30th Annual Sequim-Dungeness Christmas Bird Countby Bob Boekelheide
The 2005 Christmas Bird Count will go down in history as one of the most challenging CBCs ever for Sequim and Dungeness. Winds howled from midnight until early afternoon, blowing away any hope of hearing owls before dawn or getting boats into the water during the morning. The Dungeness Spit lighthouse clocked wind gusts at over 60 mph, yet our stalwart band of Spit walkers still made it to the lighthouse and back. Amazingly, 98 observers headed out into the field this year and 33 people watched their feeders, still achieving an impressive species list for the day. Even in adverse conditions we clearly have a great place to see birds.
This year we saw 142 species, the eighth year in a row that we have equaled or surpassed 140 species but still below our record of 147 set last year. The total number of individual birds seen this year was 70,537, amazingly the second highest ever tally in the 30 years of our count, just short of the record set last year at 72,815. Click to see the full tally.
Why was our bird count so high even though conditions were awful? In two words: Dabbling Ducks! The windy conditions, plus frozen freshwater ponds during the preceding week, really concentrated dabbling ducks at Dungeness Spit, 3 Crabs, and Graysmarsh, where huge flocks of ducks gathered on count day. Interestingly, the highest pintail count was at Dungeness Spit, the highest wigeon count was at 3 Crabs, and the highest Mallard count was at Graysmarsh, suggesting these species may segregate a little bit when in our area.
The two most abundant species on our count this year were the usual leaders: Mallard (15,030 individuals) and American Wigeon (10,284). Yes, there were lots of Mallards, but believe it or not, it's not a record; 15,493 Mallards were seen in 1993. Third most abundant was Northern Pintail (6658). Together, Mallards, wigeon, and pintails added up to over 45% of all the birds we counted.
Other abundant species this year (in order) were Dunlin (3875), European Starling (3189), American Robin (2237), large pink-legged gulls (2166), Bufflehead (1951), Green-winged Teal (1870), and, rounding out the top ten, Brant (1524).
This year we beat or tied previous abundance records for only six species, a pitifully small number compared to recent years. Species setting high counts included Northern Shoveler, Northern Pintail, Barn Owl, Anna's Hummingbird, White-throated Sparrow, and Golden-crowned Sparrow.
Species that benefit from increased human populations and accompanying changes in habitat continue to thrive, such as Rock Pigeon, Mourning Doves, California Quail, European Starlings, and House Sparrows. Feeders have helped species like Anna's Hummingbirds and Golden-crowned Sparrows, helping them set new highs this year.
At the other end of the abundance spectrum we saw less than 10 individuals of 40 different species, many only one or two individuals of each, suggesting that we were very lucky to pick up occasional species that might otherwise have been missed. This is a testament to the great participants in our count.
One of the interesting aspects of this year's count was how few unusual species we observed. In fact, this is one of the very few recent years in which we did not record a brand new species for our count. Unusual species that we dont see every year included Canvasback, Ruddy Duck, Blue Grouse, Rough-legged Hawk, Marbled Godwit, Long-billed Dowitcher, Snowy Owl, Barn Swallow, American Pipit, Orange-crowned Warbler, and Swamp Sparrow.
This is a big Snowy Owl year, the biggest since 1996-97. As is typical, most of the Snowies on this year's count were at Dungeness Spit, where the spit-walkers found four sitting on the driftwood piles west of Graveyard Spit. But the best observation came from John Bridge's group, which found a Snowy Owl sitting in one of the dirt roads on Burnt Hill south of Happy Valley. In an ironic twist, the owl flew into a nearby tree and was mobbed by Gray Jays. Does this sound like Alaska or what?
Put the 2006 Christmas Bird Count on your calendars: Monday, December 18, is the appointed day. See you then!
And a huge thank you to the Dungeness River Audubon Center for hosting the compilation dinner!
There's not much room for other bird sightings, but the Snowy Owl at Ediz Hook has put on a great show this fall and winter. Look for it by the entrance to the Coast Guard base; the guards at the entrance station may help you find it. Make sure you stop by and see this beautiful bird before it heads back to the great white north. If you see any Snowy Owls or other unusual birds, give me a call at the Dungeness River Audubon Center (360-681-4076) or email email@example.com.