The 118th CBC in Ohio

Welcome to a review of Ohio’s participation in the 118th National Audubon Society Christmas Bird Count. Ohio observers participated in 74 different counts this year. There were a few changes among the counts in the 2017-2018 CBC period: Ohio welcomed the return of the New Lexington CBC as well as the birth of the new Big and Little Darby Creek CBC. Southern Cuyahoga CBC didn’t report this year, but there’s always room and opportunity should that count return.

Depending on one’s outlook on life, birders seem to remember one of two things about the Christmas Bird Counts they participate in: the weather or the interesting (or lack of interesting) birds. A few good birds can do much to erase the memories of particularly bad weather. But if the birding is slow and the weather poor, even a count that might produce overall decent totals might be remembered rather negatively by its participants. Statewide, December began warm and mild before a strong cold snap hit in the last week of the month, lasting into January and the end of the count period. The entire Midwest shared this experience, and over a thousand record low temperatures were reported in the Midwest in the final week of December (National Climate Report 2017). Thirty-six Ohio counts reported measurable snow on the ground on count day. Most of the reports consist of 1 to 2 inches of snow, though Ashtabula reported snow levels ranging from 8 to 30 inches, Burton and Portage County both 3 to 9, Bucyrus 4 to 8, the same for Killdeer Plains Wildlife Area and Lakewood, while Trumbull County rounds out the “snowiest” counts with 5 to 8 inches. Otherwise, December precipitation was “well below normal for most of the Midwest,” including Ohio, though for 2017 Ohio had its 7th wettest year on record (NCR 2017). Birders and count compilers know well how a few degrees up or down or a little rain or snow can dramatically change what is found on count day.

Let’s look at some numbers. All told 165 species were recorded in Ohio during the 118th CBC season. Four counts reached the 90s, with Toledo leading the state at 99 species, followed by Caesar Creek-Spring Valley and Wilmot both at 92, and Cincinnati hitting 91.  Nine counts reached the 80s: Wooster (88), Ragersville (86), Lake Erie Islands (85), Cleveland (83), Millersburg (83), Cuyahoga Falls (82), Western Hamilton County (81), The Brown Family Environmental Center (81), and Firelands (80). Sixteen counts broke into the 70s.

Birds showing up as singletons this season include the following: King Eider (Lakewood), Red-necked Grebe (Toledo), Great Egret (Grand Lake St. Marys), Black-legged Kittiwake (Cleveland), California Gull (Toledo), Glaucous Gull (Ragersville), House Wren (Elyria-Lorain), Swainson’s Thrush (Wilmot), Orange-crowned Warbler (Cadiz; count week bird at Gypsum), LeConte’s Sparrow (Delaware Reservoir). Though not a full species “Oregon Junco” is always a treat and we list it here (Grand Rapids-Waterville). Harris’s Sparrow (Gypsum), Vesper Sparrow (Wilmot), Lincoln’s Sparrow (Ragersville), Scarlet Tanager (Greene County), Yellow-headed Blackbird (Rudolph), Baltimore Oriole (Ashtabula), and Red Crossbill (Toledo).   

The European Starling is not a species of interest on counts. A friend of mine once complained at a tally that “starlings ruin counts” and suggested we shouldn’t bother counting them. This friend is obviously not a compiler! But starlings are, indeed, out there, and they do certainly count, as do many other “boring” species such as Canada Goose, Mallard, House Sparrow, etc. A curious problem compilers face when considering coverage of their CBC circles is how to manage coverage of the “best” areas that are likely to attract the most species and the “worst” areas that might be plagued by starlings or Rock Pigeons, and little else. Sometimes odd pockets of habitat must be checked for relatively small numbers of birds—that retention pond by Walmart that somehow always has a Swamp Sparrow and once had a Common Yellowthroat, too, for example. On the other hand, sometimes odd pockets of terrible habitat have to be checked for large numbers of very few birds. But when one is running out of time and people, that enormous starling roost in the middle of the industrial park is probably going to be cut before the “honey hole” behind Walmart or the out-of-the-way private wetland you have permission to visit. We naturally favor the more interesting species and probably put less effort into going out of our way to count the dull ones. So… with absolutely no scientific evidence to back this up, here are the “hardest working” counts of the 2017-2018 CBC season based on the number of European Starlings they reported: Cincinnati (19,658), Columbus (19,538), Caesar Creek-Spring Valley (18,952), Cuyahoga Falls (17,851), Western Hamilton County (17,469), Lake Erie Islands (16,013). As the compiler of a CBC almost in the middle of three of these counts, I question how we didn’t even reach 6,000 starlings on the Hamilton-Fairfield count. Someone will have to drive through those industrial parks this December. Any volunteers?

And speaking of volunteers… Researchers who look at CBC data for trends or other purposes rely on effort data turned in by counters as much as the actual numbers of birds counted—arguably more so. But volunteers are essential to the CBC system. No counters, no birds counted. That’s easy enough! The largest count, participant wise, was Cuyahoga Falls with 125 counters in the field. Wilmot was second with 87. Columbus had 72. Cincinnati (68), Lakewood (68), Cleveland (61). Caesar Creek-Spring Valley, Hoover Reservoir, Millersburg, and Ragersville were in the 50s. Ohio’s smallest count, Bucyrus, had two observers. Plymouth had three. Thirteen Ohio CBCs reported ten or fewer observers on their count day and these circles might welcome additional participants. There are probably some excellent undercounted places in these circles for interested volunteers to enjoy. Here’s the list: Ashtabula, Ashland, Black Swamp, Bucyrus, East Fork Lake State Park, Grand Lake St. Marys, Greenville, Goll Woods, Paint Creek Area, Plymouth, Portage County, Trumbull County, Wellington.

We would like to thank the National Audubon Society for making their compilation of CBC data available to us. Visit the Christmas Bird Count website . All the data, including historical data, is available online at: http://netapp.audubon.org/CBCObservation/.

We would also like to thank Craig Caldwell who is the NAS CBC editor for Ohio and who provided the CBC compilation data used in this article.

Observers can sign up online to participate in most counts, which can help compilers plan their count circle coverage. If you decide to try out a new count or two in the 119th season, consider signing up online next fall. Thanks to everyone who helped with the 118th CBC season!

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. National Centers for Environmental Information. “National Climate Report, December 2017” (accessed 30 April 2018)

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