2016 Christmas Bird Count (CBC)
We escaped Thursday’s rain and woke up to clear, cool skies on Saturday morning, December 17, making perfect conditions to count birds. This year, we did a little better than last year. 41 counters covered 35 locations, netting 121 species and 13,154 individuals. Results better than last year, but still well below our 20 year average of 127 species and 15,500 individuals.
Applying the rules of National Audubon, we added 14 species during count week, observed by our counters or by eBird reports of others who did not participate in the count, bringing our total for the week to 135. Count week includes the three days before and after count day. So, the birds are still there, but hard to find – likely because we don’t have enough counters and need broader coverage of the circle, as some were seen in areas we did not count. We counted in the large parks and well know birding areas including Sepulveda Basin, Chatsworth Nature Preserve and Hansen Dam as well as some smaller parks, but clearly missed some productive areas.
The primary objective of the Christmas Bird Count is to access the health of the bird population by comparing the total number of individuals of all species seen in a count circle with earlier counts. However, diversity is also an important factor, comparing the total number of species seen with past years. This is National Audubon’s 117th count and much to our credit, our 60th successive CBC, which started in 1957.
There were some highlights, including two new species never before recorded in the count circle. This is exceptional, considering we’ve been at it so long. A Blackburnian Warbler was spotted at Hansen Dam by Kimball Garrett and a Hammond’s Flycatcher at Valley Plaza Park by Dick Barth. The warbler a summer resident of eastern North America is rarely seen in southern California, even during the fall migration. The Hammond’s flycatcher is probably an over wintering bird as most of the population migrates south in the fall.
Also Kris Ohlenkamp was excited to find a Long-eared Owl in the LA River near Balboa Park. We used to see them with some regularity in the northern slope of the Santa Monica mountains near the Encino Reservoir. It is now closed to public access and it’s now difficult to count birds in the area.
And Mark Osokow and Amy Worell had good looks at a Grasshopper Sparrow at the Chatsworth Nature Reserve. It only the second time it’s been seen in our count circle.
Other uncommon bird sightings include:
• A Cackling Goose seen in a flock of Canada Geese at Woodley golf course.
• Six Blue-winged Teal seen at the Pacoima Spreading Grounds. Only the 14th time in our 60 year history.
• A Williamson’s Sapsucker seen during count week at Veterans Park.
• A Pacific-slope Flycatcher seen during count week at Hansen Dam by birders trying to relocate the Blackburnian Warbler. It has yet to be recorded in our circle on count day.
• Plumbeous Vireo was seen during count week by Dick Barth at Valley Plaza Park, but was not refound during the cont.
• A Yellow Warbler seen at Los Encino’s State Historical Park. Only the 3rd time it has been seen in count circle on count day.
• A Hooded Oriole was seen near Valley College on count week. This species has only been recorded 4 times in our circle, although it seems more are now wintering in the area.
Where have the ducks, raptors and shorebirds gone. Habitat hasn’t changed that much, but many have gone missing, some for some time now.
• Greater White-fronted Goose, seen on 24 previous counts, including every year from 2006 to 2014.
• Cinnamon Teal, seen on 35 previous counts, but not since 2011
• Common Merganser, seen on 27 previous counts, but virtually out of sight since the early 90’s.
• White-tailed Kite, seen on 39 previous counts, but not since 2013
• Northern Harrier, wow, seen in all but 6 counts, but not in 2014 or this year.
• Sora, seen on 26 previous counts.
• Spotted Sandpiper, another mystery, seen on 55 of our 60 counts, but not this year.
• Western Sandpiper, seen on 40 previous counts.
• Long-billed Dowitcher, seen on 30 previous counts.
• Wilson’s Snipe, seen on 47 previous counts. These birds are real good at hiding, but we haven’t seen as many in the past few years. In 1993, 48 were counted.
Also missing are:
• Spotted Dove, seen on 43 previous counts, but not since 2002. Blame Cooper’s Hawks and Eurasian Collard-Doves for their disappearance. But they didn’t belong here in the first place.
• Costa’s Hummingbird, seen on 26 previous counts. They may be undercounted, misidentified as Anna’s instead.
• Horned Lark. It used to be here, seen 28 times, but only in small numbers since the early 80’s.
• Mountain Chickadee, seen 32 times, but only off and on the last few years. We recorded 41 back in 1987.
• Marsh Wren, recorded 36 times, but not much and only in low numbers recently.
• Purple Finch, recorded 45 times, but not much recently. They are probably undercounted.
And, we missed some common birds on count day which were reported on eBird during count week including Snow Goose, Northern Pintail, Canvasback and Redhead.
Loggerhead Shrike numbers remain low. Six were seen this count, an encouraging blip in a continuing downward trend. 70 were counted in 2000 and they have been recorded in the 10’s before then.
The same can be said for Horned Larks. They have not been recorded since 1997, but seen on 28 earlier counts including 570 individuals in 1970. These are not birds in trouble. Thousands can be seen in the Antelope Valley during winter, but the San Fernando Valley no longer represents suitable habitat.
This year’s winner for the highest count was American Crow with 2145 individuals, most seen at dusk at Hansen Dam, returning from their feeding grounds, a common occurrence, in big numbers in many locations in southern California. American Coot, the usual winner took second place this year with 1095 individuals. Honorable mention goes to Canada Geese (551), American Wigeon (444), Mallard (654), Double-crested Cormorant (576), Rock Pigeon (520), Mourning Dove (451), European Starling (418), Yellow-rumped Warbler (4712), White-crowned Sparrows (892) and an unusual number of Western Meadowlarks (456).
This year however, for the second year in a row we didn’t count any bird with the highest ever number of individuals and strangely enough none with the lowest ever count. When comparing species count totals o over the past 20 years, Canada Goose and Brewers Blackbird were at their lowest count and American Crow at its highest.
Of interest are the species that have been recorded on all 60 counts. These include Canada Goose, American Wigeon, Mallard, Pied-billed Grebe, Cooper’s Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk, American Coot, Killdeer, Ring-billed Gull, Mourning Dove, Anna’s Hummingbird, Northern Flicker, American Kestrel, Black Phoebe, Say’s Phoebe, California Scrub-Jay, American Crow, Oak Titmouse, Bushtit, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Northern Mockingbird, American Pipit, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Spotted Towhee, California Towhee, Lark Sparrow, Song Sparrow, White-crowned Sparrow, Dark-eyed Junco, Western Meadowlark, Brewer’s Blackbird, House Finch, Lesser Goldfinch and House Sparrow.
Sepulveda Basin won the award for the most species. Kris Ohlenkamp, who has led this sector continuously since 1982, reported 88 species with 2943 individuals, with 9 unique species, including Cackling Goose, Green-winged Teal, Greater Yellowlegs, Least Sandpiper, Herring Gull, Long-eared Owl, Belted Kingfisher, Yellow-chevroned Parakeet and Black-throated Gray Warbler.
Award for the most individuals goes to Hansen Dam, where Kimball Garrett counted 77 species and 3331 individuals. Unique species include Hairy Woodpecker and Blackburnian Warbler
Once again this year we were granted access by the Department of Water & Power to count the Chatsworth Nature Preserve. This area, led by Art Langton and Mark Osokow yielded 52 species with 1716 individuals, including Grasshopper and Vesper Sparrows not seen anywhere else in the circle.
Other unique sightings included Blue-winged Teal, seen by Heather Medvitz at the Pacoima spreading grounds, Hammond’s Flycatcher seen by Dick Barth at Valley Plaza Park, a Yellow Warbler seen by Pat Bates at Encino State Historical Park, a Slate-colored Junco seen during the Wild Wings field trip led by Scott Logan at Veteran’s Park and a Phainopepla was also seen by Scott in Caballero Canyon, near his home.
Other unique species recorded in eBird on count day included Black-necked Stilts at Sepulveda basin.
For bird nerds who would like to see more detail, excel spreadsheets of this year’s count and our historical count are on the chapter’s website.
Thanks to the group leaders and counters who gave several hours of their holiday season to participate.