Friday, November 19, 2010

Another one bites the dust

In total there were 96,350 individual birds of 78 species this year which ranks as one of the five highest counts in total birds and the highest count of species seen during a single count year.

This season was marked by some very interesting days and exceptional numbers of species which are typically seen in much small numbers along with several periods of extreme inactivity due to the weather.  The most exceptional waterbird species seen this year included Pacific Loon, American Coot, American Avocet, Marbled Godwit, Red-necked and Red Phalaropes, Laughing and Lesser Black-backed Gulls, and Ancient Murrelet among many other “good” species that are annual or close to it.  Among those species Laughing Gull and American Coot are both new to the fall waterbird count while the Lesser Black-backed Gull and American Avocets were the second records and the Marbled Godwit was the third for the fall count.  In the end 19(!!!) species or groups of species were recorded in record numbers which is the most for any single year in the count’s 22-year history.

Overall numbers were spread across several different families of birds this year unlike some years when a single species or group accounts for a huge percentage of the total.  Thanks to an exceptional year for grebes and terns this year had the highest non-waterfowl total in the history of the count with 31,871 birds recorded that were not geese, swans, or ducks.  Among the waterfowl seen this year it was an overall poor year for geese which were nearly 1,000 birds below normal though it was the best year ever for swans with nearly triple the previous high count.  This year 19 Tundra and 11 Trumpeter/Tundra Swans were seen for a total of 30 which bests the previous high mark of 12 but quite the margin.  Ducks held their own with dabblers, scoters, and “winter” ducks (Long-tailed, Common Goldeneye, and Bufflehead) seen in well above to nearly record numbers while the Aythya species and mergansers were seen in well-below average numbers.  All totaled the number of ducks seen, 60,491, was about 5,000 above average.

Among the many reasons for beginning the waterbird count were loons and Red-necked Grebes which both had significant years in their own right.  On the loon front was the overall poor year which seems to be a continuation of the downward trend in their numbers over recent years.  The Common Loon total of 2468 is the 6th lowest for the fall count and nearly 700 short of the long-term average while Red-throated Loon numbers were closer to average with a total of 258, about 35 short of the long-term average.  Grebe numbers however were the polar opposite with a record count of Red-necked Grebes, nearly 2000 higher than the previous high count, and the second highest number of Horned Grebes seen in a fall season.  The count of 18,577 Red-necked Grebes provides a unlikely record as this year did not see any major push of grebes like are seen in most years with the highest daily count of 2219 on August 19th.  However, as the old saying goes “slow and steady wins the race,” the birds just kept coming all season long with counts of more than 1000 on five days and counts of over 450 on an additional seven days.

Shorebirds, gulls, jaegers, and terns often seem like the forgotten parts of the waterbird count though they account for a majority of the total species most years.  This year was no exception with those groups accounting for 39 species including record counts of 7 species.  Shorebirds in general were not particularly common this year with the total seen right at the long-term average though there were three species seen in record numbers including American Avocet, Baird’s Sandpiper, and Buff-breasted Sandpiper along with the unusual species already mentioned.  Gulls were seen in just above average diversity with an impressive total of small gulls including record numbers of Sabine’s and Laughing Gulls along with near record numbers of Black-legged Kittiwakes and a record-tying number of Lesser Black-backed Gulls.  While “white-winged” gulls were basically absent this fall there were decent numbers of Thayer’s and Great Black-backed Gulls which added a little diversity to the normal Ring-billed and Herring group at the point.  Jaegers also staged an impressive movement into the region this fall with record numbers of Parasitic and Long-taileds along with a record number of unidentified jaegers.  Last, but not least, are the terns which were noted in record numbers as well this fall with the vast majority of that accounted for by the 3060 Common Terns which is a record high count for that species.

Overall it was quite the year for watching birds at the point and there were some excellent rewards to those who were willing to wait for them.  Among those who deserve recognition for their contribution to this fall’s count are the two people who were willing to give me days off, Jason Bojczyk and Adam Byrne, and to everyone else that spent many hours or only a few minutes out there to help me count birds or pass the time I want to say thank you.  I know I had a good time this fall, though depending on the day you spent at the point that may surprise you, and I hope that everyone else came away with a good feeling from this season.

The Top Ten List

Long-tailed Duck (20,104)
Red-necked Grebe (18,577)
Red-breasted Merganser (9114)
Greater Scaup (4419)
Canada Goose (3993)
White-winged Scoter (3726)
unidentified Scaup (3230)
Common Tern (3060)
Common Goldeneye (2909)
Herring Gull (2828)

New Record Highs for the Fall Count

Tundra Swan (19)
Tundra/Trumpeter Swan (11)
Blue-winged Teal (2506)
Northern Shoveler (184)
Redhead (1477)
Red-necked Grebe (18,577)
American Coot (1)
American Avocet (8)
Baird's Sandpiper (277)
Buff-breasted Sandpiper (31)
Sabine's Gull (30)
Laughing Gull (1)
Lesser Black-backed Gull (1)
Common Tern (3060)
Parasitic Jaeger (26)
Long-tailed Jaeger (4)
unidentified Jaeger (41)
Ancient Murrelet (1)
unidentified Alcid (1)

As a side note for any one interested I managed to see 212 species (there were an additional 5-10 species seen this fall which I didn't get) at the point this year along with a few other species seen in the area but not the point proper.  It was a pretty good year for diversity especially when you consider there wasn't anyone scouring the woods most days.

Scott Schuette
2010 Fall waterbird counter

last week

Well the season ended on the 15th as usual, the final week was fairly mundane with the highlights being a Harlequin Duck on the 12th, continuing small numbers of Black Scoters, a pair of Sanderlings that were still sticking it out as of November 17th, a small group of Dunlin on the 14th and 15th, a flock of 5(!!!) Black-legged Kittiwakes on the 11th, a Sabine's and Lesser Black-backed Gull also on the 11th, and a Thayer's Gull on the 10th.  Otherwise it was just the regulars making their way past in small numbers.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Another alcid

Today was really quiet and the next few days should be similar but what it lacked in overall numbers and diversity it made up for in quality.  The best was clearly an Ancient Murrelet that flew by going east just after noon today providing the second alcid sighting of the Fall.  Taking a second position on the rarity list for the day was the season's 4th Black-legged Kittiwake that floated in the air for a little while this morning before heading out onto the big part of the lake.  It was pretty quiet otherwise with only 100 or so birds seen and most of them were Long-tailed Ducks.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Yeah, I think they call this WINTER

A day off and fingers that are not frozen has given me a chance to report on a few of the birds that have graced the point lately.  While the overall numbers have been very good for this time of year that is mostly due to a surge of birds on the 5th which accounted for 5578 of the 6628 total birds seen since November 3rd.  Of course just seeing more than 100 birds in day is something to be thankful for in November so there's no complaining here (ok, well at least not right now).  The weather, well that is a totally different story and I reserve the right to complain any day where the temperature never tops 25 degrees and the windchill fluctuates between -5 and 0, like it did on the 5th.  The forecast for the upcoming week is for better weather (did I actually hear 50! degrees on the news this evening?) and sun, of course that will also lead to poor bird movement but at this point I'm fine with just being comfortable.

What I term "Winter Ducks" typically involve those species that I don't think of arriving in any numbers where I grew up (just north of St. Louis, MO) until the weather turns cold and are often those species most likely to remain through the winter while many other species move south once the lakes and rivers begin to freeze.  So it is no surprise that they are now the most common species each day by a large margin and should remain so through the final week plus of the season.  On the 5th there was a very strong movement of these species, the largest single day of the year in fact, which was comprised mainly of Long-tailed Ducks (3948), Bufflehead (568), Red-breasted Merganser (498), and Common Goldeneye (451) which were accompanied by the first flight of Hooded Mergansers this year with 11 being noted in the first two hours after sunrise.  The other days this week have seen much smaller, but steady, numbers with daily averages of 145 Long-tailed Ducks, 14 Buffleheads, 62 Common Goldeneyes, and 90 Red-breasted Mergansers.

In other waterbird news dabbling ducks and Aythya ducks have been virtually non-existent lately with very small numbers of Mallards and American Black Ducks still seen most days and up to a few dozen scaup seen daily though normally its only 5-15.  Scoter numbers have also fallen off drastically with White-wingeds averaging about 12 per day while a single Surf was seen on the 4th and a few Blacks were noted on the 3rd, 4th, and 5th.  The loon numbers remain about the same with the average daily count for Common and Red-throateds being 15 and 1 respectively while grebe numbers have dropped to 12 for Red-necked and 2 for Horned.

Shorebirds still show up on occasion this time of year with a single Dunlin on the 5th and two Sanderlings on the 6th being the arrivals in recent days.  Gulls have continued in moderate diversity with single Black-legged Kittiwakes noted on the 3rd and 6th, both individuals were young birds, and the first Bonaparte's Gull in some time was found on the 3rd riding the waves on the point.  Among the large white-headed gull clan there was a juvenile Thayer's Gull on the 6th and two Great Black-backed Gulls, a 1st winter bird on the 3rd and an adult on the 6th.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Lake or ocean?

juvenile Thayer's Gull
The past few days have seen a myriad of different conditions from chilly (27 degrees) to warm (45 degrees), calm to windy, and sunny to drizzle.  Of course the lake still seems to be re-adjusting after last week's storm with the current shape of the point more like a pear rather than the previous scythe shape and it seems there are also still a few avian gems left out there on that huge expanse of water.

The clear highlight and the most frustrating bird of the Fall was seen on Sunday afternoon while I was at home enjoying the couch and a football game when an unknown alcid was spotted twice just offshore as it flew short distances through the waves never to be seen again.  Prevailing thought from those who saw it is that this bird was probably a DOVEKIE but unfortunately the observers could not pin it down for long enough to put a confirmed label on the bird.  Sometimes they just get away.

The overall waterfowl make-up has been similar each day though the actual numbers has fluctuated quite a lot.  The most unusual species were both noted yesterday morning when the Fall's first flock of Snow Geese (8 birds) passed just to the west of the point and another 2 Tundra/Trumpeter Swans were noted flying north across the lake.  Once again Long-tailed Duck has been the most common species with daily counts of 559, 1620, and 164 while Common Goldeneye and Red-breasted Merganser held onto the next two spots.  Smaller numbers of Mallard, White-winged (and a few Black) Scoter, Bufflehead, and scaup have also been noted daily along with a scattering of other species in ones and twos each day.

A few loons are still trickling through each day with average daily numbers of Common and Red-throated dropping to 10 and 1 respecitvely while grebe numbers have fallen to similar levels with 11 and 2 being the average numbers for Red-neckeds and Horneds over the past three days.

Shorebirds are still mostly non-existent but a Red Phalarope flying down the beach before momentarily dropping into the waves at the point's tip today was a clear highlight.  The only other species to be noted lately were two continuing Sanderlings seen yesterday.  On the gull front the diversity and numbers continue to improve (usually not a good sign for those who enjoy warmth) with different Thayer's Gulls appearing the past two days and a juvenile Great Black-backed Gull that continues around the point since late last week.  Also making another appearance on the point was a juvenile Sabine's Gull which showed up shortly after the phalarope around noon, this is the first sighting since October 22nd.

Other birds seen lately have included a good movement of 14 Rough-legged Hawks on the 2nd, the continuing Spotted Towhee through the evening of the 1st, and a much increased number of finches (including Pine Grosbeak and White-winged Crossbill) with large flocks redpolls arriving on the 1st that had at least 1 Hoary among them.