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

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