On Friday, December 16th we gathered for the P Ranch CBC which was first conducted in 1939 and has been conducted 67 times since. On that first count of the region 53 species were counted. This year, we had mild temperatures (for Harney county) which included sunshine and a few clouds with just a bit of “daytime” wind, not even enough to fly a kite unless you tried night kiting. Two inches of snow fell in the 24 hours before the count and was melting slowly during the count. Temperatures ranged from 23° at 5am to 35°noon. Birding time winds went from 0-11mph with owling time winds including gusts to 24mph.
Our team consisted of 11 participants and no feeder watchers, which was perfect for the continuing Covid-19 conditions.
Early morning owling produced two great horned owls while owling at night provided a gorgeous view of a cooperative barn owl up close. More great horned owls were observed during the day. It was the long-eared owl show during the day that provided a memorable moment that only a photograph could do justice to.
That show was the third encounter during the count of raptors eating raptors. We don’t know the exact circumstances of these encounters, but a red-tailed hawk was observed eating a northern harrier in Frenchglen, and a great horned owl was eating a barn owl at the Boca Lake cliffs.
And the best bird observation goes to Jim Soupir and Joan Suther for finding a northern harrier and long-eared owl “keeping each other warm”, with a death grip on each other. They eventually broke apart and flew off thinking about strategies for round two later in the day.
As I was driving thru someone else’s subunit we stopped at Blitzen River bridge in hope of an American dipper, a bird I needed for the year also. No luck. Just 15 minutes later we tried again and Sophia Kim said, “Rick, there is a funny looking bird dancing in the waterfall at the dam”. Sophia is new to birding and never saw a dipper or knew their behavior. Since she was the only one that saw the bird I quickly pulled out my deck of CBC playing cards for Harney county and she pointed to a dipper! (51 occurrences since 1939) Two minutes later it flew from the dam to the rocks almost below the bridge for a long satisfying view by Sophia, Karen Jacobs, and myself. (The only dipper of the day)
Seconds later, a Pacific wren appeared in the open on the river bank wanting to be counted. A good start on two iffy birds. (The only Pacific wren of the day). (23 occurrences since 1939)
As we proceeded to our assigned counting area a red-shouldered hawk appeared for the only observation of the day. (3 occurrences since 1939 and now two years in a row)
Then a Bewick’s wren appeared (1 of 3 for the day) and I said this is the best start ever for me since 1990. (5 occurrences since 1939)
And one minute later it got even better, a first time ever little yellow bellied bird was spotted on the snowy stream bank of east canal. When we relocated it, I was shocked. It was a common yellowthroat! Took 67 years for that to happen! (0 occurrences since 1939!)
Joan and Jim also found 2 Lincoln’s sparrows and 1 canyon wren.
Rebecca and Jeremy Pickle spotted a Turkey Vulture, a rare sighting in December and only the second time for the count. Merlins were “plentiful” with 2 observed by them also. Surprisingly Merlins have only been observed twice historically, including last year.
Alexa Martinez and Teresa Wicks located an American tree sparrow and a chuckling chukar above Krumbo Reservoir in addition to 2 Horned larks.
And the Steens Team, Holly Higgins and Marilyn Elston found the only mountain chickadee. This species was almost impossible to find this year, except for this one bird. Usually we get a few and in 1970, 49 were observed.
Times have changed. In 1939 there were 22 black-capped chickadees and we have not seen one for many years on this count.
Mountain bluebirds were one of the impossible birds to find on this count and the Burns count. And Wilson’s snipe was a miss which is usually observed.
We ended up with 67 species for the day which is about average and 3 less than last year and 7 more than the Burns CBC.
The day after the count and outside the count circle, Joan Suther and myself observed an eared grebe and varied thrush at Roaring Springs Headquarters ponds. They have been seen on the P-Ranch CBC in the past.
Winter Birding Cheers,