2022 Toppenish and Yakima Valley Christmas Bird Count Reports

Toppenish Bird Count, December 17th, 2022

This year’s Toppenish Christmas Bird Count was the third of the COVID-19 era, and at last things fell back to some semblance of normalcy. For the first time since the start of the pandemic we were able to host a pre-count breakfast and post-count dinner again! We needed this boost as the bird counting was not without its challenges. We battled icy temperatures, completely frozen bodies of water, and difficulties securing access from the Yakama Nation to count the Dry Creek route, which typically harbors a few unique species such as Canyon Wren and Bushtit. Our inability to cover this route combined with very little open water surely cost us a few bird species, but we had a great count all the same.

Twelve birders ventured into the cold on December 17th, 2022. We found a good diversity of waterfowl, despite so much frozen water, with twenty species of ducks recorded. However, our numbers were low, as we recorded an all-time low count of 484 Mallards (average is 3,760) and found only single-digit numbers of nine of those twenty species.

Interestingly, there were several unusual waterbirds for the count, as we recorded Snow Goose (4th count record), Trumpeter Swan (5th), Canvasback (count week), Greater Scaup, Horned Grebe (CW, 3rd occurrence), two Great Egrets (4th) and Doublecrested Cormorant (CW). Other species of sub-annual occurrence found on this year’s count were Rock Wren, California Scrub-Jay (found on two routes), Fox Sparrow, American Tree Sparrow, and Yellowheaded Blackbird.

Another trend this year was high numbers of raptors and ravens. We recorded high counts of Bald Eagle (21), Red-tailed Hawk (221) and Common Raven (335), while also observing more Rough-legged Hawks (12) than we had since 2000 and more Northern Harriers (66) than since 2014. Surely these counts must correspond with increased food availability, as the eagles and ravens were observed feasting on dead wild horses which had perished due to a combination of overpopulation-driven starvation and the prolonged period of cold with ample snow. The other raptor species must be capitalizing on rodents that must be absent elsewhere in eastern Washington this winter, as raptor numbers well below average have been noted in places like the Horse Heaven Hills and Waterville Plateau where species like Rough-legged Hawk are typically common.

The CBC also recorded new high counts of Hooded Merganser (29; the third year in a row with a high count) and Spotted Towhee (31) this year. We noted the highest count of White-crowned Sparrows (1566) in 30 years, as well as huge numbers of House Finches (1628) for the second consecutive year. Species found in below average numbers were Black-capped Chickadee (3; ties low count), American Robin (221; 4th consecutive below-average tally), and American Goldfinch (50; the lowest count since 1983, the first year of the Toppenish CBC).

Overall, it was a good year for the Toppenish CBC despite the challenges. We found 81 species on this year’s count and added three more count week species. We counted 14,752 individuals, 4,731 below our 39-year average, likely due to the low numbers of waterfowl. Of the 81 species observed on count day, 20 were seen only on one route.

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. Stay safe everyone and have a fantastic 2023! Happy New Year to all!

-Eric Heisey, Toppenish CBC Compiler

Yakima Bird Count, December 31st, 2022

The Yakima Christmas Bird Count was conducted by 19 observers worked in 10 teams, plus we had 2 feeder watchers. The morning started out with a thick fog layer, especially along the Yakima River and lowlands. The fog stayed throughout the day in some areas but cleared to partly sunny in others. Many of the ponds and lakes were frozen, but where there were spots of open water, and birds utilized these small spaces well, as noted by the waterfowl numbers below. This was the first year after the start of COVID that the count returned to normal routine, with both a pre-count breakfast and a post-count dinner. It was great to be able to socialize with fellow counters again. The 21 observers found 90 species and 16,596 individuals. The 90 species is just slightly higher than recent years, but much higher than the all-time average of 74 species. The number of birds was higher than average by about 1,300 birds. There were some notable trends, such as excellent numbers and species of waterfowl.

The count recorded 21 species of waterfowl including high counts of Trumpeter Swan (16) and many diving ducks (Ring-necked Duck, Bufflehead, Common and Barrow’s Goldeneye, Common Merganser). The count also recorded some unusual waterfowl: Greater White-fronted Goose (Yakima River at Selah), Snow Goose (Union Gap), and Eurasian Wigeon (Hwy. 12 near Yakima River). Other unusual waterbirds found on the count were Double-crested Cormorant and Horned Grebe.

Owls were represented by 3 species: Great Horned, Barred, and Northern Saw-whet. The cold seemed to have taken a toll on our over-wintering Anna’s Hummingbird with only 5 birds recorded, our lowest total in the last five years and opposite of the increasing trend we had observed prior to the cold weather. California Scrub-Jays continued to increase, with an all-time high count of 88 birds. Thrushes and waxwings were well represented with all species at or above their averages and Townsend’s Solitaire tied the all-time high count of 4 birds. Spotted Towhee also showed up in abundance with a high count of 97 birds. The count was rounded out with 2 Yellow-headed Blackbirds among the blackbird flock in Union Gap and an impressive 29 Myrtle subspecies of Yellowrumped Warbler were noted along the Poppoff Trail in Union Gap, a locally common subspecies that is otherwise rare-to-absent in many other areas of Yakima.

Thank you to all of the counters who participated and your effort. I would like to end with a notable statistic that summarizes the effort well. Combined, counters walked an estimated 40 miles. That equates to an average of 4 miles per team, with some teams walking 6-8 miles. Thank you to all for your efforts!

-Scott Downes, Yakima CBC Compiler