Last winter’s Christmas Bird Count was held on Sunday, December 30, 2018. This was the 20th year for the Vashon count circle and there was strong turnout once again, with 79 people joining teams to count in the field, as well as 23 feeder watchers. This time around the weather was surprisingly cooperative, with mostly clear skies, warm temperatures and relatively little wind.
While a number of teams reported that it was a slow birding day, the overall total of 21,847 individual birds counted was actually slightly above the historical average. The species count came in higher as well, with a total of 117 species tallied on count day, and an additional three records for count week.
Although there were no new species found this year, we did turn up several birds that are not frequently recorded on the CBC. A Snow Goose was spotted by the Quartermaster Harbor boat team, which is only the second time this species has been detected (with the first falling during count week). A lone Canvasback was seen out at Long Lake, which is the fourth sighting for the count, and the first in over a decade, as the last time one was counted was back in 2007.
The owling team on the Kitsap Peninsula turned up a Northern Pygmy-Owl, which is only the second record for the count circle. An individual of the rare Yellow-shafted race of Northern Flicker was seen at Lisabeula Park, as well as a couple of intergrades (birds exhibiting both Red-shafted and Yellow-shafted characteristics) at a feeder watcher’s yard in Gig Harbor – this is the second occurrence for both forms. Finally, a Townsend’s Solitaire was spotted out toward the eastern end of Maury Island, marking the third time this species has been noted.
There were record high counts for a fair number of species: Northern Pintail (42), Ring-necked Duck (260), Lesser Scaup (64), Common Goldeneye (830), Brandt’s Cormorant (187), Cooper’s Hawk (13), Spotted Sandpiper (9), Wilson’s Snipe (13), Ring-billed Gull (46), Eurasian Collared-Dove (35), Northern Flicker (196), Hutton’s Vireo (19), California Scrub-Jay (4), Red-breasted Nuthatch (170), Brown Creeper (30), Bewick’s Wren (72) and Yellow-rumped Warbler (62). A couple tied the previous high count: Red-tailed Hawk (38) and Virginia Rail (5).
A few notable misses were Ring-necked Pheasant, which has been absent for the last two years after being found in all 18 years prior, Sanderling, which has now been missed for the last three years after being present for all 17 before that, and Brant, which was seen in 13 of 19 past years. There were also a couple of record lows for species seen every year: Rock Pigeon (114) and European Starling (379).
Waterfowl numbers were generally up, particularly those species found primarily on freshwater. A few exceptions were American Wigeon (2,345), which was down about 30 percent from its historical average, and White-winged and Black Scoter, both of which were around 50 percent off their mean. Other seabird numbers are rather mixed – while some were relatively steady or increased, others such as the three loon species and Red-necked and Western Grebe continue to come in significantly lower than in the past.
As is often the case, there were few shorebird species seen, although those found were present in good numbers aside from Killdeer (37), which was around 50 percent below average. Overall, alcids were seen in higher numbers than the last few years, although Marbled Murrelet did not make the list. Gulls were very mixed, with some species seen in high or record numbers, while the combined count of Glaucous-winged and “Olympic” Gull (420) was down by about 30 percent.
This was another good year for diurnal raptors and owls, with numbers above average for all the regularly occurring species, with a couple setting or tying record high counts. Woodpeckers were seen at well above average numbers across all of the five species.
Most of the passerine numbers were higher than average, particularly the species that tend to be found in mixed foraging flocks in winter, such as chickadees, wrens and kinglets. Among the species seen every year, only a handful came in noticeably lower than average, including American Crow (825), European Starling (379), Red-winged Blackbird (166), House Finch (120), Red Crossbill (6) and Pine Siskin (671).
– Ezra Parker, Christmas Bird Count coordinator