Welcome to a review of Ohio’s participation in the 122nd National Audubon Society Christmas Bird Count. We have historical data for a total of 74 Ohio counts. During the 2021-2022 count period, Ohio observers participated in 70 CBCs.
The weather recap portion of the CBC review is almost unnecessary to write anymore. But to honor protocol, we had another warm December. Temperatures across the Lower 48 were the warmest in the 127-year record and surpassed the prior warmest December of 2015. Daily average temperatures for the Midwest were 5.8 degrees above the normal average from 1991 to 2020 (NOAA). No Ohio count reported totally frozen still or moving water. And there was next to no measurable snow on most counts in the state. The National Climate Report for December 2021 noted that “snowfall across northeast Ohio was 10-25 inches below normal.” Wellington, The Brown Family Environmental Center, Rudolph, Trumbull County, and Cuyahoga Falls were the only counts that reported having measurable snow on the ground. A climatic treat almost every count shared this year was clouds. As the dysthymic donkey Eeyore is prone to say, “Looks like rain.” And it did. Almost all day on almost every Ohio CBC. Nearly every count reported morning and afternoon cloud cover. A few changed things up and enjoyed fog; some compilers took the glass-half-full approach and reported partly cloudy or partly clear skies. Just four of seventy counts reported clear skies during a portion of the count day: Ashtabula and Clark County started out with clear skies, ending partly cloudy and cloudy, respectively. Cincinnati and Beaver Creek went from partly cloudy to clear.
A total of 1997 counters took to the field in Ohio CBCs this season. Participant numbers ranged from two to 115. The median number of field counters in Ohio was 21. Cuyahoga Falls led with the 115 participants, Columbus (88) and Wilmot (81) followed while Lakewood reached 79. Cincinnati (78) and Millersburg (77) also reached the 70s. Other participation highlights include Hocking Hills (64), Western Hamilton County (52), Lancaster (52), Cleveland (51), and four counts in the 40s. Ohio counters walked 2644 miles; drove 18,914 miles; traveled three miles by air; biked 153 miles; and covered 14 miles by motorized boat. Thank you everyone for your efforts!
Ohio counters tallied nearly a million individual birds during the 122nd CBC period. Cumulatively, Ohio CBCs reported 997,737 birds representing 167 different species. 219,110 of them were European Starlings. Other high totals were 93,942 were Ring-billed Gulls, 81,735 Mallards, 60,727 Canada Geese, and 45,597 American Robins to round out the top five. American Crow is a respectable sixth at 45,202. This Top Five list is probably to be expected. However, and you read it here first, the motorboating efforts of Toledo counters on Lake Erie seem poised to push Greater/Lesser Scaup counts into top five contention! (Maybe DraftKings will sponsor Ohio CBCs next year?) More on Toledo’s scaup counts, below. Count day totals, which exclude count week birds, ranged from 30 to 96 species. Toledo recorded the highest for the state with 96 species; Wilmot had 92. Fourteen counts were in the 80s, with Hoover Reservoir (88), Columbus (86), and Lakewood (85) in the upper half. Eleven counts were in the 70s, 23 in the 60s, 13 in the 50s, four in the 40s, and three in the 30s.
Of course, everyone participates in Christmas Bird Counts primarily to contribute to science. So, for no scientific reason at all, let’s start with some interesting “singleton” records. The lone birds of any count or state CBC list are probably the first thing that we birders look for, anyway, as we prepare ourselves to delve into the “science-y” aspect of the CBC experience. The following birds, including two hybrids, were one-off finds for Ohio’s CBCs this season: Blue-winged Teal (New Lexington), Harlequin Duck (Elyria; Hoover Reservoir did have a CW, though), Mallard x Black Duck (Cleveland), Red-necked Grebe (Lake Erie Islands), Allen’s Hummingbird (Cincinnati), Little Gull (Hoover Reservoir), Herring x Great Black-backed Gull (Lake Erie Islands), Golden Eagle (Indian Lake), Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (Columbus), House Wren (Cadiz), Swainson’s Thrush (Grand Rapids-Waterville), Varied Thrush (Firelands), Evening Grosbeak (Lancaster), LeConte’s Sparrow (Wooster), Brewer’s Blackbird (Toledo), American Redstart (Hoover Reservoir), Yellow Warbler (Firelands), Black-throated Green Warbler (Columbus), and Painting Bunting (Ragersville).
We encourage you to look through the accompanying list and see what strikes you as interesting, but here are a few observations to start. Depending on the count, waterfowl numbers and variety can vary significantly. Toledo has been covering a portion of Lake Erie by motorboat, and their scaup records are fascinating. Toledo reported 31,600 of 38,373 total Greater/Lesser Scaup reported in Ohio. Compare that to the 2011 Greater Scaup and the 6392 Lesser Scaup Ohio birders were comfortable identifying to species. That’s a lot of scaup hiding out there in the lake! Red-breasted Merganser was the next most common diving duck at 21,147, but these numbers are spread out among the counts, with counts adjacent to Lake Erie providing the thousand-plus reports. By contrast, just two counts reported Long-tailed Duck: two on count day at Lakewood and one CW at Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge.
I am dating myself, but the Eurasian Collared-Dove invasion that we anticipated in the early 2000s just didn’t happen. Nonetheless 10 EUCOs were at Gypsum, two at Wilmot, and one at Grand Lake St. Mary’s. I seem to remember the Grand Lake St. Mary’s site hosting much more than that a few years back. Single Rufous Hummingbirds were treats at Portsmouth and Quail Hollow, where they were both first count records. Least Sandpiper showed up at two counts: Hamilton-Fairfield had four and East Fork had one for their first count record. Canton had four Iceland Gulls, Bucyrus one (a first for their count), and Lakewood one. Looking at the results, Bucyrus had a great gull day for an inland count with Iceland, Lesser Black-backed, and Glaucous gulls on their list. And Canton had 17 Lesser Black-backed, and they’re not too close to Lake Erie, as I recall. Those are the kinds of finds that make it worthwhile to spend a day in the cold, damp, and gray “Ohio of the Soul” that is often typical of our count days.
Continuing to loons, Mentor and Lakewood reported single Red-throated Loons. Great Egrets appeared at Millersburg (two), and Elyria-Lorain and Ragersville (one each), where they were first count records. Ohio reported 36 Black-crowned Night-Herons. Toledo had 33, Hamilton-Fairfield two, and Columbus one. Vultures are fairly well spread around Ohio these days, particularly in southern counts. There were 1852 Black Vultures and 999 Turkey Vultures tallied this year. Toledo and Caesar Creek-Spring Valley reported individual Ospreys, a surprising/not-so surprising trend?
Owls are an interesting group of birds for CBCs, since these are often staked-out in advance or purposely searched for as birders wait at dusk at a local Short-eared spot or wander through tree groves while looking for Long-eared or Northern Saw-whet owls. I must think that most of the 19 Barn Owls were found in advance of count day. Wilmot had 11, Ragersville four, Millersburg three, and Mohican had two, which were the first records for that count. The “Owliest of All the Owls” as a friend’s daughter would say (or Owliest of them Owl), the Snowy Owl, was found on four counts. Lakewood had two, Big and Little Darby Creek-Darbydale had one (a first for their circle), and Elyria-Lorain and Rudolph had enticing but ultimately annoying CWs. Still nice finds, though. Rather disappointing are the relatively low numbers of both Long-eared and Short-eared owls. Either we aren’t finding their favored roosts anymore or something is off with their preferred habitats. Another possibility is that people know where they are, but they’re not talking! Birders do not always share information or coexist affably. (Nor do they participate in CBCs as they once did, but that’s a discussion for another day). Of eight Long-eared Owls reported by Ohio CBCs, three were in Chandlersville, three at Ragersville, one at Fremont, and one at Ottawa NWR, where they set or tied an all-time low count for the species in their circle. And we know that wasn’t for a lack of effort! There were more Short-eared Owls found, though. Out of a total of 29, Ragersville had nine, Cadiz five, Paint Creek four, Lakewood three, and Ottawa NWR one, which was also a low count for that circle.
Merlins came in at a strong 60. This species is being found regularly and in greater numbers in winter in Ohio than any time in our history, I would bet. Six Northern Shrikes were found, each on a different count. Mentor had five of Ohio’s 12 Common Ravens. Seven counts set or tied all-time lows of Ruby-crowned Kinglets, and Ohio as a whole tallied 41. Nineteen Common Redpolls were split between two counts: Ashtabula had 12 and Mentor seven. Indian Lake and Columbus both had surprising Lincoln’s Sparrows. Maybe it’s the weather or maybe just our skills as birders, but Ohio reported a respectable eight warbler species this year: Common Yellowthroat, American Redstart, and Orange-crowned, Yellow, Palm, Yellow-rumped, and Black-throated Green warblers. Tallied at Columbus, the Black-throated Green was one of four warbler species found near our state capital.
Thank you to everyone who participated in the 122nd National Audubon Society Christmas Bird Count. The CBC season is important to the birding community and is arguably our longest-running community tradition. Let’s hope for good health and good birds for everyone in 2022!
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 at http://www.audubon.org/conservation/science/christmas-bird-count. All the data, including historical data, are available online at http://netapp.audubon.org/CBCObservation/.
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, not to mention his helpful annotations! I cannot thank Craig enough for his assistance and organization.
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. (NOAA) National Centers for Environmental Information. “National Climate Report, December 2021.”
https://www.ncei.noaa.gov/access/monitoring/monthly-report/national/202112 (accessed 15 April 2022).