For the 120th Christmas Bird Count period, 133 counts were completed in California with a total of 376 species recorded (including documented rare species). Only four counts suffered from some heavy rain during the day, and most of the remaining counts had pleasant weather. In general, temperatures were normal. Mammoth Lakes had the lowest low temperature of 180 F while San Bernardino Valley recorded the highest temperature with 720 F. Counts with more than 100 participants include Point Reyes Peninsula, San Diego, Morro Bay, Orange County (NE), Orange County (coastal), San Jose, Eastern Alameda County, Palo Alto, Oceanside-Vista-Carlsbad, Rancho Santa Fe, Crystal Springs, Moss Landing, Palo Alto, Marin County (southern), Western Sonoma County, Sonoma Valley, San Francisco, Santa Barbara, and Ventura, topped off by Oakland’s 254 participants. For numbers of species, the top count was San Diego with 208, and close behind was Santa Barbara with 201. Overall numbers of species were average to below average for most counts.
The following are the highlights of the counts (only sufficiently documented rare species included). In general it was an average showing for rare species, especially ultra-rare species. Rare waterfowl were in low numbers with one returning male Tufted Duck in Santa Barbara, 106 Eurasian Wigeon over 31 count areas with a high of 31 on Point Reyes Peninsula, one returning Trumpeter Swan in Bishop and a King Eider in Del Norte. Seven Long-tailed Ducks in six count areas was below average. Blue-winged Teal has increased dramatically in the state over the past few decades. A total of 708 over 38 count areas included a high of 128 in Sacramento. White-winged Scoter numbers continue to decline with only 85 in the state. Nine Long-tailed Ducks were scattered among several coastal counts
A rare inland Red-necked Grebe was at Springville, and the coastal the high count was 61 at Pt. Reyes. A few regular pelagic species were reported including Black-vented Shearwaters to extending north to Santa Cruz, along with a rare Laysan Albatross off Monterey and a Short-tailed Shearwater off Centerville. The long-staying and only known Northern Gannet in the Pacific Ocean was not detected this season so was likely on SE Farallon Island (not part of a count area). Following the increases in recent years, seven Brown Boobies were in San Diego, but none elsewhere. Singles of the much more rare Masked and Red-footed booby were in San Diego and San Francisco, respectively. The latter was a first CBC record for California, although one present the previous year in Half Moon Bay disappeared after a long stay just prior to the count period. White-faced Ibis continue to increase with 21,360 reported on 29 counts with the largest counts in the Central Valley and Salton Sea counts. Tricolored Herons returned with singles at Orange County (coastal) and San Diego. Fourteen Reddish Egrets was a high total and continues the trend of this formerly accidental rare species in southern California. Likewise, 91 Yellow-crowned Night-Heron is an exceptional number as this species was also accidental only a couple of decades ago and is strengthening its colonization of coastal southern California.
Returning for a second winter, although briefly, a Black Vulture was inland in Bishop. Almost all previous state records have been of coastal birds. Santa Rosa’s resident Common Black-Hawk survived another year. Seven Zone-tailed Hawks scattered over six count areas was a great total, as this species is slowly becoming a regular wintering bird in small numbers in southern California. Surprisingly, only one Swainson’s Hawk in Caswell-Westley was counted in the Central Valley where a small population had been wintering for over 25 years. Seven Pacific Golden-Plovers were fewer than expected with three at Long Beach, two in Santa Maria, and singles at San Diego and Moss Landing. Only one Mountain Plover was recorded indicating that the primary wintering areas are not well covered by count areas. Rare wintering shorebirds include Ruff with two in San Jacinto and one in Benicia; three Solitary Sandpipers with singles in Carpinteria and inland in Kaweah and LaGrange; and an American Oystercatcher at Palos Verdes Peninsula. Rare terns and gulls were absent with the exception of only six Glaucous Gulls and five Lesser Black-backed Gulls. Most rare gulls arrive later in winter in California. Lingering from summer, a Laughing and two Yellow-footed gulls remained at Salton Sea North. Only four Barred Owls were tallied which is vastly under-reported given the fairly large population known in the North Coast Range and Sierra Nevada. The most unexpected find was a Common Nighthawk photographed at Caswell-Westley in the Central Valley for probably the first winter record for California. Sixteen Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers was a typical total. Falcon totals were good including 449 Peregrine Falcons (a rare bird in the state as recently as the early 1980s), 472 Merlin, 165 Prairie Falcons, and the exceptionally rare Gyrfalcon—well photographed in Fall River.
Rare wintering flycatchers were prevalent. A single Eastern Phoebe returned to Bishop from the previous year and another was in Lancaster. The very rare Greater Pewee returned for another winter in San Diego. All Empidonax flycatchers are rare in the region in winter, so it was a great season with a Least Flycatcher in Springville (first Tulare County record); a very rare Dusky in Los Angeles; single Grays in Morongo Valley, Thousand Oaks, Lake Henshaw, San Jacinto, San Bernardino Valley, Oceanside-Vista-Carlsbad; single Hammond’s in Long Beach, Rio Cosumnes, Palo Verdes; and single Pacific-slope (presumed not to be Cordilleran) in Orange County (coastal), San Fernando Valley, San Francisco, and Santa Rosa. An outstanding 17 Tropical Kingbirds over 12 count areas was unexpected with a high of five in Santa Barbara and inland singles in Sherman Island (first documented Sacramento County record) and San Jacinto. A great total of 86 Vermilion Flycatchers over 27 count areas with a high of 18 on Orange County (coastal), and rare northern California sightings at Sacramento, two at Pixley N.W.R., and a returning bird to LaGrange. They have been increasing greatly in coastal and non-desert inland sites in southern California as well as venturing into the Central Valley in recent years. Two Scissor-tailed Flycatchers in San Diego (one returning) and another in Thousand Oaks was a typical total for the state. Four Cassin’s Vireos were restricted to southern California with two in San Fernando Valley and singles in Rancho Santa Fe and San Diego. A very rare wintering Warbling Vireo was in Santa Barbara. Nine Northern Shrikes were confined to their Cascade/Great Basin and far north coast range. One of few CBC records for the state of a Blue Jay was found in Centerville.
Following trends in recent winters, Barn Swallows were reported in increasing numbers with an astonishing 189 reported over 26 count areas, including two as far north as Tall Trees and a high of 41 in San Jacinto. Black-capped Chickadee continued its southern expansion with one in Fort Bragg (second Mendocino County record) and 155 in Centerville where this species was first detected in the late 1980s. Varied Thrush were found in 54 counts but in low numbers compared to invasion years. A Gray Catbird in Morongo Valley was a good find of this rare but increasingly tallied vagrant in the state. A bit less expected was the Brown Thrasher in Orange County (northeastern). The only longspurs found were four Lapland at Eagle Lake, six at Honey Lake, and a Chestnut-collared at Honey Lake and Rio Cosumnes. No Bohemian Waxwings were found.
It was a average winter for eastern warblers highlighted by a Blackburnian photographed in San Francisco, a Pine in San Diego, a Prairie in Año Nuevo, a Northern Parula in Oceanside-Vista-Carlsbad, and a Grace’s in Rancho Santa Fe. Other more regular vagrant warblers include a Lucy’s in Santa Barbara, 21 Black-and-white, two Tennessee, two Northern Waterthrush, two American Redstart, three Painted Redstart, and 13 Palm. Rare wintering western warblers were well represented with relatively high counts of 21 Nashville, 48 Yellow, 43 Wilson’s, 81 Black-throated Gray, and 16 Hermit warblers.
Grasshopper Sparrows are rarely reported in winter in the region so singles at Thousand Oaks, Palo Alto, and San Diego and two at Cachuma was an unexpected showing. Two Clay-colored Sparrows was a typical number with singles at Palos Verdes Peninsula and Centerville. Eight Lark Buntings in Bakersfield were the only ones reported. It was an average winter for Swamp Sparrows with 31 over 14 count areas. Only two Harris’s Sparrows was a poor showing with singles at Etna and Palos Verdes Peninsula.
Twenty-one Summer Tanagers were found over 13 count areas, and 77 Western Tanagers over 28 count areas. A much more rare Hepatic Tanager was in Rancho Santa Fe and an exceptionally rare Scarlet was in San Francisco. Single Rose-breasted Grosbeaks at Big Sur and Oceanside-Vista-Carlsbad was a typical total. Wintering orioles were well represented with 12 Orchards over eight count areas, five Baltimore, six Hooded, eight Scott’s and 28 Bullock’s. Only 14,106 Tricolored Blackbirds were recorded. Large numbers of Lawrence’s Goldfinches were encountered with 187 at Mt. Hamilton, 184 at Lake Henshaw, 122 at Pinnacles National Park.