The 119th CBC in Oregon

Weather was mostly mild for the season. A brief cold snap December 3-7 brought single-digit (Fahrenheit) temperatures east of the Cascades, freezing smaller lakes and ponds which may have caused some waterfowl to shift to larger lakes and reservoirs ahead of the count period. The same cold snap brought morning frosts in western valleys, but daily high temperatures both there and along the coast stayed well above freezing throughout the count period.

A “pineapple express” warm front coming off the Pacific 18 December brought heavy rain, strong southwesterly winds, and even more balmy temperatures up to 60 F west of the Cascades. Despite squalls, counters in Corvallis managed to relocate the Tundra Bean-Goose that turned up at William L. Finley National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) in late November, only the second record for Oregon.

As the same front continued eastward into the northern Great Basin, it brought challenging conditions with gale-force winds at Summer Lake for the second year in a row. However volunteers traveling from Summer Lake to the next day's count at Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge noticed thousands of Northern Shovelers and over 130 Eared Grebes pushed up against the east shore of Lake Abert. This “terminal” desert lake with its important brine-shrimp ecosystem, threatened by upstream water allocations and drought in recent years, is an Audubon Important Bird Area (https://www.audubon.org/important-bird-areas/lake-abert) but is not part of any count circle. This shows how CBC volunteers traveling between counts can document use of habitat by wintering birds, in sparsely populated regions that otherwise receive scant coverage.

Other notable reports of inland waterbirds east of the Cascades included Red-necked Grebes at Prineville and Utopia, two Horned Grebes at Prineville, and 15 Cackling Geese in Union County. West of the Cascades, a well-described Blue-winged Teal was in Eugene. The trend toward more wintering Cinnamon Teal continued with a total of 46 in the Willamette Valley. Barrow's Goldeneyes in western Oregon mainly winter near the western edge of the Cascades, but two showed up on coastal estuaries at Yaquina Bay and Florence. Sea ducks stuck to the coast this year, with no inland scoters but high counts of 1628 Surf Scoters, 623 White-winged Scoters and a remarkable 423 Black Scoters at Yaquina Bay. Brant numbers were also up with a total of 295 along the coast plus two inland strays in Salem and Corvallis.

A count-week pelagic trip off Coos Bay yielded a Black-footed Albatross. On count day, one well-described Sooty Shearwater was found along with 18 Short-tailed Shearwaters (more expected offshore in winter). A Fork-tailed Storm-Petrel made it onto the count-week list for Lincoln City. Twice as many Common Murres were found as last year, boosted by counts of over 7000 in both Coos Bay and Tillamook Bay. A sea watch at Lincoln City yielded a remarkable tally of 425 Ancient Murrelets flying south of Spanish Head, as well as 19 Cassin's Auklets; two Parakeet Auklets and a probable Crested Auklet were also spotted just offshore for count week.

A flock of 400 Black-bellied Plovers at Brownsville accounted for nearly two thirds of the state total. Killdeer totals were down by about one third from the previous winter. This might have been due in part to fog limiting visibility on some Willamette Valley counts where significant numbers winter, but could also reflect ongoing changes in agricultural landscapes, as fields continue to be converted to hazelnut orchards. For the threatened coastal population of Snowy Plovers, this year's count was down by a quarter from last year's encouraging count. Good numbers of Dunlin were found, boosted by a count of 6105 at Eugene. Long-billed Dowitcher numbers in western Oregon were up from last year, led by a tally of 176 at Coos Bay. Unusual shorebirds included a Wandering Tattler at Coquille Valley and four Willets at Eugene.

Gull tallies were generally up from last year along the coast and in western valleys. Surprising numbers were also found in the interior basins, with 70 Ring-billed Gulls, six California Gulls, and 10 Herring Gulls at Klamath Falls and single Ring-billed Gulls at Summer Lake and Malheur NWR. A first-cycle Glaucous Gull was photographed in Eugene.

Counts of diurnal and nocturnal raptors mostly held steady in comparison with recent years. The pattern of wintering Turkey Vultures in western Oregon continued with 27 found in Eugene this year. Ospreys – also becoming more regular – were found in Grants Pass and on four coastal counts. Northern Goshawks are rare west of the Cascades, so detections in the Coast Range near Dallas and along the coast at Coquille valley were notable. No Great Gray Owls were found this year but a Spotted Owl was found at Ashland.

A Yellow-bellied Sapsucker was found during count week for a demonstration count in Gresham, which is expected to become a regular CBC next season. One was also recorded at Coquille Valley. A wintering Williamson's Sapsucker was found in Ashland.

The mild temperatures may have helped to maintain food supplies for insect-dependent passerines wintering far north of their normal range, including 34 Say's Phoebes statewide (three of them east of the Cascades), a Barn Swallow still flying around in Prineville in central Oregon on New Year’s Eve, a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher and count-week Yellow Warbler in Portland, a count-week American Redstart in Ashland, and a Yellow-breasted Chat in Roseburg-Sutherlin. The coast, which is normally more hospitable to lingering neotropical passerines than inland areas, yielded even more surprises than usual with a Dusky Flycatcher at Port Orford, a Tropical Kingbird, a Black-throated Gray Warbler and a Bullock's Oriole in Coquille Valley, a Hooded Oriole and count-week Bullock's Oriole in Florence, and a Black-and-white Warbler and Magnolia Warbler at Yaquina Bay. Other rare songbirds included a Sedge Wren in Florence, a count-week Black-headed Grosbeak in Eugene, and Oregon's first recorded Eastern Bluebirds – two found at a Zen center in Portland which were seen by many observers through Jan 20.

Mild weather farther north may have limited numbers of northern finches. Just two Common Redpolls were found (in Pine Valley and Umatilla). Statewide tallies of Red Crossbills and Pine Siskins were about one tenth of numbers found during an irruption in the previous winter. Only four Evening Grosbeaks were found, all as single birds in western valleys. Baker County produced the only report of Gray-crowned Rosy-Finches with nine. However boreal sparrows were well represented as eight counts statewide recorded Harris's Sparrows, and American Tree Sparrows included 20 in Union County, 10 in Wallowa County and five at Hart Mountain. Eight Snow Buntings were found on the Columbia Estuary and another turned up along the coast at Yaquina Bay.

“The views expressed in user comments do not reflect the views of Audubon. Audubon does not participate in political campaigns, nor do we support or oppose candidates.”