Idaho birders conducted 30 counts during the 2014-2015 (115th) Christmas Bird Count period recording (exactly!) 465,175 birds of 170 species (excluding Mute Swan) plus two count week only species - Barred Owl and Great Gray Owl. There was one new count (McCall) and one count (Spirit Lake) was cancelled due to weather-impacted roads. Statewide the number of participants as well as party hours and miles declined slightly from the 2013-2014 record high effort in Idaho.
Weather in much of Idaho during the autumn of 2014 was characterized by generally higher than normal temperatures and lower than normal precipitation, plus a lack of winter weather through December. Not surprisingly early winter snow packs were also below normal for much of the state. The prevailing benign weather patterns resulted in most Idaho CBCs experiencing generally favorable count day weather conditions. Only at the end of the count period was the Spirit Lake CBC in the Idaho panhandle affected by inclement weather when it was canceled due to dangerous road conditions. The apparent effects of autumn weather on count results were good numbers of semi-hardy species (e.g. shorebirds, bluebirds, towhees, etc.) and perhaps the reduced number of Mallards (~100,000 fewer than the 2013-2014).
The statewide species total of 170 is just below the five-year average of 171 species but higher than the 10-year average of 167. Over the past 12 CBC periods statewide total species counts have ranged from 154 to 178. Nampa and Bruneau broke the century mark with 103 and 102 species respectively while Hagerman Valley just missed with 99. The four most commonly reported species statewide in order of abundance were Mallard, European Starling, Canada Goose, and American Coot. Also in the top 10 were American Robin, with large numbers wintering in southwest Idaho, followed by House Sparrow, Red-winged Blackbird, Rock Pigeon, and Eurasian Collared-Dove. Common Raven was the only species reported on all 30 counts while Mallard, Canada Goose, Black-billed Magpie, American Goldfinch, Song Sparrow, and Red-tailed Hawk were all reported on 29 counts. Black Scoter and Winter Wren were new this year to the Idaho CBC cumulative species list. Complete results for all Idaho counts for this and prior periods are available on the Audubon CBC web site: http://netapp.audubon.org/CBCObservation/. Highlights for the 115th Idaho CBC are follow in roughly taxonomic order.
Waterfowl were well represented with 30 species including Mute Swan, which is present (and presumed breeding) in small numbers at several southwest ID locales. A long staying and well observed Black Scoter was at Hagerman Valley and represents a first Idaho CBC record. Two Long-tailed Ducks were at Coeur d’Alene, one of the more regular CBC locales for that species. Greater Sage-Grouse counts of interest included 110 at Howe and 85 at Craters of the Moon. A Pacific Loon was at Sandpoint where a few are usually present in the fall but rarely persist into winter. Red-necked Grebes (41) were higher than previous six years although Horned Grebes (65) were considerably lower, perhaps both affected by the mild fall.
Bald Eagles (560) were a bit lower than last period’s record high of 638 and continue to increase statewide. Totals of 46 Virginia Rails on nine counts and four Soras on two counts were notable, the former widespread but the latter restricted to the Snake River plain. Shorebirds were well represented with a Spotted Sandpiper at Twin Falls, five Greater Yellowlegs at American Falls, a Least Sandpiper at Bruneau, and seven Dunlin (6 at Hagerman and 1 at Nampa). Uncommon gulls included Mew and Lesser Black-backed at Boise, another Lesser Black-backed at Coeur d’Alene, and Glaucous at Lewiston-Clarkston and Nampa. Eurasian Collared-Doves continue their exponential increase with 8676, a 50% increase over 2013-2014. Anna’s Hummingbirds at Boise, Nampa, Coeur d’Alene (2), and Lewiston-Clarkston (cw) were notable for a species that appears to be increasing in the region.
Songbirds (and near songbirds) often get somewhat overlooked in CBC results but there were some interesting finds on the 115th CBC. A Williamson’s Sapsucker was notable at McCall and although possibly a low-density wintering species is rarely recorded. Blue Jays were about average with nine statewide indicating a non-irruption year, while Clark’s Nutcrackers totaled a respectable 150 including 76 at the new McCall count. Near record counts of Mountain Chickadee (573) and Red-breasted Nuthatch (544) might in some years indicate an irruption of these montane species to low elevations, but this season’s totals appear to be due primarily to large numbers reported from the new McCall CBC where both species are common in the extensive conifer forests. In contrast the near-record Brown Creeper count of 117 does indicate a possible irruption as counts have not exceeded 100 since 2004 and have ranged from 24-60 in the intervening years. A Winter Wren, newly split and fairly cryptic species (best identified by voice) was well described and audio recorded in Nampa for an Idaho CBC and likely state first record. As mentioned in the introduction, semi-hardy species appeared in good numbers with notable counts including 50 Western Bluebirds at Juliaetta, eight Mountain Bluebirds at Trapper Creek, nine Hermit Thrushes on four counts, 14 Orange-crowned Warblers on four counts, 767 Yellow-rumped Warblers on 13 counts, and 134 Spotted Towhees on 13 counts (with 62 at Juliaetta). A Rusty Blackbird was well documented at Teton Valley and easily overlooked Brown-headed Cowbirds were reported from Bruneau (3) and Nampa (2). Among the irruptive finches Pine Grosbeak was most notable with 197 on 11 counts presaging their presence even into low elevation southwest Idaho locales for much of the winter. Lesser Goldfinches continue to increase, especially in north-central Idaho, where a count of 1738 from three area CBCs (including 1320 at Juliaetta) accounted for much of the statewide total of 1913.
As always I’d like to thank participants and compilers for their efforts and this year recognize especially the efforts of several long-term compilers. Hadley Roberts started the Salmon, Idaho CBC in 1972 and has been compiling it continuously since then, a very impressive 43 years and counting! Dave Holick became the compiler for the Moscow-Pullman CBC in 1973 and his tenure extended for 39 years until 2011, in the process enduring the vagaries of Palouse winter weather on many occasions! Much thanks to both Hadley and Dave for their many years of service to the Christmas Bird Count in Idaho.