The 120th CBC in Ohio

Welcome to a review of Ohio’s participation in the 120th National Audubon Society Christmas Bird Count (CBC). We have historical data for a total of 74 Ohio Christmas Bird Counts. During the 119th NAS CBC season (2018-19), 68 counts reported. In this 2019-20 count period, Ohio observers participated in 69 CBCs. 

We all know someone with whom we don’t raise this issue, but our winter seasons are trending to the warmer, milder side. In Cincinnati, we had almost no snow to trouble us this winter; though it seems like it’s been an extraordinarily long winter, that is due to the shutdown of most normal life routines beginning in early March. But let’s look back to December for a moment, when we weren’t afraid to shake hands with new birders joining our counts for the first time or old friends we might not see enough of outside of CBC season…

December 2019 was largely warm and wet in Ohio. We had a cold snap early in the month, but the second half of December, at the start of CBC season, turned warmer than normal. There were more than “950 record high maximum and minimum daily readings across the Midwest” during December (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration). With higher-than-normal precipitation in most of the Midwest, and plenty of rain on Ohio counts, if you took part in an Ohio CBC this season you probably got a little wet, feeder watchers excepted.

Now for some numbers. During the 120th CBC season, 2072 Ohio birders collectively tallied 164 species, four more species than in the 119th count. Two counts reached the 90s: state leader Toledo at 91 followed by Western Hamilton County at 90. Four counts reached the 80s: Wilmot (85), Millersburg (84), Cincinnati (82), and Mansfield (80). Cleveland (79), Cadiz (78), and Ragersville (78) were among the 15 counts reaching the 70s. Twenty-four counts finished in the 60s, and the average number of full species reported per count is 63.

There is a tale of a long-ago count whose scheduled date came a few days after a heavy snow fall, in which a section leader went rogue and tried to unilaterally cancel the event. It didn’t work, but the section leader instantly entered the unwritten list of Ohio CBC’s most annoying birders. We can’t go there, but let’s consider some of this year’s most annoying CBC birds: outstanding birds that eluded birders on count day and weren’t recorded anywhere else in the state, and the hard-luck CBCs forced to list them as Count Week (CW) species. To review, a species is considered CW if it was not seen on the count day but was seen during any of the the three days before or after the count day. We present the “ouch list”: Pacific Loon (Lake Erie Islands circle), Whooping Crane (Oxford), Herring x Great-blacked Gull (Lake Erie Islands. Not a full species, but if a count has the gull to report that hybrid, and then misses it on count day, we’ll lovingly single them out!), Snowy Owl (Goll Woods and Lakewood), and Indigo Bunting (Wooster). The “schadenfreude list” is another fun one. These are birds that were recorded on count day in one circle but that were CW birds for other counts. Harlequin Duck (hooray, Lakewood. Sorry Cleveland). Iceland Gull (Western Hamilton County’s “The Miracle at Rumpke.” You can’t get them all, Toledo. Lakewood, Harlequin Duck is a decent consolation prize, right?), Caesar Creek-Spring Valley recorded House Wren on count day (Western Hamilton County, oops, and Cadiz, drats), and Lincoln’s Sparrow (Cadiz nailed it, Cleveland missed). 

The annoyance of the CW species, particularly when the CW is a really cool rarity, is a feeling that every experienced CBC participant and compiler can say they have shared at one time or another.

Birds that make one kinda’ sad have to start with Northern Bobwhite. Seven quail were reported for the entire state, all of them on the Cincinnati count. Ruffed Grouse is even sadder, perhaps. Of the 69 Ohio CBCs, only Lancaster had Ruffed Grouse. They had one bird. Let’s not end on a sad note, though. Isn’t it fun to catch sight of a Prairie Falcon (Rudolph) or Summer Tanager (Oxford) on a winter day in Ohio? [Editor’s note: The Pacific Loon, Whooping Crane, and Prairie Falcon reports are all subject to review by the OBRC.]

Ohio’s 2072 participants for the 120th CBC is down from last year’s 2220. Participant numbers ranged from four (Bucyrus) to 120 (Cuyahoga Falls). Lakewood had 98 participants. Cleveland (83) and Wilmot (85) reached the 80s. Counts in the 70s were Cincinnati, Columbus, O’Shaughnessy Reservoir, and Ragersville. Hocking Hills had 68 counters. Ohio CBCs averaged about 30 birders per count, but 32 counts had fewer than 20 participants. Weather, and the way that CBC weekends fall in relation to the holidays, are probably the most influential factors in the number of CBC participants. It’s also important to recruit experienced and new counters, and that’s where section leaders can be really helpful. If you’re in charge of an area within your circle or are a designated section leader, consider trying to bring in some more help for your next CBC. There are still plenty of birds and locations out there for willing birders.

Thank you to everyone who participated in the 120th National Audubon Society Christmas Bird Count. The CBC season is important to the birding community and is arguably our longest-running community tradition. Good health and good birds to all of you in 2020-21!

We would like to thank the National Audubon Society for making their compilation of CBC data available to us. Visit the Christmas Bird Count web site, all the data, including historical data, are available online here

We would also like to thank Craig Caldwell who is the NAS CBC editor for Ohio and who provided the Ohio CBC compilation data used in this article. The annual CBC recap would take ages to write without Craig’s work and assistance.

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 121st season, consider signing up online next fall. Thanks to everyone who helped with the 120th CBC season!

Reference cited: 
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. National Centers for Environmental Information. “National Climate Report, December 2019.” (accessed 20 Apr 2020).


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