The 120th CBC in Utah

For the 120th  Christmas Bird Count (CBC) in Utah, 24 count circles were reviewed and 193 total species were reported – the species count is within the common range of between 185 and 195 species. Last year, 44 species were recorded on only one count circle. This year, 33 species were recorded on only one count.  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, warblers, flycatchers, etc.).

Every year when I review the CBC database for Utah, I am curious about trend counts for some species. For example, on 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. Then on CBC-119, 4406 Green-winged Teal were recorded, which is well above the average but much less than CBC-118. CBC-120 recorded 1732 Green-winged Teal, which is about average. On CBC-119, Orange-crowned Warblers were more broadly distributed than usual, with 19 individuals recorded on five counts. This year, 30 Orange-crowned Warblers were recorded, but on only two circles. For CBC-119, Turkey Vultures followed this same “spike” pattern with 22 individuals recorded on five counts. For CBC-120, a more expected count with just three Turkey Vultures reported. 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 “sparrow rarity” (Golden-crowned Sparrow) was seen only during count week on CBC-119, and one was recorded on UTES for CBC-120.  The Chipping Sparrow and the Lark Sparrow made the “one count only” list on CBC-119, but 34 Chipping Sparrows and no Lark Sparrows were seen on CBC-120. Other number/trends observed included:

(1) CBC-119 had 1565 Sandhill Cranes on five counts and CBC-120 recorded 2580 on four counts. Over 1000 cranes have been recorded on Utah CBCs during each of the last five years with CBC-118’s count of 2757 the highest. 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 and CBC-120 recorded 1385 on 22 circles. The 20-year high was 1830 on CBC-115.

(3) Golden Eagle numbers seem to remain strong – 122 individuals were recorded on 22 counts on CBC-119 and 124 were seen on 21 counts for CBC-120. This number is the second highest for the last 20 years (130 Golden Eagles were reported on CBC-109). The 10-year average is 102 Golden Eagles reported annually.

(4) The Eurasian Collared-Dove is a species that found Utah to its liking. They were first recorded in Utah on CBC-103 and quickly reached 11,490 individuals by CBC-116; then dropped each year to 3847 (on 23 counts) for CBC-119. CBC-120 was a better year with 6574 individuals, with some on all 24 count circles. Utah is such a diverse state it is rare to have a species recorded on all of the CBC counts. When this happened before, it was usually the Common Raven holding the spot.    

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 “birding world” and sometimes become established; and we then have a reference point to discuss range expansions and alterations. A good example is the Lesser Goldfinch.  This year 931 were seen on 18 counts, whereas, they were historically recorded only in extreme southern Utah. With this personal comment, I will include a few interesting “recorded on only one count” observations: White-winged Scoter, Long-tailed Duck, Bonaparte’s Gull, Mew Gull, Blue Jay, and Rufous-crowned Sparrow.  Before CBC-119, I marked the California Condors seen at Zion National Park (UTZI) as recent introductions (editor’s code RI). I’m not sure when this code should be omitted, but I didn’t mark the three California Condors reported on CBC-120. Bohemian Waxwings are “irruptive” and on some years only a few (or none) are recorded. At first, I thought the 966 individuals recorded during the CBC-120 was very high; then I noticed that 952 of these were seen on one count (UTBL) – obviously an irruption. 

A big thank you to everyone who participated in making CBC-120 a great count!  If anyone would like to take over as editor for the Utah CBCs and write this short summary, let me know, as I would be happy to “retire” after 22 years.

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