The Burns CBC took place on December 14th with 16 participants and 16 feeder watchers who counted 61 species which is about average and 10 less than last year. Thanks to all who helped with the count which was initially conducted in 1998.
This year 53 species were seen on the Count Day. Temperatures during the count day varied wildly from 31 at midnight to 24 at 7am, (the start of the count) and then a high again of 31 at noon. Temperatures fell dramatically in the evening to 6° by midnight, the coldest day of the winter this year. On Dec 13th, the day before the count, it reached a high of 46 but with strong gusty winds most of the day. 1-2 inches of snow covered the ground from a few days before the count. Winds were mild all day with partially sunny skies. Birding time winds were 2-10 mph and Owling time winds at 2-6 mph. Overall, a fairly nice day for a bird count.
Once again, it was a good strategy to conduct the count on the first day of the count period since frigid temperatures froze all open water and most moving water the night of the count, as usual. Sewage ponds and other bodies of water were open but froze earlier in December which forced many water birds to use wings or skates.
A week before the count it was discovered that an Anna’s hummingbird was visiting two different hummingbird feeders that just happened to be left out late in the season. We then kept daily observations of the hummingbird, and even set up a game camera to monitor its activities in case it stayed for the count; and it did! A new species for the count and for all of Harney County in December.
But would it survive 6° the night of the count? It did! And it is still here on Christmas Day. The next challenge will be 0° in a few days. There are pros and cons of feeding hummingbirds late in the year. The fear now is if the daily warm sugar water is forgotten it may freeze and the bird may die. Fortunately, the hummer has a reliable warm source of sugar water between 2 different feeders. At this point the bird may have to stay the winter just to survive. It’s too cold to migrate without reliable food sources. There is a chance she is roosting in an outdoor heated chicken coop next door to the feeders.
The second new species was less dramatic but still a new species. 12 snow geese were recorded for the first time on the “count day”.
California quail counts remained in the low end of a 10-year downward trend at 3674 as the population remained well below high numbers (6000) in the 2000s and well off the record 10,011 in 2004 which is a world record. That’s one reason I started the count in 1998 knowing we could break the record from Orange County, CA of 6,800 in 1963. Now they count about 125! We learned to count the quail in Burns and Hines street by street between 3 and 4:30 pm, as they gather in flocks to feed and roost in conifers. Low numbers may be the result of less people feeding birds due to the high cost of bird seed, a high number of winter raptors and more feral cats.
Some of the other highlights were:
15 wild turkeys (a record)
6 Greater sage-grouse (probably more but we stop after the first birds are observed)
Two observations of black-capped chickadees
Several sightings of sharp-shinned hawks, northern goshawks and ferruginous hawks. Cooper hawks were abundant as usual thanks to all those quail.
A canyon wren that developed a strange behavior over the years of entering a shop through a crack in the wood wall adjacent to the stove pipe to feed on dormant spiders. Turns out it also roosts in the shop! Owling for wrens!
A record 3 Barrow’s Goldeneyes, a pair with a juvenile, were observed on Hwy 78 fishing ponds.
There were also a high number of birds with just one individual observed including the following:
A big miss were mountain bluebirds.
We also missed two northern pintails observed the day before the count.
Cheery chilly winter birding,
Rick Vetter and Joan Suther