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Joel Geier
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The 123rd Christmas Bird Count in Oregon

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This was the “winter of the warblers” for Oregon CBCs, with 13 species discovered. The usual “hardy” wintering species, Townsend’s and Yellow-rumped warbler, were both found in better than average numbers. Numbers of the most widespread “semi-hardy” species, Orange-crowned Warbler and Common Yellowthroat, were down from last year, but Palm Warblers — which are regular on the south coast — made a strong showing with ten at Port Orford and one apiece in Coquille Valley (Bandon) and Columbia Estuary (Astoria). Three other species that nest in Oregon but usually winter far to the south were also found: Black-throated Gray Warbler (count-week in Dallas), Hermit Warbler (2 in Eugene), and Nashville Warbler (singles at Columbia Estuary, Coquille Valley, and Port Orford).

But the real surprise was how many “eastern” or boreal-nesting warbler species were discovered: a Northern Waterthrush and Lucy’s Warbler (Columbia Estuary), a Blackburnian Warbler (Corvallis), a Pine Warbler (Klamath Falls), and a bright male Black-throated Blue Warbler for Roseburg-Sutherlin. This last bird turned into a prolific fundraiser for the 2023 graduating high school class in the nearby small town of Oakland, as he stayed until mid-April and dozens of birders donated for the privilege of visiting the private rural residence where he was seen dining on insects gleaned from sapsucker sap wells.

All but one of the 47 active counts in the region took place this winter, with just one cancellation in Brownsville due to hazardous conditions after an ice storm. Sadly, that would have been the last count for the compiler, Barbara Combs, who passed away later in 2023. Her multifaceted contributions to the CBC, community science, and Oregon birding will be greatly missed.

The Baker City count in northeast Oregon resumed after a two-year pause. The Sunriver CBC — run just once previously, in January 2015 — was restarted with a remarkable 42 volunteers showing up to help. Dormant counts included Baker County (Salisbury), Coos Bay, Hood River, Illinois Valley, Reedsport, and Sisters. Yaquina Bay was back in action after a weather-induced cancellation last winter.

Waterfowl numbers were mostly typical. Greater White-fronted Goose counts were low inland though high on the north coast. Snow Goose flocks at Sauvie Island northwest of Portland continued to increase with a record high count of over 23,000, nearly doubling last winter’s total. Two Ross’s Geese were found for Corvallis. A hybrid Greater White-fronted x Cackling Goose was well-documented for Sauvie Island. Numbers of Trumpeter and Tundra swans were generally down but a “Bewick’s” Swan was found at Sauvie island.

Good numbers of Wood Ducks were found in the Willamette Valley. Wigeon numbers were within the normal range overall, but 36 Eurasian Wigeon at Tillamook Bay was a notable high count, and one at Redmond was rare for east of the Cascades. Single drakes of the Eurasian subspecies of Green-winged Teal, known as “Common Teal” but rare for the region, were found at Columbia Estuary, Gresham, and Portland.

The most unusual sea duck was a Common Eider offshore of Coquille Valley. White-winged Scoter numbers were down but Surf Scoters held steady and Black Scoters were up, bolstered by 66 at Yaquina Bay, which also recorded three Long-tailed Ducks. Red-breasted Merganser numbers were also good along the coast, and two made it inland to Sauvie Island and Prineville.

The high count for Mountain Quail was 16 at Upper Nestucca in the Coast Range. The only Greater Sage-Grouse were as count-week birds for Burns. Ashland had the only Sooty Grouse (5). Wild Turkey numbers continued to grow overall due to continued increases in western Oregon, though snowy conditions contributed to lower counts east of the Cascades.

Totals of loons, grebes and cormorants were generally up from last year, with good numbers reported from coastal counts. Port Orford had the only count-day Brown Pelican. Wintering flocks of American White Pelicans in the Willamette Valley continued to increase with a record 224 at Eugene; three showed up along the coast at Columbia Estuary. Eight American Bitterns at Summer Lake were a remarkable count for the northern Great Basin.

An immature ibis near Sutherlin stayed in the area until mid-April and eventually turned out to be a White-faced Ibis, though for the CBC it was left uncertain as Glossy Ibis could not be ruled out until it began to transition into adult plumage.

White-tailed Kites continued to be scarce with just four at Coquille Valley. An immature Swainson’s Hawk turned up near Eugene. Two Red-shouldered Hawks turned up at Malheur NWR as this species continues to expand its range east of the Cascades. Rough-legged Hawks were found in low numbers.

Plover numbers in general were down from last year, but a Semipalmated Plover turned up unexpectedly near Ashland, and an American Golden-Plover was found both for count day in Yaquina Bay and for count week in Lincoln City 20 miles to the north. Nine Lesser Yellowlegs along with 23 Greater Yellowlegs for comparison were on Sauvie Island. Two species found after being missed last year were Whimbrel (3 at Yaquina Bay) and Marbled Godwit (16 at Tillamook Bay). Surfbird numbers remained low but Black Turnstones rebounded with a high count of 77 at Tillamook Bay, along with a Rock Sandpiper. A Red Knot showed up for count week at Coquille Valley. This was a good year for Dunlin both on the coast and in the Willamette Valley, with over 6100 and 4600 at Columbia Estuary and Eugene, respectively. Southwest storm winds on the night of 26-27 December left 11 Red Phalaropes near shore at Yaquina Bay.

Alcid numbers were generally up from last year, with notable counts of 21 Marbled Murrelets at Florence, and 70 Ancient Murrelets, seven Cassin’s Auklets, and 45 Rhinoceros Auklets at Tillamook Bay, where nine Black-legged Kittiwakes also came close enough to shore to make the count. A Franklin’s Gull at Lincoln City was a rare bird for the coast at any time of year.

Remarkable numbers of Band-tailed Pigeons stayed north again including 58 at Ashland, 45 in Yamhill Valley, and 10 in Portland. Sunriver found two of the four Great Gray Owls known to be resident in the area for count day. A Long-eared Owl at Roseburg-Sutherlin was rare for the Umpqua Valley. The 32 Barred Owls on western Oregon counts reflected the continuing increase in this species west of the Cascades. No Spotted Owls were detected.

Fewer Black Phoebes were found on interior counts, but numbers continued to increase west of the Cascades. A Tropical Kingbird turned up in Florence; this species has a pattern of wandering north of its Sonoran desert breeding range in fall, but is only rarely found on CBCs. A well-documented Cassin’s Vireo in Portland was far north of its expected winter range.

Canada Jays were found in good numbers in the Coast Range. Pinyon Jays held even, thanks to 95 in Redmond. Just one Blue Jay was found, in Wallowa County. The 732 Mountain Chickadees in the newly reconstituted Sunriver count gave a big boost to the state-wide total. Nuthatch numbers up were up for all three species found in the state.

Since the recent split of the former “Winter Wren” into three species, Oregon birders have been paying closer attention to individuals that give unusual calls. This attention paid off with a count-week Winter Wren (the eastern species) in Eugene, among the above-average numbers of Pacific Wrens.

Bluebird numbers were down, particularly for Mountain Bluebirds (just 11 found statewide). Hermit Thrush numbers were up in western Oregon. Over 90,000 American Robins were tallied in Medford. Northern Mockingbirds made a good showing with 13 in Medford and single birds farther north on three Willamette Valley counts. Bohemian Waxwings made a notable southward incursion with 305 in Union County and smaller groups in Baker County, John Day, and Bend.

Port Orford accounted for 22 of the 23 Lapland Longspurs found statewide. Snow Buntings mainly stayed in the northeast corner of the state with a total of 40 in Wallowa and Union Counties, but one turned up on the coast at Yaquina Bay. American Tree Sparrows numbers were lower but six turned up in Union County. Other rare sparrows included a Clay-colored Sparrow at Columbia Estuary and single Harris’s Sparrows in Madras and Portland.

A Summer Tanager made it into count week for Portland, which also had two Western Tanagers to go with one in Port Orford. A Rusty Blackbird was found at Columbia Estuary. Klamath Falls had the state’s only Great-tailed Grackle. Three species of orioles turned up along the south coast: Orchard in Florence, Baltimore in Port Orford, and Bullock’s in Coquille Valley. Migrant finch numbers were low statewide, as Pine Siskins especially continued to be scarce.

 

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