The 119th CBC in Utah

For the 119th  Christmas Bird Count in Utah, 24 count circles were reviewed and 202 species were reported – the species count is a little higher than in past years as Utah usually records between 185 and 195 species. This “high species” mark may have been partially due to 44 species being recorded on only one count circle. As with the last few years, mild weather and open water resulted in many counts reporting late migrating species and in some cases what I would label as “summer” species (swallows, orioles, vireos, flycatchers, etc.).

Every year when I review the CBC database for Utah, I become curious about trend counts for some species. Last year (CBC-118), the biggest surprise was the number of Green-winged Teal in the state. Previous counts in Utah recorded a peak of 5263 on CBC-105; however, the 15-year average was only 1377.  CBC-118 recorded 16,718 Green-winged Teal on 17 count circles. On CBC-119, 4406 Green-winged Teal were recorded which is well above the average but much less than last year. On the low end, it was surprising to have only 12 Chukars and only on UTJR (Jordan River). The UTAI (Antelope Island) count which almost always records Chukars only recorded them for count week (cw). Orange-crowned Warblers were more broadly distributed than usual, with 19 individuals recorded on five counts. Turkey Vultures followed this same pattern with 22 individuals recorded on five counts. Wintering sparrows are an interesting group for the winter birding crowd. CBC-119 counts recorded 13 species of what I call “real” sparrows (omitting the House Sparrow). One other “sparrow rarity” (Golden-crowned Sparrow) was seen during count week. What we commonly call “rare sparrows”, like the Swamp Sparrow, White-throated Sparrow, and Harris’s Sparrow, were recorded on more than one CBC count. The Chipping Sparrow and the Lark Sparrow made the “one count only” list. Other number/trends observed included: (1) Sandhill Crane with 1565 individuals seen on five counts. Over 1000 cranes have been recorded on Utah CBCs during each of the last five years. Last year’s count (CBC-118) of 2757 was the highest ever. I don’t know if these high numbers represent milder weather, or if Sandhill Crane populations are increasing in the intermountain west. (2) Wild Turkey populations continue to do well in Utah. CBC-119 counts reported 1422 individuals on 15 counts. The 20-year high was 1830 on CBC-115.  (3) Golden Eagle numbers seem to be remaining strong – 122 individuals were recorded on 22 counts on CBC-119. This number is the second highest for the last 20 years that I’ve been reviewing numbers (130 Golden Eagles were reported on CBC-109). The 10-year average is 101 Golden Eagles reported annually. (4) The Eurasian Collared-Dove is a species that found Utah to its liking. Eurasian Collared-Doves were first recorded on CBC-103. They quickly reached 11,490 individuals by CBC-116, then dropped each year to 3847 (on 23 counts) for CBC-119.  

As I spend time “mining” information from bird databases, like CBC, BBS, and eBird, I know that the outliers or unique observations are not the most important part of these large-scale databases. However, they do add interest to the “bird world” and sometimes these “outliers” become established and we then have a reference point to discuss range expansions and alterations. With this personal comment, I will include a few interesting “recorded on only one count” observations. The Pacific Loon, Common Loon, Ross’s Goose, Western Grebe, Least Sandpiper, and Cactus Wren found on the UTSR (Silver Reef) count indicate how different the habitat is on this count circle. In the past, I’ve always marked the California Condors seen at Zion N.P. (UTZI) as recent introductions (editor’s code RI). I’m not sure when I should omit this code, but I didn’t mark the three California Condors reported this year. The UTLO (Logan) participants definitely did more “owling” than other groups and were the only count to record Long-eared Owl (2), Short-eared Owl (2), and Northern Saw-whet Owl (3). UTLO also recorded Barn Owl (6), Great Horned Owl (15), and Northern Pygmy-Owl (2), which were all seen on more than one count. Bohemian Waxwings were fairly common in Utah on CBCs from the past, but only one was recorded on CBC-119 (UTCC – Cedar City). UTKA (Kanab) recorded the most species seen on only one count – 14 species.

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