasionally only at the very highest elevations where there are bits of habitat which have not been covered well since the 1970’s: Steller’s Jay, Juniper Titmouse, and Townsend’s Solitaire. So many thanks go to Scott and John who made the hike all the way up to Mount Kimball, an elevation change equivalent to hiking to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and back.

We had new or tied record high counts for ten species. Some of these might represent just an odd year, where concentrations just happened to cross paths with CBC counters or reflect what was just a good breeding season farther north, such as American Wigeon, Hooded Merganser, Great Egret, Sharp-shinned Hawk, and Marsh Wren. Who knows why we tallied so many Common Ravens, but the ones here are not known to migrate, nor has anyone commented on a growing population. Not so with Eurasian Collared-Dove, which has been increasing greatly since the first arrived here just a few years ago; Broad-billed Hummingbird which continues to increase year after year; and Vermilion Flycatcher, whose rocketing population is a mystery and a delight. The tied number of four Virginia Rails will surely be outdone in the future, as we discovered the potential of Sweetwater Wetlands by visiting it at night after the countdown; when we had tallied none during the day, a late-night bike ride by the compiler to add just one more species to the count showed that they were much more responsive to playback after dark, as were the Soras. We had historically high counts of another 36 species (ranking among the top five in the past 42 years), but many, if not all of these merely reflect the large number of observers we had this year.

Low counts were notable among many species, representing more noticeable long- and short-term trends than most of the high count species. Those species with possibly meaningless low numbers (perhaps a poor breeding season farther north just this year, or a movable winter population that occurred somewhere outside our CBC circle) were Redhead (the odd one out, as almost all other waterfowl species had higher than usual counts), Least Sandpiper, Brewer’s Sparrow, Brewer’s Blackbird, and Brown-headed Cowbird. But the non-migratory species we should be keeping an eye on for their low numbers are Harris’s Hawk, Inca Dove (whose population has crashed inexplicably in the past 15 years), Gilded Flicker, Loggerhead Shrike, Cactus Wren, Crissal Thrasher (a difficult species to detect in any event, a real decline for this one is hard to confirm), Canyon Towhee, and Black-throated Sparrow.

Thank you everyone for helping to make this such a great and meaningful CBC.

The 2014 Tucson Valley Christmas Bird Count will be held on Sunday, December 14.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Another Record High Count of Vermilion Flycatchers

I still haven't proofed the data, but I have all areas' numbers entered into a spreadsheet, and there's lots of data to peruse.

The big news is that we had an all-time species count of about 163, pending a couple rarities which were undoubtedly real but haven't had enough documentation for the long-term record.

Second, and even more exciting, is the continued explosion of Vermilion Flycatcher numbers. Last year we had a mind-boggling 190. This past Sunday, with even fewer people out there and no specific effort to count them...drum roll...267! That's TWO HUNDRED SIXTY-SEVEN Vermilion Flycatchers in just the Tucson Valley CBC. If they keep going like this, we'll be inhaling them on next year's CBC.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

World Capital of the Vermilion Flycatcher – How Many Will We Get This Year?

An immature male Vermilion Flycatcher, the future red plumage noticeable with individual feathers coming in on the head. Note that "vermilion" has only one "l" – its etymology through Latin for "worm" has no relation to the numerical word "million."

When the Tucson Audubon Society decided to name their publication the Vermilion Flycatcher, they probably didn't know that we'd become the world's hot spot for this species' wintering range. It's actually a relatively recent phenomenon that so many now gather here for the winter.

In the early decades of the Tucson Valley Christmas Bird Count, only a small handful were noted, and it was not until 1984 that more than 10 were tallied (the current CBC circle dates to 1971, but the original was started in 1931). Even as recently as 1994, the CBC logged only five. Last year we had a world record-breaking (and mind-boggling) 190.

I have no idea what has changed to make Vermilion Flycatcher so common now, and I have no idea what the future holds. And until today, I didn't know but what the population might have crashed, and that we'd be back to "normal" this year.

Today I did some scouting in my own neighborhood, which includes the University of Arizona's Roger Road Agricultural Center – also my area on the count this coming Sunday. I was mostly stopping by to get in touch with director about access on Sunday, but took a quick gander at the birds. In a perfunctory look around the farm I saw nine Vermilion Flycatchers, two more than last year's exhaustive survey of this 40-hectare plot, which then was a high number for this area that I've been birding for 16 years.

In biking through Winterhaven – a wooded suburban neighborhood famous for its Christmas display competition, I saw two, a rather atypical habitat for this bird, which likes wide open areas with a few trees and short, moist substrate to catch their insect food on.

This rather indicates we may be in for another big year. Stay tuned!

What Makes The Tucson Valley CBC special?

It's only just now occurred to me to consult Brent Ortego's 113th CBC US National High Species Count Summary to see how Tucson Valley CBC fared compared to other counts last year. In my previous post, I was going only by numbers I could find by blindly searching the current year's results in their online system. We did much better than I originally thought.
Last year's two Chestnut-sided Warblers tied with the San Diego CBC. We don't have any staked out this year. Will one be discovered tomorrow?

Mad Island Marsh, Texas usually leads the nation with the highest number of national highs, and one or more of the Hawaii counts are also pretty high. But consider that several of the species for which Mad Island Marsh claims the national high are singletons of rarities (such as Eastern Kingbird, Brown-crested Flycatcher, and Tennessee Warbler last year). And of course, we can hardly compare Hawaii's scoop of so many tropical water birds and endemics with the mainland.

That leaves the Atascosa Highlands CBC as the most important CBC in the mainland US for species with uniquely high numbers (15 last year), and then Tucson Valley comes after Mad Island Marsh – we had national highs for 13 species (only one of which was a vagrant, which were the two Chestnut-sided Warblers).

Somehow I missed noticing or mentioning that our highs of 820 Gila Woodpeckers, 797 Verdins, and 19 Plumbeous Vireos were not only national highs last year but also a new all-time highs. Along with the amazing Vermilion Flycatcher and Cooper's Hawk totals, that means we broke five all-time high records, almost unheard of in these years.

Cooper's Hawk – 105
Gila Woodpecker – 820
Vermilion Flycatcher – 190
Plumbeous Vireo – 19
Cassin's Vireo – 4
Verdin – 797
Black-tailed Gnatcatcher – 115
Chestnut-sided Warbler – 2
Summer Tanager – 5
Black-chinned Sparrow – 34
Yellow-headed Blackbird – 13,600
Lesser Goldfinch – 1739
Lawrence's Goldfinch – 246
We're probably not going to get the national high for Lawrence's Goldfinch this year, but there are a few around.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Using eBird Maps to Prepare For Your CBC

Check out this map of recent sightings of Brewer's Sparrow in Tucson. (Click on it for a larger view.)

Rather alarming, isn't it? This sometimes abundant winter bird has been very scarce these past couple of weeks, hinting that we might actually miss it this year. In fact, we did miss it in 1991, and four years ago we had but seven. Compare that to a maximum of 727, seen in 1999. But today I got word that some have been in the upper Rillito River wash, so fingers are crossed. I have an amazing team of over 100 field observers gathered, and I have high hopes.

But that's beside the point – what I wanted to show here is how useful eBird is for studying up on what's been seen in your area.

First, navigate to eBird's amazing mapping tool at

You then need to do three things: 1. Enter the species you want to search, 2. Change the date, and 3. Zoom in to the Tucson area. (In the example screen shot above, I used Photoshop Elements to add a circle that approximates our CBC circle; this won't appear on eBird.)

Entering the species is straightforward. As you begin typing in the search field in the upper left, options begin to appear; click ONCE on the species name you want, and then wait for the map data to appear.

Then to change the date option, I suggest limiting it to sightings from this month. Click once on the downward arrow to the right of "Year-Round, All Years." You're going to change these two options to "Dec-Dec, Current Year." In the last of the monthly options for Custom Date Range, click on the bullet next to the fields that let you change the months. Change the first one to Dec. Then click on the bullet next to "Current Year," then finally click on the green button at the bottom. Remember: these are links on a web page, not an icon on your computer's desktop – you click only ONCE, no double clicks yet.

Now come the double-clicks. Every time you double-click on the map it zooms in one notch. Alternatively, you can try to center Tucson by dragging it to the center of your screen and then use the plus-and-minus scroll bar in the upper left. Eventually you'll be zoomed in close enough so that the icons for individual locations appear, and you can get more information by clicking on them. There's also the "Show Points Sooner" option on the right, which brings up those icons when zoomed further out.

Have fun with eBird!

What's A Party-Hour and a Party-Mile?

On the Final Tally Sheet, each team has to report not only the totals of every species in their area, but a few other tidbits of information.

Two that confound many are the Party-Hour and the Party-Mile. This information is combined with bird numbers to help normalize the data for statistical analysis.

Think about it: If a group of 25 people bird in one group in Reid Park for an hour, how many species will they see? What if you divide them into five groups of five, each group covering a different area of the park for an hour – then how many will they see? We know that the five groups of five will see more than the one group of 25, even though you have 25 people birding for an hour in each case.

This illustrates the party-hour. In the first example, there is one party hour. One party (of 25) birding for one hour. In the second case, we end up with five party-hours. Each party of five people birding for an hour logs their own one party-hour.

So if you have a group of 4 people in your CBC area, you're one party of 4 if you stick together. But if you split up (out of voice range, essentially), then you become multiple parties, and you have to keep track of how much time you spend apart.

Party-miles works the same way, but in the example above, you don't know how far they traveled. A group of 25 birders probably won't move as much as a group of five, so you can't just assume that you've just quintupled some assumed distance. There might have been 0.5 party-mile in the first example and 3.5 party miles in the second.

For a concrete example, let's just take your group of 4, and say you split into two couples for 1 hour. One couple walks all around a (Tucson) block, logging 2 miles in the effort. The other group of two does a circuit through the Tucson Botanical Garden, doing a lot of standing and looking, logging no more than 0.1 of a mile. Here your team has logged two party hours and 2.1 party-miles – just add them together. Clear as mud? It's the responsibility of the Area Leader to fill this all in, but whoever in the team is most able to keep track and calculate this information should volunteer to do it.