In the history of the Sequim-Dungeness Christmas Bird Count (SDCBC), there have been some exceptionally beautiful count days, such as last year when we set a record count with 154 species. Conversely, there have also been some very challenging days, when weather and circumstances conspired to decrease count totals lower than we hoped. I’m afraid 2016 falls into the latter category.
We held our 41st SDCBC on December 19, 2016, following a week of cold weather and nighttime temperatures dropping into the low 20s. Owling on the 19th started with occasional heavy rain, along with snow at higher elevations of the count circle. West winds rose along the coast after most people began counting at 8 am, eventually peaking at 34 mph at the Dungeness Lighthouse. Fortunately winds decreased after midday, but the damage had been done. The count ended up tallying 140 species, the lowest total since 2010, another year with challenging winds. The total number of individual birds this year was 65,073, actually a very respectable number above our 20-year average, but solely due to high numbers of a few species. 126 people participated in the count this year, combining field observers and feeder watchers (see adjacent table of results).
The two most abundant species this year, as is typical for this count, were American Wigeon (13,848) and Mallard (8121). Other abundant species, in decreasing order, were: American Robin (4994), Northern Pintail (3933), Dunlin (3042), large pink-legged gulls (Glaucous-winged Gull and Olympic Gull hybrids) (2622), European Starling (2063), Dark-eyed Junco (2017), Brant (1823), and Bufflehead (1356). These top ten species comprised about 2/3rds of all the birds seen on our count.
Very few species set all-time high counts this year. We scored a record high for Trumpeter Swans thanks to Bob and Ann Sextro, whose sole mission was to count swans. Following large number of migrant geese this fall, both Canada and Cackling Geese also set record highs. It was a record-setting year for disparate species like Merlin, Brown Creeper, and American Pipit. It was the second highest year for Anna’s Hummingbird and the third highest for California Quail. Bald Eagles also set a record, with the largest group seen along the Dungeness River south of Hwy 101, undoubtedly feasting on old salmon carcasses.
Some other species had very low numbers, or were missed altogether. Wood Ducks only made count-week this year, missed on count day. Harlequin Ducks continue their downward decline. Black Scoters had the second lowest count in the 41 years of the SDCBC, and Long-tailed Ducks and American Coots had their second lowest count of the last 20 years. Sanderlings, Pigeon Guillemots, and Marbled Murrelets were well below their long-term averages. Some of these low numbers were likely due to the challenging weather, particularly to frozen ponds and to rough conditions for the offshore boat. Last, irruptive finches scored low, particularly Evening Grosbeaks, which were totally missed this year.
As usual, several unusual species showed up for our count. Fortunately, many of these had been present for several days, so we knew they were here:
Emperor Goose – 1 at Dungeness Spit, first found by John Gatchet on 12/11.
Snow Goose – 2 at the Olympic Game Farm, grazing with the bison.
Black-crowned Night-Heron – 2 birds at Dungeness, present for the last 6 CBCs.
Turkey Vulture – 1 count week seen on 12/16 at 3 Crabs, by Katie and Andrew Schepers.
Pacific Golden-Plover – 1 bird with Black-bellied Plovers along Schmuck Rd, present since 12/3.
Willet – 1 at Dungeness Bay, possibly present since August. This is the second year in a row with a wintering-over Willet — could it be the same bird?
Red Phalarope – 1 seen by the boat party.
Cassin’s Auklet – 1 seen at Discovery Bay.
Glaucous Gull – 1 at Dungeness Spit.
Bohemian Waxwing – The Bird of the Year. We tallied 404, ranging from 3 Crabs to Graysmarsh, with 225 just at Jamestown. This is only the second SDCBC to record Bohemian Waxwings — last time was 1983, when they tallied 16 BOWAs.
Swamp Sparrow – 2 at Graysmarsh
Special thanks to property owners and agencies who allowed access for the count, including USFWS, Olympic Game Farm, Dungeness Farms and Habitat, Graysmarsh, Maple View Farm, Battelle, WA State Parks, WA DNR, Clallam County Parks, and more. Great thanks also to Durkee Richards for providing the offshore boat, and to Gary Poor for ferrying counters to Dungeness Spit. To our esteemed observers who came great distances to help with the count, we couldn’t do it without you. And of course huge thanks to all the great cooks who provided food for the compilation dinner. It was enjoyed by all!
Counters and feeder-watchers included: Dungeness Spit-Jamie Acker, George Gerdts, Gary Poor (boat); Dungeness Rec Area-Coleman Byrnes, Sue Nattinger, John Rehr, Sue Thompson, K.C. Nattinger, Ron Hansen, Nancy & Ken Wiersema; West Dungeness-Denny Van Horn, Dow Lambert, Shirley Anderson, Carol & Tim Fleming, Kendra Donelson, Wendy Worth, Barb Boekelheide; Three Crabs-Scott Gremel, Mark Salvadalena, Mandy Holmgren, Blaine Dalton, Lee Bowen; Jamestown-Sue Chickman, Brad & Dan Waggoner; Graysmarsh-Bob Boekelheide, Michael Barry, Ted Stadtmueller; Port Williams/WA Harbor-Bruce & Sharon Paige, Roger Hoffman, Dana Scott, Steven & Nancy Smith, Ron Miller; Battelle-Nancy Kohn, Heidi Stewart, Colleen Trestle, Kate Pullman, Kate Hall; West Sequim Bay-Jim & Audrey Gift, Bob Hutchison, Margaret Levitan, Susan Savage, Bob Blush, Carol & Bruce Von Borstel; East Sequim Bay-Judy Mullally, Dan McDougall-Treacy; Miller Peninsula-Powell Jones, Greg Voyles, Katherine Bush; Diamond Pt/Gardiner-John Gatchet, Bob Bagwell; Offshore Boat-Charlie Wright, Mike Crim, Durkee Richards (boat); Chicken Coop-Charlotte Watts; Palo Alto-Carolyn Wilcox, Lindsey Schromen-Wawrin, Kaiyote Snow, Ed Mensing, East Bell Hill-John & Diana Anderson; South Sequim-Kendra Donelson, Pat MacRobbie, Doris Causey, Bev Swaringen, Happy Valley-Peter Walker, John Acklen, Dungeness Mdws-Kristiana & Paul Nielson, Neil & Patti Hathaway; Taylor Cutoff/Fish Hatchery/Hooker-Quenn Charrier, Norrie & Barb Johnson, Sally Harris, Anna & Josie Johnson; Cassidy Ck/Robin Hill/Solmar-Barb Blackie, Heidi Pedersen; MacDonald Ck-Tom Guobis, Joan McDermott, Margie Palmer, Mike Barnes; McDonnell Ck Ranch-Barb Vanderwerf, Sarah Bird, Carol Young; West Kitchen-Dick-Betty Kramp, Carlsborg-Marie & Brian Grad, Jane Stewart, Carl Siver, Ridgeview/Hogback-Steve & Forest Koehler, Sharle Osborne, Kathe Smith, Sara Blake, Phil & Julie Roe; Blue Ribbon Farms-Pat Schoen, Janet Bruening, Janet Oja; Sequim City-Bob Iddins, Karen Parker; East of Dungeness River to Sunland-Gary Bullock, Enid & Bob Phreaner, Towne Rd Levee/Brigadoon/Kirner-Dave & Julie Jackson, Kate Goschen, Marion Rutledge; Annette Hanson, Joy Bertman, Tom & Diane Marciniec; RR Bridge Park/ODT-Mary Robson, Syrene Forsman, Jenna Ziogas; and Swans- Bob & Ann Sextro.