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Saturday, December 26, 2009

Forest Grove Christmas Bird Count

Today my dad and I participated in the 110th annual Christmas Bird Count in Forest Grove (about 25 miles west of Portland). It was a clear, sunny day, but very crisp with the wind chill dropping the temperatures well below freezing. After meeting up with some other volunteers at 7 AM, we headed out just before sunrise. Our sector included Fern Hill Wetlands, so we started there. Here's a view overlooking the main lake just before the sun came up. The flock of waterfowl silhouetted at the far end of the pond turned out to be mostly tundra swans.

We spent a little over three hours hiking around the wetlands and saw most of the expected waterfowl such as large groups northern shovelers; hundreds upon hundreds of northern pintail, Canada geese, and cackling geese; and flocks of mallards, green-winged teal, and common mergansers. We picked up three gull species (mew, glaucous-winged, and ring-billed), three shorebirds (killdeer, dunlin, long-billed dowitcher) and three raptors (bald eagle, red-tailed hawk, American kestrel). The American kestrel was perched on a telephone pole eating a large rat, and it was impressive that it was even able to fly carrying such large prey! In addition to lots of other common species, some highlights included about 30 western meadowlarks and a small flock of yellow-rumped warblers.

By the time we finished our hike we had tallied a respectable 40 species, but all the best finds of the day were yet to come. The first was just across the road where we spotted a single lesser goldfinch. Later on while surveying a pond full of gadwall, I discovered a lone male blue-winged teal. In one lake in addition to tundra swans and northern pintail were several dozen trumpeter swans. I also found a northern shrike perched on the top of some brambles out in the middle of farm country.

My dad scopes out some birds in the reservoir below, where we found our first ring-necked ducks, a ruddy duck, some bufflehead, and a few double-crested cormorants.

Our view from our lunch stop, where we picnicked on cheese and crackers while overlooking the valley below. Once we descended, we found a fox sparrow in some scrub with golden-crowned sparrows and dark-eyed juncos.

While Canada geese were everywhere, we found one flock of about 15 that were the dusky Canada goose subspecies, the smallest of all Canada goose subpopulations. Currently, the dusky population numbers are at record lows (an estimated 6000-7000), which has led to more protection for this particular race. Much of this population overwinters here in the Willamette Valley when they're not at their Alaskan breeding grounds, so local birders like to look for them.Many duskies have been tagged, and about five of the birds in the small flock we saw had red tags around their necks.

European starlings were of course ubiquitous, but this flock had found a rare unfrozen puddle and were taking advantage of the bathing opportunity, splashing water everywhere!

One of the dozen American kestrels we saw throughout the day - the only one who sat still long enough to have his picture taken

The Christmas Bird Count isn't just about counting how many species you see, but how many individuals of every species. I was the tallier for my team, a job which I enjoyed. As a result, I was thinking about all kinds of numbers, so here's a summary of my CBC stats...

Hours birded: 9.5
Number of species seen: 61
Number of individual birds counted: 4848
Most number of any one species: 1768 northern pintail
Miles traveled by car: 60
Miles hiked on foot: 4

At the end of the day we reconvened with other birders to hear about their sightings and see how many species were collectively seen in our 15-mile diameter circle. Overall, the unofficial count was 121 species - not bad at all! Some sightings I'm jealous of include a very rare for this time of year hooded oriole, a long-eared owl, and a flock of common redpolls. Of course the barn owl, blue grouse, and red crossbills some teams were expected to find and did would have been nice too! But, I can't complain. We contributed three unique species to the list that no other team saw - the trumpeter swan, blue-winged teal, and northern shrike.

I'm always impressed with the long daily patch species lists Warren reports over on his blog. You may remember that my dad and I often do "Big Days", usually in the spring or summer, when there's as much as 7 hours more daylight than we had today. Our record is about 90 species in a day, and we usually travel over much greater distances trying to visit a wide variety of habitats. Considering all this, it was pretty spectacular to see 61 species in a day in a relatively small geographic area, especially in December.


eileeninmd said...

It sounds like you had a wonderful birding outing and count. The Shrike is a cool sighting. I would love to see the Golden Crowned Sparrows and the Redpolls.

Warren Baker said...

Well done Monika!
I'm well impressed with you stats, watch out though it can become an obsession!

I will be putting some end of year stats up soon.........i'm totally obsessed and beyond any help!

The K said...

Thanks for this posting and thanks for all your record keeping during the count. I'm glad you got to participate with me in the kind of CBCs I've told you about. Quite a difference from your solo one on San Juan Island. I love the way the Starling picture turned out.

Monika said...

Thanks for the comments everyone!

Warren - I can totally get obsessed with the stats side of it too. I look forward to your end of year numbers!