The 121st Christmas Bird Count in Oregon

The pandemic had a major effect on coverage, especially for counts in less populated parts of Oregon that rely on volunteers to travel long distances. Along the Pacific coast, only three of the nine active counts happened, and the only active count in the Coast Range was canceled. Of four counts in the Great Basin, two were canceled but the Burns and Malheur NWR counts managed to proceed with local volunteers. The Klamath Falls count also went ahead with a scaled-down crew. West of there in the Siskiyou region of inland SW Oregon, four of five active counts went ahead, but only seven of 11 counts in central Oregon took place. In northeastern Oregon, the two Baker County counts remained dormant partly due to difficulty of finding a new compiler in a plague year, but four other counts went ahead.

Only the Willamette Valley region, home to most of the state’s population, managed to run all  active counts. There turned out to be a very strong appetite for participation, even with the need to stick to smaller-than-usual teams and skip the traditional countdown gatherings. After one count in Corvallis was officially canceled, there was so much grassroots interest that the count wound up proceeding on an ad hoc basis, with single-household teams fanning out to cover the circle and using digital communications to avoid overlaps. Remarkably they came up with 115 species, just six species shy of the previous year’s total.

Thus this year’s results were even more skewed than usual to populated areas of the state, and coverage often deviated from traditional sectors, limiting comparability with non-pandemic years. Still, the CBC served one of its core functions in getting people out to appreciate birds, at a time when people were hungry for any kind of community-spirited event. And as always happens, interesting birds were discovered!

Both a Eurasian Green-winged Teal and an intergrade Eurasian x American Green-winged Teal were in a teal flock at Yaquina Bay. A Eurasian Wigeon in Utopia was a rare bird for east of the Cascades. Sea ducks found inland in the Willamette Valley included a White-winged Scoter and three Surf Scoters in Portland, and another Surf Scoter in Forest Grove for count week. A Long-tailed Duck showed up even farther inland in Klamath Falls. Five Barrow’s Goldeneyes went the opposite direction to be counted at in a coastal estuary at Yaquina Bay.

Common Loons winter mainly in coastal waters, but one turned up in Wallowa County in the northeast corner of the state, and three were at Utopia. An Eared Grebe on Joseph Lake was another rare winter species for Wallowa County. Red-necked Grebes made a notable incursion into the Willamette Valley with a total of 14, including five in Portland, four at Sauvie Island, and three in Forest Grove.

A well-described Pelagic Cormorant in Gresham, up the Columbia River from Portland, was a remarkable find for this young count. Snowy Egrets were found at Eugene and at Sauvie Island, where a White-faced Ibis was an even rarer find.

Two Osprey were found far inland in John Day.  White-tailed Kites were found on only one count, with 14 at Coquille Valley along the south coast. Red-shouldered Hawks continued their inland expansion with birds in Malheur NWR and in Union County. Gyrfalcons were recorded on count day (Dallas) and for count week (Yaquina Bay). Prairie Falcons were recorded on four counts west of the Cascades, including two at Airlie-Albany.

Notable shorebirds included a Semipalmated Plover in Eugene, a Lesser Yellowlegs at Sauvie Island, and a Long-billed Curlew at Brownsville. A Wandering Tattler turned up again at Coquille Valley, in exactly the same spot as recent years, suggesting that this might be a returning bird. Rock Sandpipers were found at Columbia Estuary (2) and Yaquina Bay (1). Columbia Estuary accounted for 503 of the state’s 540 Sanderlings, with the remainder at Yaquina Bay.

With no pelagic boat trips this year, no tubenoses were reported and alcids were limited to a few birds seen from coastal vantages, most notably eight Ancient Murrelets and a Marbled Murrelet off Yaquina Bay.   A Glaucous Gull in Union County was a first record for this northeastern county.

Barred Owl numbers remained high with 26 statewide, mainly in the Willamette Valley. No Spotted Owls were found again this year, but a Great Gray Owl turned up for count week at Oakridge. Brownsville accounted for 21 of the state’s 41 Short-eared Owls, as wintering birds made use of recent habitat restorations in the area. Single Burrowing Owls were found near Corvallis and Medford.

Tygh Valley had a remarkable tally of 170 Lewis’s Woodpeckers. Rare sapsuckers for the locations included a Red-breasted Sapsucker at Malheur NWR and a count-week Yellow-bellied Sapsucker near Roseburg.

Empidonax flycatchers are very rare anywhere in Oregon in winter, and notoriously difficult to identify out of breeding season. So we were fortunate that observers who found a Hammond’s Flycatcher at Brownsville obtained excellent photos and made careful notes. It was a good day for flycatchers in Brownsville with 20 Black Phoebes and two Say’s Phoebes.

A high count of 34 Canada Jays at Yaquina Bay may have been partly due to observers splitting up and giving more thorough coverage to mountain forests away from the coastline. Blue Jays were once again found in numbers in northeastern Oregon, with six in Pine Valley, two in Union County, and two farther west in John Day.

Swallows included 15 Tree Swallows at Airlie-Albany and a Barn Swallow at Roseburg-Sutherlin. Out-of-range chickadees included a Black-capped Chickadee in Burns and two Mountain Chickadees in Cottage Grove. A Blue-gray Gnatcatcher turned up at Sauvie Island. A Sage Thrasher at Malheur NWR was well north of the typical winter range. Uncommon winter warblers included Nashville Warblers at Coquille Valley and Corvallis and a Palm Warbler at Yaquina Bay.

Union County had the state high count of American Tree Sparrows with twelve. Clay-colored Sparrows were found at Sauvie Island and in Portland. Harris’s Sparrows showed up in modest numbers this year, with just two east of the Cascades (Malheur and Tygh Valley) and one to the west at Sauvie Island. A Swamp Sparrow was enjoyed by many observers in Bend.

Rusty Blackbirds were found in both Union County and Wallowa County. A Great-tailed Grackle turned up in Portland as a further sign of this species’ northwestward expansion. An Orchard Oriole turned up in Portland and a Bullock’s Oriole showed up in the same tree where one was found in Coquille Valley last year.

Wallowa County accounted for all of the state’s Gray-crowned Rosy-Finches with 362. No redpolls were found. Numbers of Red Crossbills and Pine Siskins were strong in west-side forests for the second straight year, and 20 White-winged Crossbills were found near Oakridge. Good numbers of Evening Grosbeaks were found east of the Cascades though none were found on the west side.

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