Fieldfare. Lisa Geoghegan/Alamy

Early Results from the 116th CBC

It’s all about El Niño!

While the 116th Christmas Bird Count field season has concluded, the data entry season is still in full swing! As of early February over 1600 counts have been completed online and are viewable to the public through the Current Year’s Results reports in the CBC website, with at least another 1000 expected to come in before it’s all said and done.

While it’s still too early to draw any major conclusions regarding the 116th CBC results, clearly a driving factor in the season was the weather effects of the major El Niño event in the Pacific Ocean. These events drive continental weather in North America, and significant varying effects were experienced by CBC participants across the continent. In the mid-Atlantic and Northeast, absurdly mild conditions both prior to and during the CBC season led to unusually pleasant days in the field, but (for many counts) unusually few birds tallied. Species diversity was near normal, but bird numbers were very low as mild conditions provided open water and a nearly complete lack of snowcover, and thus birds were spread across the countryside rather than being concentrated in the “usual” protected spots. Waterfowl lingered north in record numbers, adding spice to the northern counts but causing comment on the lack of ducks and geese to the south.

Meanwhile in other regions, El Niño resulted in major storms across the Southeast, south-central regions, mountainous regions, and Pacific Coast. While the snow and rain in the west will have a major positive effect on mitigating the severe drought there, it had a major negative effect on the ability for CBC participants to count birds—or even conduct their counts. It will be interesting to see how this all plays out in the final results of the 116th Christmas Bird Count.

Despite all the “interesting” weather, some astounding birds were tallied on Christmas Bird Counts across the continent (and beyond!). Two Eurasian thrush species were tallied in the western regions—a Fieldfare at Missoula, Montana, and a Redwing on the Victoria, British Columbia count. Further afield, a new first-ever CBC record was a surprise Eurasian Marsh-Harrier at Bermuda!

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