|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