2019 Toppenish and Yakima Valley Christmas Bird Count Recap

Fog Hampers Efforts of Birders on Toppenish NWR CBC

FOG! Thick fog was the theme of this year’s Toppenish Christmas Bird Count. On Saturday, December 14th, 2019, eighteen courageous observers braved horrendous viewing conditions to spend a full day counting birds. Andy Stepniewski remarked after the count that these were the worst viewing conditions he has witnessed since he started the count in 1983. Now that’s saying something! As you will see in the following report, this fog had a big impact on the count’s numbers.

Despite all of this doom and gloom, I think we all still enjoyed a day spent outdoors, counting birds. I want to thank all of this year’s participants for joining us, and want to thank Ron and Debbie Brown for graciously hosting the post-count dinner at their lovely home. Happy New Year to all, and good birding!

In spite of the poor viewing conditions, a number of notable species were recorded on the count. A Wild Turkey, four Steller’s Jays, five Mountain Chickadees, an Orange-crowned Warbler, two American Tree Sparrows, three Fox Sparrows, a White-throated Sparrow and nine Pine Siskins are all species that are not reliably recorded annually.

American Wigeon, Ring-necked Pheasant, Red-tailed Hawk, Mourning Dove, Western Meadowlark and Brewer’s Blackbird were all found at record lows for the count. Additionally, Black-billed Magpie, Northern Shrike, Northern Harrier, California Quail and Green-winged Teal were found in their second lowest numbers ever. Several species that are normally seen weren’t recorded at all, such as Merlin and Bald Eagle. Many of these counts we can attribute to the weather; however, a few species might be undergoing legitimate declines. Western Meadowlark for example has seen a marked decline since 2012, while Black-billed Magpie and Mourning Dove have also declined on the count in recent years. Hopefully these trends will not continue, but these will be trends to watch as we enter a new decade, perhaps one that will see unprecedented changes in our native flora and fauna.

Most years it seems that we have more high counts than low counts; this was not the case this year. This year a quarter of the 80 species recorded were found to have one of their five lowest counts over the history of the count. This goes to say that many species were found in much lower numbers than they are usually found. We had dramatically low counts of species that are normally identified visually, such as ducks and raptors. Only two species, Hooded Merganser and Spotted Towhee, were found as high counts this year. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this year marked the fewest individuals ever observed on a Toppenish Christmas Bird Count (7,223).

-Eric Heisey

50th Yakima Valley CBC finds high species total, lower number of individual birds

After the grim viewing conditions on the Toppenish NWR count, YVAS birders were worried it might not be any better on the 50th Yakima Valley Christmas Bird Count. We worried needlessly. The weather almost could hardly have been better for a Christmas Bird Count. Through the day it was partly cloudy with mild temperatures. Wonderfully mild winter birding weather!

The birds also cooperated. Our group of 19 birders scoured the count circle and found 93 species totaling 14346 individuals. The species total is the fourth highest ever for the Yakima count but the total individuals was 3000 below the average of the past ten CBCs.

The total of individual birds seen might be signaling an alarming trend in Yakima Valley wintering bird numbers. The 14346 birds seen is the third lowest total in the past 35 of our CBCs. The second and third lowest totals were three and four years ago. Does this correspond with the article published in the journal Science that showed the number of individual birds in North American has dropped by three billion in the past fifty years? That is hard to tell at this time.

On the brighter side, we found nice list of birds that are unusual for our count:

Joe and Karen Zook had what is probably the first “four-falcon day” for the Yakima CBC, finding American Kestrel, Merlin, Peregrine Falcon and Prairie Falcon on their Terrace Heights route, a noteworthy achievement!

Thank you to all of the participants who have made another fine contribution to the Christmas Bird Count. And a big thank you to Andy and Ellen Stepniewski for hosting the compilation dinner! And another to Ellen for the delicious soup she made.

-Denny Granstrand