The 117th CBC in Arizona

This season saw 37 CBCs take place in Arizona. Two circles, Pipe Spring N.M. and Elfrida, lay fallow this year. A total of 414,499 individual birds was tallied by birders who covered 8148 miles over 3181 party hours. That’s the equivalent of one party birding for 10 hours daily for an entire year – driving, walking, boating, golf carting, and bicycling and average of 22.3 miles and counting 1136 birds each day. That huge amount of volunteer effort was fortunately shared among 549 parties, so one would have to bird only six hours on just one day and cover only 14.8 miles do to their fair share.

As a result of this modest individual effort, an impressive 302 species were tallied during these three weeks in the state. The biggest miss of all would have to be Sandhill Crane, which was tallied as a count-week bird by one circle, but with no circle being held in the entire Sulphur Springs trough (where one of the largest winter crane concentrations in the US can be found), one will have to look elsewhere for trends on this population. Another almost surprising miss was Violet-crowned Hummingbird, which usually pops up on two or three counts.

Trends are hard to spot without my having reviewed the state in detail in the past, but it was clear that Lincoln’s Sparrow chose southern Arizona as the region to spend the winter, with high counts found in several circles, including 293 on Atascosa Highlands and a national high of 349 on Tucson Valley. Canyon Wren numbers were high in a few circles as well, for reasons that certainly have little to do with the Lincoln’s Sparrow, and these are both species that could bear further research. Inca Dove continued its depressed numbers (shocking, compared with numbers just 20 years ago), but Portal seemed but buck the trend with 19 reported.

The top five counts for species numbers were Green Valley-Madera Canyon (164), Tucson Valley (156), Gila River (148), Phoenix-Tres Rios (147), and Nogales (147). The top five in numbers of individual birds were Gila River (64,461), Tucson Valley (62,490), Phoenix-Tres Rios (45,034), Martinez Lake-Yuma (22,273), and Prescott (19,680). The top five counts in participant numbers were Tucson Valley (123), Portal (77), Atascosa Highlands (68), Carefree (63), and Green Valley-Madera Canyon (61). It should be mentioned that those with fewer species and numbers are among the most valuable circles for the unusual habitats and blank spaces they fill in distributions and trends. Their data is also often easier to make sense out of, so give them special consideration in your upcoming CBC plans.

Some great rarities were found, many continuing stakeouts, and some excellent surprises. Most of the reported rarities had some sort of basis for review, surely more in the form of photos than in past years, thanks to the ease of carrying and using a good digital camera these days. But my job was made quite a bit more difficult as very few compilers forwarded any information (so special thanks are due to those who did). As a result, I had to sleuth out supporting data by searching eBird submissions, the azfo.org database, and by directly emailing compilers and regional reviewers. In one eBird submission I even discovered a rarity found on a CBC that wasn’t included by the compiler! Only one species was summarily dismissed without resorting to multiple avenues to obtain more data, as seems to be an annual ritual continent-wide with Swainson’s Thrush; there were two submitted reports, neither with photo, description, nor any other evidence to show that the observers were aware of the essentially non-existent winter status of the species. Only very few others had to be edited out when nothing surfaced in my many attempts to get more information. The top honors for the most unexpected (and best documented) rarity must surely go to the Nutting’s Flycatcher on the Atascosa Highlands count, found just a few hundred meters from the international border, and which remained in place for at least a month afterward.

Many Arizona CBCs get to claim the national high count for multiple species, given this state’s near monopoly on several biomes more typical of Mexico as well as being a center for many species’ winter ranges. This year the state can claim the high count for at least 62 species, and it would be interesting to see how this number changes from year to year. Following is a list of the counts that had national highs.

Atascosa Highlands led the state (and is always among the top in the country) with 15 national highs, including Montezuma Quail (129), Common Poorwill (2), Elegant Trogon (6), Gray Flycatcher (75), Dusky Flycatcher (21), Nutting’s Flycatcher (1), Mexican Jay (301), Rock Wren (140), Canyon Wren (133), Painted Redstart (10), Chipping Sparrow (3071), Canyon Towhee (187), Rufous-crowned Sparrow (162), Green-tailed Towhee (68), and Hepatic Tanager (18).

Tucson Valley followed with 12 national highs, thanks to large observer turnout and dense coverage: Greater Roadrunner (39), Broad-billed Hummingbird (64, a new all-time high), Gila Woodpecker (623), Vermilion Flycatcher (392 – a new all-time high, continuing the mind-boggling and unstudied population explosion), Bell's Vireo (2 were well-documented and a rarity), Plumbeous Vireo (7), Verdin (824), Black-tailed Gnatcatcher (209), Black-chinned Sparrow (31), Lincoln's Sparrow (349), Yellow-headed Blackbird (27,856), and House Finch (3,208).

Portal always easily claims the first in the country for two species, with 19 Blue-throated Hummingbirds being very high and 18 Mexican Chickadees more expected. They also had five more highs with Arizona Woodpecker (21), Olive Warbler (9), Brewer's Sparrow (913), Black-throated Sparrow (305), and Pyrrhuloxia (121).

With five national highs, Gila River unsurprisingly led the nation’s count of Say’s Phoebes (201) and Abert’s Towhee (393). Other highs were Bendire’s Thrasher (13 –usually found in greater numbers on the Elfrida count when it is held), Neotropic Cormorants (2002 – making this the fourth year in a row that an Arizona CBC has led the nation), and Ash-throated Flycatcher (27). Green Valley-Madera Canyon also had five, including an amazing 26 Black-capped Gnatcatchers (an unthinkable number just 15 years ago when the apparent invasion initially happened) and four Rufous-capped Warblers. A small but apparently growing population of Five-striped Sparrows meant that six were found, while less surprising were their totals of Curve-billed Thrasher (228) and Rufous-winged Sparrow (183).

Patagonia had four national highs, with Whiskered Screech-Owl (6), Hammond's Flycatcher (20), Bridled Titmouse (172), and Lazuli Bunting (6), all of which are sometimes topped by other counts in the state.

Carefree had three national highs, all reflecting the high quality of its rich Sonoran desert habitat: Gambell’s Quail (1003), Gilded Flicker (69), and Cactus Wrens (230).

Three counts had two national highs: Appleton-Whittel had 14 Baird’s Sparrow and 17 Botteri’s Sparrow, the latter an all-time high count, due to special censusing efforts. Phoenix-Tres Rios had the dubious honor of having tallied the highest number of Eurasian Collared-Doves (3989) and Mourning Doves (4407) in the nation. Salt Verde River had national highs for Cassin's Vireo (4) and (unsurprisingly) Phainopepla (641).

Finally, six more counts made the list: Buenos Aires N.W.R. had the nation’s only Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl for its claim to fame this year; Grand Canyon was first in the nation for Pinyon Jay (603 – only the second time in recent years); Prescott once again was number one in the country with 46 Red-naped Sapsuckers (only Atascosa Highlands sometimes has more); Sedona led the nation with Juniper Titmouse (61 – edging out three or four other counts in the four corners states which often tally larger numbers); and Superior’s single Ruddy Ground-Dove was a fine rarity and the only one reported on any CBC in the country.

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