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Mike Busam
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The 123rd Christmas Bird Count in Ohio

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Welcome to a review of Ohio’s participation in the 123rd National Audubon Society Christmas Bird Count. We have historical data for a total of 74 Ohio Christmas Bird Counts. During the 2022-2023 count period, Ohio observers participated in 69 different CBCs. We’d like to welcome a new Ohio Christmas Bird Count: Raccoon Creek. Raccoon Creek entered Ohio CBC history on December 31, 2022, with 14 field birders and nine feeder counters. We hope everyone enjoyed themselves and the Raccoon Creek CBC continues to grow and to send in their annual report.

Temperatures in the 2022-2023 CBC season were a little cooler than last year. The average December daytime temperature in the contiguous United States was 0.6 degrees Fahrenheit above average, based on the 128-year record kept by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. While parts of the nation experienced higher than normal temperatures, the Midwest region was slightly below normal (NOAA). But this “slightly below normal” includes a nasty winter blast right before Christmas that delivered white-outs and sub-zero wind-chills. Far fewer Ohio counts reported rain this year, which tracks with the slightly below normal precipitation recorded in the state. Ohio was 1.15 inches below its average December precipitation level. A bit of trivia reported by NOAA is that Cleveland had its 11th driest December since 1871 (NOAA).

A total of 2033 counters took to the field in Ohio CBCs this season. The median number of field counters in Ohio was 23. Participation ranged from 127 field counters to two. Leading the way in participation was Cuyahoga Falls with 127 birders. Next highest was Columbus with 94. There was only one count in the 80s: Lakewood, which put 81 birders in the field. Three counts were in the 70s: Wilmot (72), Ragersville (73), and Millersburg (77). Just two counts broke 60: Greene County (61), and Cincinnati (65). Four counts were in the 50s, and four counts reached the 40s. Ten different counts had participants numbering in the 30s. Ohio counters walked 2474 miles; drove 17,452 miles; and biked 151 miles. Thank you everyone for your efforts!

Ohio counters tallied 827,611 individual birds during the 123rd CBC period. Cumulatively, Ohio CBCs recorded 160 different species, down from 167 the previous year. Last year’s top five most common species were European Starling (219,110), Ring-billed Gull (93,942), Mallard (81,735), Canada Goose (60,727), and American Robin (45,597). American Crow was in at a close-run sixth place (45,202). Last year, your faithful scribe predicted that one day, the motor-boating efforts of Toledo’s indefatigable pelagic birders would push Lesser Scaup into the top five. And it happened this year. The top five most tallied species for the 123rd CBC in Ohio are: European Starling (189,322), Ring-billed Gull (75,023), Canada Goose (64,042) American Crow (49,484), and finally, Lesser Scaup (46,872; 45,180 of which were tallied in Toledo). Sorry, Mallard and American Robin. They’ll be back soon enough.

As for birds that aren’t coming back soon enough, no Northern Bobwhite were reported this year, though Portsmouth recorded it as a count week species. Rudolph reported the state’s only Ruffed Grouse. Gypsum and Wilmot reported single Eurasian Collared-Doves. Ohio CBCs reported 13 last year. If you were a EUCD invasion sceptic 20 years ago, you were right, and the rest of us were wrong. No one reported a Northern Saw-whet Owl this year, though countless thousands of potential roost sites and cedars were scoured by field parties.  

I’m curious what readers look for when they review the Ohio CBC results. I’ve been writing this annual recap for a few years, and I try to look at a different aspect of the count each year. If there’s something about Ohio CBCs that you think is overlooked or of particular interest to you, I’d be curious to hear from you. You can reach me at [email protected]. In the meantime, let’s look at some of the rarities, one-offs, and “that’s interestings” of this year’s Christmas Bird Count.

Blue-winged Teal was an interesting find for Cuyahoga Falls. We mentioned Toledo’s scaup numbers above, and it makes one wonder how many more waterfowl and waterbirds Ohio counts would get if they could regularly bird the open waters of Lake Erie. But that is rather a challenge in December and January! So we shouldn’t be greedy. Lakewood reported all four of Ohio’s Harlequin Ducks, as well as 11 of Ohio’s 28 Surf Scoters. Surf Scoter was also recorded on the inland counts of Hoover, Mansfield, Caesar Creek-Spring Valley, and Canton, while Chandlserville had a count week bird. Lakewood also had the count’s only White-winged Scoter. Hoover had Ohio’s only Black Scoter. Combining for five Long-tailed Ducks were the Lake Erie Islands (4) and Cleveland (1) counts. Aside from a count week bird at Paint Creek, six Red-necked Grebes were scattered among five northern counts, with Ashtabula, Cuyahoga Falls, Elyria-Lorain (2), Lake Erie Islands, and Lakewood reporting. Single Great Egrets were reported from Tiffin, Hamilton-Fairfield, Firelands, and Buckeye Lake. Brown Family Environmental Center had a count week egret. Twenty-five of the state’s 27 Black-crowned Night-Herons were reported at Toledo. Tiffin and Hamilton-Fairfield each reported single herons. Caesar Creek-Spring Valley documented an Osprey; Millersburg a Golden Eagle. Toledo had a Pomarine Jaeger (I imagine sighted by the crew on the boat?). Single Glaucous Gulls were on the Toledo and Ottawa NWR counts. Six Iceland Gulls were found as individuals at Mentor, Lakewood, Grand Rapids-Waterville, and Ashtabula, and a pair at Canton.  Our only Rufous Hummingbird was hosted by the Portsmouth CBC. Northern Shrike was a welcome singleton on five counts: Caesar Creek-Spring Valley, Canton, Chandlersville, Ottawa NWR, and Tiffin.

For sake of argument, let’s consider the above species birds that tend to stand out in their respective habitats—though Black-crowned Night-Herons can hunker and down and hide, they’re still rather large birds. Getting literally into the weeds and brush and mud we find our rails, shorebirds, the odd owl, wrens, sparrows, and the unusual warbler, as examples. Virginia Rails were reported singly on four counts: Wilmot, Tri-Reservoir, Millersburg, and Mansfield. Spotted Sandpiper (Western Hamilton County), Dunlin (Ashtabula), Purple Sandpiper (Ashtabula), were three one-off shorebirds this year. Twelve Barn Owls were distributed among Wilmot (4), Ragersville (4), Millersburg (2), and Fayette County (2). Barn Owl makes this list because it’s usually a “wink-wink, nod-nod” species that not everyone can wander in and see. And Long-eared Owl, as owls go, requires some searching. Ohio birders reported individuals at Ragersville and Wilmot. Depending on your local birding scene, Long-eared Owls might also be on the “wink-wink, nod-nod” list. Fish Crow: Cleveland had one. This is a species that is roughly the size of an American Crow, larger than a Common Grackle, but nowhere near as large as a Common Raven (of which Cadiz had 8 of Ohio’s 17. Beaver Creek an interesting SW Ohio report). Fish Crow makes this list because it was probably documented by call as well as sight. Fish Crows have also started breeding in the Cleveland area in recent years. It usually takes some walking and searching to find Marsh Wrens. Wooster had four of Ohio’s seven. Adams County had one of four Brown Thrashers in Ohio. Here’s the mix of non-Yellow-rumped Warblers for the season: Orange-crowned (1), Common Yellowthroat (4), Northern Parula (1), Palm Warbler (1), Pine Warbler (8). Quail Hollow-Hartville reported our only Oregon Junco. Columbus had a Lincoln’s Sparrow. A single Rose-breasted Grosbeak was a treat for Western Hamilton County; as was a Dickcissel for Mansfield and a Brewer’s Blackbird for Grand Rapids-Waterville. We had one Common Redpoll reported this year, from Cuyahoga Falls. Pine Siskin numbers seemed a little low. Ohio Reported 12, and Hocking Hills a single bird. Birders usually come across more in that area, but you can only count what’s there. Hopefully more siskins will be around next year. What Hocking Hills lacked in Pine Siskins they might have made up for in Evening Grosbeaks. Hocking Hills had 31 of Ohio’s 50. New Lexington had 12. Mohican State Forest a count week grosbeak.

Thank you to everyone who participated in the 123rd National Audubon Society Christmas Bird Count. The CBC season is important to the birding community and is arguably our longest-running community tradition. Let’s hope for good health and good birds for everyone in 2023!

We would like to thank the National Audubon Society for making their compilation of CBC data available to us. Visit the Christmas Bird Count web site at http://www.audubon.org/conservation/science/christmas-bird-count. All the data, including historical data, is available online at http://netapp.audubon.org/CBCObservation/.

We would also like to thank Craig Caldwell who is the NAS CBC editor for Ohio and who provided the Ohio CBC compilation data used in this article. The annual CBC recap would take ages to write without Craig’s work and assistance, not to mention his helpful annotations! I cannot thank Craig enough for his assistance and organization. The 123rd CBC will be Craig’s last as the Ohio CBC editor. Craig is handing off the NAS Ohio CBC editorial duties to Marc Hanneman, the compiler for the Ashtabula count. It’s a lot of work to keep track of the 70-odd counts that a typical year brings us, and Craig and Mark have worked together to make the transition as smooth as possible. Thank you for your work, Craig—it’s greatly appreciated—and I look forward to working with Marc both as a CBC compiler and perhaps as writer of this yearly review for The Ohio Cardinal.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. (NOAA) National Centers for Environmental Information. “National Climate Report, December 2022.”

https://www.ncei.noaa.gov/access/monitoring/monthly-report/national/202212 (accessed 25 March 2023).

 

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