The first day of the count period this season was a Sunday and only a very few counts opted to begin that early. Those that did saw the best weather conditions of the season with mild temperatures and very little wind or rain. The remainder of the count period was not quite so pleasant. A significant winter storm brought heavy rain and 30 mile an hour winds to the region the following weekend which impacted both coastal and interior counts. Temperatures well below normal followed for the rest of the season. The thermometer dipped to values in the low 20’s east of the Cascades and east-side count numbers were lower as a result.
While the East Coast enjoyed a Snowy Owl invasion, numbers in the Pacific Northwest remained more or less at background levels with single birds reported at Bridgeport, WA and Eugene, OR. A Pine Grosbeak invasion was well documented in Washington with 15 counts reporting this species including coastal Sequim-Dungeness. A review of historical data for the past 20 years indicates the numbers this year were three times those reported in the highest previous Pine Grosbeak spike recorded in 2012. Curiously, Pine Grosbeak numbers in Oregon were normal for the count period, though reports in February and March were higher than average.
Count numbers over the past 20 years have documented the steady northern range expansion of several species, including Red-shouldered Hawk, Anna’s Hummingbird, and Black Phoebe. White-tailed Kites were, at one time, included in this trend. Kite reports on Christmas Counts showed a significant upward trend in the late 1980’s, peaking in 2005. Since then they have been in an equally significant decline. For the second consecutive year, no kites were reported in Washington and the numbers are down by 68% in Oregon from peak years and the majority of those reported are from southwest parts of Oregon which all seems to be consistent with a range contraction for the species.
Thick-billed Murres were reported from Port Angeles, WA and Yaquina Bay, OR. This is a species subject to review in both Washington and Oregon official state list records committees. Winter Thick-billed Murre reports are becoming increasingly regular in Washington and the status may change for this species there, but they remain very unusual in Oregon. A Slaty-backed Gull reported with photographs from Tacoma, WA will also be subject to records committee review.
A Plegadis-type ibis was reported from Roseburg-Sutherlin, OR. A Forster’s Tern noted on the Tillamook Bay, OR count was a very good find given the nasty conditions observers there endured. An American Avocet was seen at Everett, WA, a species that is quite unusual so far north in winter. Lesser Yellowlegs were reported on multiple counts in Washington and Oregon, many of them without details. Five were reported from Salem, OR along with an equally remarkable 117 Greater Yellowlegs. Lesser Yellowlegs is considered very unusual in the winter and details, or better yet photos, would help sort out any change in the wintering status for this species.
There were 46 counts conducted in Oregon and 41 in Washington this season. The weather was probably a factor in keeping many counts below normal. Yaquina Bay, OR posted the highest species count for the region at 152 with Coquille Valley, OR in second place. Sequim-Dungeness, WA produced the highest count in Washington followed very closely by Everett, WA. Klamath Falls, OR was the high count east of the Cascades, followed by Lyle, WA and Tri-Cities, WA.
As usual, most compilers were very thorough in putting together documentation for unusual species. I was obliged to excise more than one undocumented House Wren. This is a species which does not winter in the region and all reports must include meticulous details and, if at all possible, photo-documentation to even be considered. I also removed a Grasshopper Sparrow that was submitted without details. A Cassin’s Finch report submitted with photos was downgraded to Carpodacus sp. after review by selected experts who felt that the photos were ambiguous and did not eliminate Purple Finch.
Finally, I would like to thank the members of the Washington State Records Committee for their help in evaluating selected records that presented special challenges.