Any Christmas Bird Count is full of surprises: a species new to the count area; a record number of one species; a bird rarely seen in the state.
In the Pilchuck Audubon Society’s 2017 CBC, one surprise had to do with the 121 counters, not the countees.
“The biggest surprise was the increase in miles walked, more than 100 miles,” given sometimes-challenging weather, count compiler Scott Atkinson said. “We’re always goading people to walk more and drive less. When you walk where birds are expected, you almost always generate more birds, and so it was.”
The 138 species were two less than the previous best, and among the top 10 in the state. There were 38,000 individual birds; several species’ counts in the region continue to increase. There were record high counts for 12 species, and low counts on five, Atkinson said.
The record high for two of those species represented a dramatic increase: 74 Eurasian-colored doves (last year’s record high was 52) and Anna’s hummingbirds (307 vs. 258 last year)
The local CBC has been taken since 1995.
Atkinson did cold calls on residents.
“I absolutely love it,” he said. “I’m almost a solicitor for birds. Never in my life have I seen so many hummingbird feeders out. It reflected, to me, the changing times with that species.”
One species that has everyone buzzing about its presence was the California scrub jay, a bird that had occasionally been spotted for the last six years. This CBC had a record 10: eight in north Everett and two in Marysville’s Jennings Park.
“I’m not as big a global-warming fan as some, but looking at the trend, regional winters generally warming, there’s no question that it has helped them spread north,” Atkinson said. “Forty years ago they were not seen north of Portland.”
Marysville had appeared to be the northernmost edge of the breeding range, but now they’ve popped up in Mount Vernon and Vancouver, B.C.
On the rarity front, counters saw four mountain chickadees at bird feeders, a species counted in only one other CBC since 1995.
“It qualifies as our first true rarity,” Atkinston said.
Birders again had foot coverage of Hat Island and Jetty Island, thanks to Dave Poortinga, who ferried the walkers as well as provide the floating base for open waters.
Area 11, the low ground alongside I-5 between Everett and Marysville, had 83 species, the highest of the CBC’s 17 territories.
Included in that count were 65 common redpolls, a high for that species, 60 of which were at Langus Waterfront Park. That area also accounted for more than 1,300 northern shovelers, a local record.
Marysville had the highest counts for all territories for greater scaup, mew gull, northern flicker, bushtit, ruby-crowned kinglet, yellow-rumped warblers and Anna’s hummingbirds.
One aspect of the CBC troubled Atkinson.
“We’re so top-heavy in baby boomers, what are we going to do in the years to come? Nobody knows,” he said.
Atkinson did point to one of the CBC’s non-baby boomer birders, Dave Poortinga. “He’s a new-generation guy, an absolute ace.”
Sounds like a Pilchuck Audubon Society project: recruiting.
Columnist Sharon Wootton can be reached at 360-468-3964 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Also for birders: The Wings Over Water Northwest Birding Festival will be held March 16-18 in Blaine, Semiahmoo and Birch Bay; www.wingsoverwaterbirdingfestival.com. Check out field trips of the Pilchuck Audubon Society by going to pilchuckaudubon.org. Sign-up for the Burke Museum’s annual Environmental Writers Workshop April 7. It includes classroom and field-based sessions. For information: burkemuseum.org.