2021 Toppenish and Yakima Valley Christmas Bird Count Recap

Toppenish CBC Summary

Things continued to be a little different on this year’s Toppenish Christmas Bird Count, our second in the COVID-19 era. The continuing pandemic led to some logistical challenges, such as the cancellation of our pre-count breakfast and post-count dinner. However, we still enjoyed a great count day, with relatively mild, overcast weather. Last year’s count enjoyed unseasonably warm and beautiful weather, while this year we returned to the more expected gray of winter, with most still bodies of water at least partially frozen.

Fourteen eager birders volunteered to help conduct this year’s Toppenish CBC. For the second consecutive year the count found a high number of noteworthy bird species, and managed to record high counts of several species. Rare species for the count included the first count record of Red-breasted Sapsucker, Anna’s Hummingbird (2nd count record), Wild Turkey (3rd), California Scrub-Jay (5th), Swamp Sparrow (6th), Harris’s Sparrow (9th), and Say’s Phoebe (9th). Other species of sub-annual occurrence found on this year’s count were Peregrine Falcon, Western Screech-Owl, Steller’s Jay, Hermit Thrush, Orange-crowned Warbler, American Tree Sparrow, Fox Sparrow, and Pine Siskin. New high counts this year included Northern Shoveler (84), American Coot (358), Common Raven (248), American Tree Sparrow (10), and Brown-headed Cowbird (272), while counts of Short-eared Owl (6) and Harris’s Sparrow (2) tied previous high counts. Several other species were found in good numbers this year, including the count’s second highest totals of Ring-necked Duck (300), Ruby-crowned Kinglet (50), and Lincoln’s Sparrow (13), and the highest count of House Finches (1502) since 2006. Also encouraging was a good count of 264 Mourning Dove, the highest count since 2016, perhaps proffering a rebound of this species for this species with a cyclically oscillating population pattern. You may recall that last year I raised concern that Eurasian Collared Dove may be negatively impacting their populations, so it is great to have found a good number of Mourning Doves this year!

There were only a few notably low counts this year. The biggest miss of the count was Rock Wren, which was not found on the count for the first time in the last decade. The overall count of American Robin (167; average is 457) was low again this year following the second lowest count last year, with over 50% of this year’s robins being found on a single route. Lastly, numbers of American Goldfinch (119) were down again this year from the average count of 220. We have found below-average counts of American Goldfinch on 8 of the last 10 counts now.

Overall, it was a great year for the Toppenish CBC! We found 92 species on this year’s count, tying our second highest species total for the count. We were 150 individuals above average for the count, with a total of 19,602 total individual birds being counted this year.

Big thanks go out to all our fantastic route leaders and volunteer bird counters! We would not be able to hold this count without your help and support, and we at the Yakima Audubon Society are all tremendously grateful for your time and effort. Hopefully things will be more “normal” on next year’s count as we continue to battle the COVID-19 pandemic. Stay safe everyone, and have a fantastic 2022!

Happy New Year to all!

—Eric Heisey

Yakima CBC Summary

As Eric mentioned, COVID’s effects on our lives extended to the Christmas Bird Counts again this year. The eight routes on the Yakima Valley count were done by the route leaders and people they felt comfortable spending the day with. To make matters worse, four of our eight route leaders were working or traveling and missed the count for the first time in many years.

Two of the vacant routes were taken by groups doing those routes for the first time, a difficult task indeed. Sarah Shippen, Gene Miliczky, Kathy Howell, and Joe Howell filled in on Route 4 and did a superb job. On Route 5, Laurie Ness, Patrick Paulson, and Lisa Hill came up from the Tri-Cities and contributed mightily to the success of the CBC. On a third route that was without a team leader (or team, for that matter), Karen and Joe Zook took time from their Terrace Heights route to cover Sportsman State Park and came up with one of the banner birds of the count.

Our twenty CBCers, plus three feeder watchers, braved some cold weather and found 86 species and 16297 individuals. The 86 species is at about the 20-year average for the count and the number of individual birds seen beat four of the last five years. The fact that we had one route completely unbirded and a second one only partially birded might have had something to do with the lower species count compared to the past few year’s totals but we do expect to see the species total fluctuate annually.

The “bird of the count” would have to be a Williamson’s Sapsucker that was found at Fullbright Park in Union Gap by Lisa Hill, Laurie Ness, and Patrick Paulson. This is a new species for the count and one that was totally unexpected. It had drilled numerous sap holes in a fir tree and was evidently planning on staying a while. It should probably have been wintering in California, southern Arizona, or New Mexico, or into the mountains of Mexico. Also in Fullbright Park was a Northern Saw-whet Owl. Another woodpecker making an appearance was a Red-breasted Sapsucker found by Karen and Joe Zook in Sportsman State Park. It was the eleventh sighting of this species since 2004 on our CBC. One had not been seen, though, for the previous 35 counts.

Our birders found 19 species of waterfowl including Greater White-fronted Geese, Snow Geese (13 birds), and Trumpeter Swan (8 birds). A Herring Gull was seen, flying over the Yakima River, for the first time since 1993. A Peregrine Falcon was seen in Terrace Heights for the 3rd year in a row. Two Cassin’s Finch were the big surprises in the passerine category, appearing for our count for the 5th time.

I want to thank all of the people who took part in this Christmas Bird Count, especially those doing routes for the first time. Without enthusiastic birders, a Christmas Count could not be a success.

—Denny Granstrand