On Saturday, Dec 19, 2015, I participated in my 22 consecutive Auburn CBC. I’m now the compiler for the count, so I also organized the count day and the compiling afterward, but from predawn until sunset, I was in birder mode.
For me, the fun part of a CBC is seeing how many species I can record in a day. Of course, my group does its best to keep track of how many of each species we encounter—we don’t, for instance, stop counting Yellow-rumped Warblers just because we get our first detection before sunrise. On this day, I had my grad student Ryan Weaver and undergrad student Hunter Walters with me. We started our count later than I have in the past because I’ve gotten tired of trying for owls in one spot on the north side of the count circle and a second on the south side. That strategy means about 45 minutes of driving around the county in the middle of the night. Instead, we now just spend more time walking around areas on the south side of the count circle where we also start our morning count.
The owling strategy worked well this year. We had two Great-horned Owls counter-singing when we got out of the car. With some work we also got Eastern Screech-owl and Barred Owl. As the eastern sky began to glow around 6am, we were in place to look for woodcock and we were not disappointed. We got a nice siloutte view of a bird flying over the wet field and dropping back into the hardwood forest across the street. Wood Ducks were flying into the beaver pond and we counted 45 before the sun rose.
It was a perfect start to the day, a degree or two below freezing but dead calm and crystal clear. We were starting the day at a marsh that has developed along the edge of a beaver pond. This little spot has gotten better and better over the past 15 years and it now hosts Virginia Rail and Sora every winter and we got both in quick succession. We also got Sedge Wren, LeConte’s Sparrow for the third time in the last four years, Common Yellowthroat, Gray Catbird, and Rusty Blackbirds—all tough birds for this count. We left the Plant World marsh as I call it having missed none of our target birds and getting several unexpected species.
LeConte's Sparrow was probably the rarest and hard-to-find species that we turned up on the count. I took this photo in the same spot as the 2015 sighting but in 2012.
We next moved down to Lee County Lake, at the SE edge of the count circle. We were disappointed to see no waterfowl on the lake, but the upland birds were great. We got every expected species plus Dark-eyed Junco, Pine Siskin, Orange-crowned Warbler, and Blue-headed Vireo. The vireo actually sang for us. Again, we got every target bird and ended up also finding Double-crested Cormorant, Ruddy Duck, and American Coot. It was not yet 9am and we had most of the possible upland songbirds on our list already.
The rest of the day was spend driving and stopping at my usual spots around the county. In western Lee County in an area of big cotton fields, we found a prodigious flock of crows. Ryan and I grappled with how many were present. The entire flock was never in view at once. Some were appearing and disappearing on the other side of a hill and some were back in some trees. We finally settled on 320 crows and we estimated that 90 were Fish Crows, it was probably closer to 500 crows but we wanted to be conservative. Some years it is hard to find one fish crow, so 90 was an impressive count.
Late in the day, we met Barry Fleming to go into the Wood Duck Heritage Preserve (otherwise known as the Opelika Sewage Lagoons). Some years this wetland holds hundreds of ducks of half a dozen species but on this day we found only a small number of Ring-necked Ducks and Bufflehead. There was not even a single Wood Duck. We did get Marsh Wren and Winter Wren for our 88th and 89th species on the day.
Eighty-nine species is a big total for an inland location away from a big reservoir. It is among the highest totals I’ve had for the Auburn count and we did it with very low numbers of waterfowl.
The entire group effort turned up 95 species, including two Baltimore Orioles at the same side yard where up to four Baltimore Orioles have been spending the winter for the last several years.
A male Baltimore Oriole on the same Auburn feeder where two female orioles were recorded for the Christmas Bird Count.
Below is the combined total for all 12 groups who contributed to the 2015 Auburn Christmas bird count: