Warm weather and wind hamper Yakima Valley CBC

It was an odd Saturday morning on December 29 that greeted the birders on the Yakima Valley Christmas Bird Count. Weather conditions made it seem like an early spring day: high temp. of 57°, low 29°, no snow on the ground, and only the shallowest little pools of water frozen but soon melted as the day warmed. If it hadn’t been for the wind that picked up as the day went on, it would have been very comfortable and totally contrary to what our CBCers usually experience.

The 57° high temperature is possibly the highest in the history of the Yakima Valley CBC. I checked my spreadsheets back to 2000 and found there was only one year when the high temperature was over 50°: in 2017 the high was 52°. Only two other years was the high in the 40s. Are we now seeing the effects of global warming in our Christmas Bird Count data?

At the end of the day, we counted 85 species, with two subspecies, plus three ‘count week’ species. We also added two new species to the all-time count list. The Blue Jay that has been in the area just north of Randall Park since the end of October was found by Jeff Kozma’s group and a Say’s Phoebe that was seen in Terrace Heights by Joe and Karen Zook’s team were new additions. Say’s Phoebe, though, had been seen two times as a count week bird. A Canada Jay was seen at the Department of Wildlife headquarters on S. 24th Ave. two days before the count and was also a new count week species. The new additions bring the Yakima Valley CBC all-time total to 157 plus three count week species.

Probably the unusual sighting of the day was a Rock Wren that was found in Terrace Heights in a gravel parking lot by the Zooks and Mike Roper.

Other highlighted sightings were:

We set new highs for numbers of individuals seen for Cackling Goose (89), Northern Shoveler (55) and California Scrub-Jay (78). The one American Coot seen by Scott Downes was well below the average of about 30 we usually find. One would have expected that with a mild winter coots would be abundant.

One species we usually see was missing this year: American Dipper. Perhaps the absence of ice has allowed them to stay along the mountain rivers instead of wintering in the valley.

Thank you to the 25 participants and four feeder-watchers and to Andy and Ellen Stepniewski for hosting the compilation dinner. Ellen’s soups were the highlight of the dinner!

The warmest temperature I can remember on one of our CBCs was on the Toppenish count 10-15 years ago when the high was just over 60°. This was the day after the high on the Yakima count was in the mid-thirties but it was a very foggy, miserable day for birding.

- Denny Granstrand