I enjoy numbers that don’t need to be balanced. When my unbalanced checking account is totally out-of-whack, I’m just as likely to close the account and start from scratch.
But numbers that catch my attention, that’s another story: most home runs in a double-header (5, Nate Colbert, Stan Musial); number of feathers on a mallard (11,903 by one count); world’s best-selling board game (Monopoly, 103 different countries, 37 languages).
So I always look forward to Scott Atkinson’s number-laden summary of the Pilchuck Audubon Society’s annual Christmas Bird Count in the Marysville-Everett area.
But as much as I love stats, I really love a good story.
“This year, Peggy Heineck found the best rarity, a barn swallow that had roosted in her barn for a couple of weeks, and persisted to at least Dec. 29, the day I saw it eating — believe it or not — rat poison that somehow wasn’t lethal,” Atkinson said.
“Sure enough, when I examined the site with Peggy, you could see the swallow droppings all around the poison bins … What would motivate a barn swallow to hang on with nightly temperatures in the teens and 20s?”
But back to the stats.
Wander through Atkinson’s spreadsheet for the Dec. 26 count and you’ll find the number of mallards sighted in the 15 coverage areas (3,929) and several dozens of other species (2,375 mew gulls) or the number of a species in a particular area (120 bushtits in area 7).
Atkinson also puts the numbers in perspective.
Cold, windy weather grounded the kayakers scheduled for a count in Ebey and Steamboat sloughs. On the other hand, the effect of the cold concentrated some species and forced others down out of the foothills, he said.
Pilchuck’s bird counters logged 128 species, the first time in the 120s since 2007, Atkinson said. Despite the lower-than-usual species numbers, 123 birders counted 41,173 individuals, exceeding the 22-year average; and they recorded record highs for 18 species.
“It was the missing species that were noteworthy,” according to Atkinson.
“Common loon and Townsend’s warbler were missed for the first time in the 22-year count circle, though the warbler appeared in several places during count week. Frozen inland ponds cost us wood ducks again this year.
“And shorebirds had their weakest showing in years: least, Western and spotted sandpipers and long-billed dowitchers were absent. The cold snap apparently drove out sora (a wetland bird), admittedly at the very northern tip of its winter range,” he said.
“For songbirds, the notable misses were brown-headed cowbird, red crossbill and evening grosbeak.”
Here are a few more statistics:
Birdwatchers put in 238 hours and covered 610 miles by car, foot, kayak, boat and bicycle.
The rarity of the day was an American dipper, seen by Pamela Myers, the first reported since the 2004 CBC.
Dave Poortinga and Maureen Corlas tallied 54 species. They spotted two American bittern; a Townsend’s solitaire was the first since the 1997 count. Poortinga also saw an immature golden eagle.
Area 5 led all territories in highest counts with nine species, including 45 Pacific wrens, and an unprecedented 78 American goldfinches, Atkinson said.
The most intensely birded area in the count circle was the City of Marysville. The result: 74 species included best high counts of all territories for eight species, notably Anna’s hummingbirds (72) and 21 European collard-doves, according to Atkinson.
“More exciting, the team found one of the two great egrets that has been loyal to the Sunnyside Boulevard/Jennings Park area since early December. This egret was a long-awaited CBC first,” Atkinson said.
In its 117th year, 1,457 groups contributed to the Audubon Christmas Bird Count data based; the total bird count reached 33,753,000.
If you want to join the next count, circle Dec. 30 on your calendar.
Columnist Sharon Wootton can be reached at 360-468-3964 or firstname.lastname@example.org.