Another Christmas Bird Count has come and gone. This year’s count was a very interesting one. With the Saddleridge and Sepulveda Fires, we sustained the second worst fire damage in the history of our count circle (after the 2008 Sesnon, Sayre, and Marek Fires). Some species showed noticeable declines as a direct result of the fires. However, we had an overall population increase in most species, partly because birds fleeing from the fire sought refuge in our count circle, but mostly because we covered more locations than ever before. On December 14, 2019, 89 locations were covered by 76 counters split into 25 teams, and they totaled 133 species and 18,874 individuals. For reference, last year’s totals were 128 species and 12,210 individuals, and our 20 year average is 128 species and 15,487 individuals.
The rules of National Audubon allow us to note species seen during count week, the 3 days before and after count day. Thanks to our counters and eBird reports made by others who did not participate in the count, we added 4 additional species during count week, bringing our total for the week to 137 species.
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, as well as comparing the total number of species seen with past years. This is National Audubon’s 120th CBC, and as we have been participating since 1957, our 63rd.
We counted just about every park, golf course, and natural area in the circle, and found a myriad of interesting birds.
There were some highlights:
- A pair of Vermilion Flycatchers, seen by Lynda Fennemen at the Hansen Dam Golf Course. This species is normally found in warmer, more tropical climates, but they have been occurring with increasing regularity in Los Angeles since 2010, and resident populations have established themselves in the San Gabriel Valley, Castaic Lake, and parts of western Los Angeles. Usually when they are recorded on our CBC, they are seen around the Sepulveda Basin, so a sighting by Hansen Dam is very interesting. This is the 9th time they have been recorded on our count.
- 2 Cassin’s Vireos, one seen by Alexander deBarros at Bull Creek and the other seen by Brian Bielfelt at Hansen Dam. This species is uncommon but regular here in summer, but should be in central or western Mexico by now. This is the 8th time they have been recorded on our count, the first time since 2000, and the most we have ever recorded on count day.
Other uncommon bird sightings include:
- 1 Eurasian Wigeon at the Hansen Spreading Grounds. This vagrant is recorded here every few years, usually around Hansen Dam.
- 1 Virginia Rail at Hansen Dam. This reclusive bird winters here annually, but has not been recorded on count day since 2010.
- 1 Sora at Hansen Dam. Another regular recluse, this bird is only recorded every 2 or 3 years.
- 1 Plumbeous Vireo at Sun Valley Park. This close relative of the Cassin’s Vireo winters here in small numbers. This is the 9th count day record, and the first since 2010 (although in that time, they have been recorded 3 times during count week).
- A total of 6 Red-breasted Nuthatches were seen across 3 locations. This species is common in the San Gabriel Mountains, but rarely descends to the San Fernando Valley. This is only the 12th time they have been recorded on our CBC, and the second-highest individual total for this species (the record is 11, seen in 1963).
- A group of Tricolored Blackbirds were seen by Kimball Garret at Lake Balboa during count week. This species is fairly common in open grasslands and agricultural fields, neither of which currently exist in the San Fernando Valley to any significant extent. 1000 were counted here in 1970, and they were annual from 1979 to 2007, but they have only been seen twice since then. They still occur in large numbers in the Antelope Valley.
- A Prairie Falcon was photographed by William Tyrer at Hansen Dam during count week. This desert specialist is reported occasionally on our CBC, and was annual from 1990 to 2001, but it’s been missed almost every year since then. This is the second consecutive year it has been reported during count week. They are quite common in the Antelope Valley.
Unfortunately, many of our waterbirds have declined or disappeared. None of the following 6 species were seen this year.
- Blue-winged Teal, seen on 14 previous counts, but only once since 1996.
- Cinnamon Teal, seen on 35 previous counts, but not since 2011. It was recorded in count week last year.
- Northern Pintail, seen on 42 previous counts, but only 3 times since 2000.
- Canvasback, seen on 51 previous counts, but not on count day since 2013. it was recorded in count week in 2016.
- Common Merganser, seen on 27 previous counts, but only 5 times since 1990.
- Horned Grebe, seen on 21 previous counts, only 5 times in the last 30 years.
Also missing are:
- Spotted Dove, seen on 43 previous counts, but not since 2002. Predation from Cooper’s Hawks and competition from Eurasian Collared-Doves are responsible for their disappearance. As they were an invasive species, I guess that’s good? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
- Horned Lark, seen 28 times, including a record of 570 individuals in 1970, but they’ve been going downhill ever since, and haven’t been seen since 1997. They still occur in the Antelope Valley in the thousands, but the San Fernando Valley no longer represents suitable habitat.
- Mountain Chickadee, seen 32 times, but only off and on the last few years. They are still very common in the San Gabriel mountains, but they aren’t really coming to our altitude as much anymore.
- Marsh Wren, recorded 36 times, but only occasionally since the early 2000s.
This year we missed a few species that have been seen regularly for years.
- Ross’s Goose, seen almost every year since 2001. Most of these records were two birds that were resident at Lake Balboa. Only one was seen after March 2018, and that one hasn’t been seen since July of this year. These individuals may have succumbed to age or predators.
- Cackling Goose, seen annually from 2005 (when they were split from Canada Goose) to 2014, and every other year since.
- Eared Grebe, seen on 52 previous counts, but not on count day since 2016. They were recorded in count week last year.
- Fox Sparrow, seen on 49 previous counts, and every year since 2004. This miss is actually not surprising, as almost all the areas where it is usually seen burned in the Saddleridge Fire.
- Dark-eyed Junco (Slate-colored), seen on 24 previous counts, and almost annually since 1994. This was a bad year for Dark-eyed Juncos overall; this year’s total was less than half of what it’s been the last 2 years, so missing the subspecies that’s uncommon here to begin with is not particularly surprising.
Significant declines were noticed among Lesser Scaup, Snowy Egret, Northern Flicker, Rock Wren, Wrentit, Hermit Thrush, American Pipit, Phainopepla, Chipping Sparrow, Dark-eyed Junco (Oregon), Golden-crowned Sparrow, Western Meadowlark, Brown-headed Cowbird, and Brewer’s Blackbird. All the declines seem to be directly related to the Saddleridge and Sepulveda Fires, as all 14 of these species are most common in areas that burned.
Loggerhead Shrike numbers also remained low. Four were seen this count, about the same as the last few years. Seventy were counted in 2000, but they have been recorded in single digits since then. This species requires open grassland to hunt, so it is usually just reported at the Chatsworth Reservoir, occasionally in the Santa Susana Mountains and at Wilson Canyon. Interestingly, one was seen at Sheldon-Arleta Park, a small location in Sun Valley. This bird is probably a refugee from the Saddleridge Fire.
While many species have declined, some have soared to exceptional numbers. This year’s winner for the highest count was American Crow with 2308 individuals, mostly counted at Hansen Dam, where they roost overnight in the thousands. Honorable mention goes to American Coot (1451), Yellow-rumped Warbler (1300), Canada Goose (1202), Mourning Dove (1038), Rock Pigeon (920), European Starling (884), White-crowned Sparrow (873), Bushtit (785), American Wigeon (565), and House Finch (528).
Record highs were achieved by Eurasian Collared-Dove, Allen’s Hummingbird, Black-necked Stilt, Glaucous-winged Gull, Turkey Vulture, Nuttall’s Woodpecker, Peregrine Falcon, Red-crowned Parrot, Black Phoebe, Vermilion Flycatcher, Cassin’s Kingbird, Hutton’s Vireo, Cassin’s Vireo, American Crow, Common Raven, Black-throated Gray Warbler, and Townsend’s Warbler. Thirty-seven species had at least double their average individual count from the last 2 years.
Interestingly, Mourning Doves seem to have benefited from the fires. For example, Limeklin Canyon, which burned in the Saddleridge Fire, reported 108 doves, whereas 5 were seen there last year, and none the year before.
We didn’t lose any of the 34 species that have been recorded on all 63 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.
We managed to find 4 species that had never been recorded on our CBC before, bringing the total number of species recorded across all our CBCs to 263.
- Pacific-slope Flycatcher was found by Brian Bielfelt at Hansen Dam. Heather Medvitz recorded another individual at the San Fernando Rec Center during count week, but we were unable to check this park on count day. This species was previously recorded in 2016 during count week, but this is the first count day record. Pacific-slope Flycatchers are common here during the summer, but they should be on the west coast of Mexico by now.
- Scaly-breasted Munia was found by Kris Ohlenkamp at the Sepulveda Basin. This tropical Asian species, introduced from India in 1977, is common in the San Gabriel Valley, Palos Verdes, Orange County, and along the more natural stretches of the L.A. River. They have been seen sporadically at Sepulveda since 1996, but never on count day until now.
- A female Orchard Oriole was found by Rebecca Marschall at the Valley Sod Farms, and the photos were confirmed by Kimball Garret, John Garret, and Justyn Stahl, as well as many people on iNaturalist. This species breeds east of the Rocky Mountains, and winters from southern Mexico to northern Colombia. Los Angeles County reports 1 or 2 each year.
- A pair of Pin-tailed Whydah were found by Dave and Kathy Barton at the David M. Gonzalez Rec Center during count week. This African species was introduced in Orange County in 1992, and has since spread throughout the San Gabriel Valley and the L.A. Basin. They started appearing in the San Fernando Valley last year, and will probably be recorded on count day in the near future.
Hansen Dam won the award for the most species and most individuals. Brian Bielfelt reported 81 species with 3336 individuals, including 2 unique species not seen in any other sector, and 1959 American Crows (84.8% of all the American Crows reported in our count circle). At the Sepulveda Basin, Kris Ohlenkamp (who has covered this area since 1982) counted 74 species with 2693 individuals, including 5 unique species (more than any other location). The Department of Water & Power once again granted us access to count at the Chatsworth Reservoir, where Art Langton and Mark Osokow counted 64 species with 1134 individuals, including 2 unique species.
14 locations reported unique species, reminding us of the importance of counting every location.
|Unique Birds Seen||Location||Sector leader|
|Snow Goose||Hansen Spreading Grounds||eBird report on count day|
|Mute Swan||Sepulveda Basin||Kris Ohlenkamp|
|Wood Duck||Los Encinos State Historic Park||Pat Bates|
|Eurasian Wigeon||Hansen Spreading Grounds||eBird report on count day|
|Western Grebe||Encino Reservoir (overlook)||Jim Moore|
|Virginia Rail||Hansen Dam||Brian Bielfelt|
|Sora||Hansen Dam||Brian Bielfelt|
|Wilson’s Snipe||Sepulveda Basin||eBird report on count day|
|Spotted Sandpiper||Hansen Spreading Grounds||Heather Medvitz|
|Greater Yellowlegs||Sepulveda Basin||Kris Ohlenkamp|
|Glaucous-winged Gull||Reseda Park||Pat Bates|
|Green Heron||Sepulveda Basin||Kris Ohlenkamp|
|Barn Owl||Chatsworth Reservoir||Art Langton & Mark Osokow|
|Williamson’s Sapsucker||Veteran’s Park||Scott Logan|
|Red-crowned Parrot||Veteran’s Park||Scott Logan|
|Pacific-slope Flycatcher||Hansen Dam||Brian Bielfelt|
|Vermilion Flycatcher||Hansen Dam Golf Course||Lynda Fennemen|
|Plumbeous Vireo||Sun Valley Park||Yvonne Burch-Hartley|
|Rock Wren||Pacoima Wash at El Cariso||Brian Bielfelt|
|Phainopepla||Caballero Canyon||Rebecca LeVine|
|Scaly-breasted Munia||Sepulveda Basin||Kris Ohlenkamp|
|Vesper Sparrow||Chatsworth Reservoir||Art Langton & Mark Osokow|
|Orchard Oriole||Valley Sod Farms||Rebecca Marschall|
|Yellow-rumped Warbler (Myrtle)||Hansen Dam Golf Course||Lynda Fennemen|
|Wilson’s Warbler||Encino Park||Pat Bates|
2019 CBC Summary
|1||Snow Goose||21||Great Egret||9||House Wren|
|2||Greater White-fronted Goose||13||Snowy Egret||61||Bewick’s Wren|
|91||Domestic Goose species||4||Green Heron||884||European Starling|
|1202||Canada Goose||31||Black-crowned Night-Heron||31||California Thrasher|
|2||Mute Swan||77||Turkey Vulture||112||Northern Mockingbird|
|15||Egyptian Goose||3||Osprey||69||Western Bluebird|
|11||Muscovy Duck||2||Northern Harrier||9||Hermit Thrush|
|2||Wood Duck||4||Sharp-shinned Hawk||35||American Robin|
|57||Northern Shoveler||24||Cooper’s Hawk||160||Cedar Waxwing|
|1||Eurasian Wigeon||9||Red-shouldered Hawk||1||Scaly-breasted Munia|
|565||American Wigeon||91||Red-tailed Hawk||cw||Pin-tailed Whydah|
|481||Mallard||1||Barn Owl||244||House Sparrow|
|46||Domestic Mallard||6||Great Horned Owl||68||American Pipit|
|16||Green-winged Teal||6||Belted Kingfisher||528||House Finch|
|6||Redhead||1||Williamson’s Sapsucker||359||Lesser Goldfinch|
|146||Ring-necked Duck||8||Red-breasted Sapsucker||80||American Goldfinch|
|5||Lesser Scaup||54||Acorn Woodpecker||50||Goldfinch species|
|35||Bufflehead||3||Downy Woodpecker||94||Chipping Sparrow|
|10||Hooded Merganser||48||Nuttall’s Woodpecker||366||Lark Sparrow|
|64||Ruddy Duck||31||Northern Flicker (red-shafted)||157||Dark-eyed Junco (Oregon)|
|178||California Quail||21||American Kestrel||873||White-crowned Sparrow|
|27||Pied-billed Grebe||6||Merlin||13||Golden-crowned Sparrow|
|6||Western Grebe||7||Peregrine Falcon||6||Vesper Sparrow|
|920||Rock Pigeon||cw||Prairie Falcon||72||Savannah Sparrow|
|35||Band-tailed Pigeon||30||Yellow-chevroned Parakeet||71||Song Sparrow|
|73||Eurasian Collared-Dove||46||Red-crowned Parrot||7||Lincoln’s Sparrow|
|1038||Mourning Dove||cw||Nanday Parakeet||151||California Towhee|
|2||Greater Roadrunner||1||Pacific-slope Flycatcher||7||Rufous-crowned Sparrow|
|60||White-throated Swift||253||Black Phoebe||32||Spotted Towhee|
|158||Anna’s Hummingbird||45||Say’s Phoebe||193||Western Meadowlark|
|113||Allen’s Hummingbird||2||Vermilion Flycatcher||1||Orchard Oriole|
|112||Hummingbird species||119||Cassin’s Kingbird||105||Red-winged Blackbird|
|1||Virginia Rail||8||Hutton’s Vireo||cw||Tricolored Blackbird|
|1||Sora||2||Cassin’s Vireo||12||Brown-headed Cowbird|
|1451||American Coot||1||Plumbeous Vireo||111||Brewer’s Blackbird|
|22||Black-necked Stilt||4||Loggerhead Shrike||50||Great-tailed Grackle|
|73||Killdeer||157||California Scrub-Jay||7||Orange-crowned Warbler|
|31||Least Sandpiper||2308||American Crow||27||Common Yellowthroat|
|3||Wilson’s Snipe||420||Common Raven||1299||Yellow-rumped Warbler (Audubon’s)|
|1||Spotted Sandpiper||32||Oak Titmouse||1||Yellow-rumped Warbler (Myrtle)|
|1||Greater Yellowlegs||3||Northern Rough-winged Swallow||3||Black-throated Gray Warbler|
|141||Ring-billed Gull||785||Bushtit||28||Townsend’s Warbler|
|52||Western Gull||25||Wrentit||1||Wilson’s Warbler|
|64||California Gull||135||Ruby-crowned Kinglet||8||Passerine species|
|2||Glaucous-winged Gull||6||Red-breasted Nuthatch||133||Total Species (Count Day)|
|37||Gull species||15||White-breasted Nuthatch||141||Total Species + other taxa|
|111||Double-crested Cormorant||32||Blue-gray Gnatcatcher||137||Total Species + Count Week|
|52||American White Pelican||1||Rock Wren||145||Species, other taxa, count week|
|17||Great Blue Heron||4||Canyon Wren||18874||Individuals (species + other taxa)|
Thank you to all 2019 CBC participants.
These are the people that were essential in conducting our 63rd Christmas Bird Count.
|Richard Armerding (L)||Lynda Fennemen (L)||Jim Moore (L)|
|Pat Avery||Kimball Garret (W)||Justine Morgan|
|Nathan Barkley via eBird||Roz Gibson||Wendy Morgan|
|Dick Barth (L)||Emma Hanna (L)||Kris Ohlenkamp (L)|
|Dave Barton (L) (F) (W)||Marylou Hanna||Carolyn Oppenheimer|
|Kathy Barton (L) (F) (W)||Barbara Heidemann (L)||Mark Osokow (L)|
|Pat Bates (L)||Jim Houghton (L) (F)||Paula Orlovich|
|Natalie Beckman-Smith via eBird (F)||Benny Jacobs-Schwartz (L)||Teresa Palos|
|Brian Bielfelt (L)||Eric Johnson||Richard Rachman|
|Carla Bollinger (F)||Karen Klein||Brad Rumble via eBird|
|Yvonne Burch-Hartley (L)||Garrit Kokesh||Kathy Schoeppner|
|Kim Butera||Alan Kotin||Eric Shaphran|
|Candice Byers||Muriel Kotin (L)||Amanda Shipman|
|Teri Carnescali||Art Langton (L)||Xavier Shipman|
|Nicole Cloutier||Abby Larson (F)||Zander Shipman|
|Dan Cooper (L)||Rebecca LeVine (L)||Kablan Snyder|
|Marianne Davis (F)||John Lobel||Donna Timlin|
|Richard Davis (F)||Scott Logan (L)||Daniel Tinoco via eBird|
|Alexander deBarros (C) (L)||Rebecca Marschall (L)||William Tyrer (W)|
|Mary Ellen Dittermore||Rhys Marsh (W)||Larry Walker|
|Debbie Drews||Judy Matsuoka (L)||Alonzo Wickers (L)|
|Taylor Driggs||Heather Medvitz (L)||Gary Woodlard|
(C): CBC Compiler, organized the entire count
(L): Lead a team in the field on count day
(F): Counted birds at their feeder or yard on count day
(W): Reported species on eBird during count week that weren’t seen on count day
– via eBird: did not join an official count team, but reported species on count day
by Alexander deBarros, San Fernando Valley CBC Compiler