Bird Counts

40th Cowlitz-Columbia CBC Results

Canada Jay - Image by Mary Duvall
Canada Jay - Image by Mary Duvall

By Bob Reistroffer

On January 1, 2022 the 40th 3CBC was held as part of Audubon's 122nd Christmas Bird Count. Eleven field observers and 5 feeder watchers joined and spent a partially sunny day finding 8,620 birds and 90 species. The temperature ranged from 26° to 36°. This was the cold day with ice and snow on many roads that hampered the coverage of the area.

We had several high counts: 39 Common Raven, 154 Varied Thrush, 1 Lesser Goldfinch, 4 Cooper’s Hawk.

Seen during count week:  2 Canada Jays, 1 Rough-legged Hawk, 1 Peregrine Falcon, 1 Barn Owl, 1 Eurasian Wigeon, 2 Canvasback, 1 Northern Harrier, 1 Iceland Gull

New to the count this year:  1 Lesser Goldfinch.

Thank you all for a great job.

Hope to see you all next year on Tuesday, Jan 1, 2023.


2021 Willapa Bay Christmas Bird Count Results

By Robert Sudar, Compiler

The weatherman predicted a significant storm for Southwest Washington on Saturday, December 18th, and he didn’t disappoint. Despite having to again institute a “pandemic approach” to organizing the count, 19 counters spread amongst 8 groups in 8 sectors of the count circle, plus two feeder watchers, braved heavy (as in sideways) rain and 30-40mph winds to collect bird numbers for this year’s Willapa CBC. It was the worst weather that anyone could remember for count day and it certainly had a negative influence on sightings. Willapa Bay was very rough and so the usually flotillas of ducks were mostly absent, as were some other typical birds that prefer the open water. There were fewer sightings, and in some cases no sightings. The same can be said for the ocean side of the peninsula. Crashing waves and blowing sand made it difficult to observe and count. But that’s a yearly risk, really – who can predict December weather? – and so this year was an aberration, not the norm.

Overall, 18,486 individual birds comprising 84 species were seen and recorded. The total number of birds is actually slightly more than last year (helped greatly by the 11,625 Dunlin seen) but for comparison, last year we had 88 species and some years we’ve been close to 100. I don’t think this indicates a natural decline, but rather the challenges in seeing what’s there. Last year, I lamented that “there were no Brants, no Greater White-fronted Geese, no Gray Jays, no Snowy Plovers, no Northern Shovelers, no owls of any species, no Coots, no Bitterns, no Sapsuckers and only Common Loons.” This count we still didn’t have any Gray Jays, Northern Shovelers, owls, Coots or Bitterns but we did have 10 Brants, 21 White-fronted Geese, 8 Snowy Plovers, a Red-breasted Sapsucker and all three loon species that we might expect to see in the winter.

Of course, the good news and the bad news and overall drop in species means that there were regular species that weren’t seen, such as Peregrine Falcon and Northern Harrier, and really any members of that family except Bald Eagle, Red-tailed Hawk and American Kestrel. Other omissions this year that we would normally expect to see were Ring-necked Duck, Great Egret, Hairy Woodpecker, Brown Creeper, Bewick’s Wren or any warblers except Townsend’s. And last year’s star – Bar-tailed Godwit – was nowhere to be seen this year. But that’s kind of the story every year – each count is different.

There were some unusual sightings, too. We had 6 American Dippers – again! We also had 2 Snow Geese, 6 Chipping Sparrows and a White-throated Sparrow. And this year’s star might be the Black Phoebe seen in the North Oceanside sector by Suzy Whittey. That species has been seen more frequently in SW Washington in recent years but I believe it’s the first time it’s been spotted during the count. A Hooded Oriole again made an appearance this year, in the Bay Center area, but unfortunately it was again outside the count week. Bummer! As always, the variety, and the unexpected, are what make birding, and bird counts, interesting!

Many thanks to the counters who persevered through the awful weather to collect another year of valuable data, and especially to Suzy Whittey, who did anther great job of organizing the count and making sure we all had the information we needed to do the job. Next year’s count will be on December 17th. No doubt it will combine the expected and the unexpected, too!


Midwinter Bald Eagle Survey

By Darrel Whipple

"Well, eagles aren't going to like this place!" remarked Mike Tweedy as we turned around in disappointment at the gate of the county shooting range near the mouth of the Toutle.

Indeed. The place was loaded with dozens of vehicles apparently owned by recreational shooters, but also by folks plying their skills -- well, actually their kids' skills -- at moto-cross, creating an insufferable din as the bikes bounced and flew around a course over the extensive mound of sand dredged from the Toutle and Cowlitz rivers.

No sooner had we started back toward the Cowlitz River to continue the Midwinter Bald Eagle Survey, when we saw two bright adult eagles posting watch in the two nearest trees to the moto-cross cacophany! What. were. those. eagles. thinking?

It reminded me of Prof. Mayhew's Second Law of Animal Behavior: An animal will be where you find it. (Mayhew's First Law was: An animal will do what it damn well pleases.) Go figure.

Anyway, it was a great day to run the survey -- Saturday, February 20, 2021 -- and we had a respectable final count of 21 eagles. Seven of them were sub-adults, birds still in their first three years of life, not having attained adult plumage. It's good to see that the population may be replacing itself in our region, after many decades of nesting failure attributed to DDT or PCBs in the food chain. The Silver Lake nests are notably successful recently, as five of our observed sub-adults today were found there.

Most of our sightings were near nests or territories where I had found them in prior years' surveys, even though we often had to scan distant conifers to find them. Mike was good at spotting that little speck of white on a hillside of green.

Other species that were highlights of this day's outing were American Kestrel, Bufflehead and Tundra Swan.

We were conducting the 43rd Midwinter Bald Eagle Survey sponsored by WHAS, roughly following a vehicle route that was prescribed in 1979, when WDFW and other entities kicked off a ten-year eagle population study in the state. This year's survey yielded 11 adults and 5 sub-adults in the north latitude-longitude block (Coweeman mouth to the I-5 bridge over the Cowlitz) and 3 adults and 2 sub-adults in the south block (Coweeman to Kalama Marina).

Each block is about eight by twelve miles in size, and the route covers approximately 120 miles. The survey hours were 7:45 am to 3:30 pm, with temperatures in the 40s and an occasional shower.

The total of 21 eagles has been par for the course over the last few years. (Last year was a notable exception: we had 74 eagles on February 25, 2020, attracted from all over the region by the late smelt run!)


37th Cowlitz-Columbia Christmas Bird Count Results

By Bob Reistroffer

On Friday, January 1, 2021 the 37th Cowlitz-Columbia Christmas Bird Count (3CBC) was conducted. We had 18 field observers and 2 feeder watchers out for the day peering through rain and low clouds. They found 103 species and 18,048 individual birds. The count this year was in the normal range for this count. 2021 brought some changes for counters. Rather than groups covering 6 large areas we had groups covering 12 smaller areas (6 individuals and 6 “Social pods).

We recorded some all-time high individual counts;

  • 4,528 Cackling Goose,
  • 1332 Mallard Ducks,
  • 19 Canvasback,
  • 56 Anna’s Hummingbird,
  • 35 Common Raven,
  • 18 Brown Creeper,
  • 24 Bewick’s Wren,
  • 2 White-breasted Nuthatch,
  • 33 Cedar Waxwing, and
  • 202 Golden-crowned Sparrow.

Also, we had 6 count week birds Pileated Woodpecker, Wood Duck, Northern Harrier, Western Meadowlark, Horned Grebe, and Common Loon.

Thank you to all our field observers and feeder watchers.

This is the final I think after making a few changes due to feedback I got from the first draft. A few miss-placed numbers meant that I had to take away the Band-tailed Pigeon and White-tailed Kite but added a Green Heron.


2020 Leadbetter Bird Count Results

By Robert Sudar

The Leadbetter Point Christmas Bird Count was held on December 19th, 2020. Nationally, it was the 121st Christmas Bird Count. The Leadbetter count has been held each December since at least 1978, except for 2008, when it was cancelled because of heavy snow that made travel to the coast treacherous.

The count "circle" is centered in Willapa Bay and includes areas on both sides of the Bay, plus part of the Long Beach coastline including the Point itself. There are 8-10 "sectors" assigned to different counting teams, depending on how many counters are available and whether all areas are accessible.

For instance, the northern half of Long Island is within the count circle, but no one has counted it for many years because it's harder to reach. This year, COVID-19 created some challenges trying to make sure counters from different family groups weren't mixed, so there were fewer counters overall and each group had to be from the same household.

Some counters also chose not to participate because of health concerns, and some were unable to travel. But organizer Suzy Whittey, who lives on the peninsula, was able to recruit enough counters to get the job done. Counting is done from cars and on foot, depending on the location.

Many homeowners open their yards for counters, while others greet the slow-moving cars with questions, good wishes and the occasional tip as to where birds were recently seen. The weather was dry and adequately calm despite the storms that week until around 1PM, when the rain and wind returned. Still, the temperatures were moderate which made the work more enjoyable.

Overall, almost 18,000 individual birds were seen comprising 88 different species, which is a little lower than normal but still good results considering the challenges of staging the count at all.

The most unusual bird was a Bar-tailed Godwit spotted in the Oysterville area. Pine Siskins were definitely more abundant, often in a flock of over 150 birds.  And there were over 80 Anna's Hummingbirds.  They were rare at this time of year 40 years ago but are becoming increasingly common on the Leadbetter Count, just as they are in many local areas during the winter. There were also six American Dippers, a bird that likes to forage along fast-moving streams but can be challenging to see.

On the disappointing side of the count, there were no Brants, no Greater White-fronted Geese, no Gray Jays, no Snowy Plovers, no Northern Shovelers, no owls of any species, no Coots, no Bitterns, no Sapsuckers and only Common Loons this year. That doesn't mean there weren't some in the area, but they weren't seen on count day. It's not atypical to have some variation from year to year in what is seen but that doesn't lessen the disappointment for the counters! Brants and Snowy Plovers, for example, are species that have been rebounding a bit in numbers during the winter count in recent years and it would have been good to have recorded them again this year.

It was rewarding for all the counters to be able to spend the day recording birds and helping to maintain the continuity of the data set for the Leadbetter Christmas Bird Count. Hopefully, it will be less of a challenge in 2021!