Auburn Christmas Bird Count

Auburn Christmas Bird Count

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:

Pied-Billed Grebe

21

Horned Grebe

2

Double Crested Cormorant

4

Great Blue Heron

9

Great Egret

2

Canada Goose

254

Mallard

10

Ring-necked Duck

25

Wood Duck

51

Ruddy Duck

38

Bufflehead

40

Hooded Merganser

27

Turkey Vulture

130

Black Vulture

93

Bald Eagle

4

Cooper's Hawk

5

Red-tailed Hawk

18

Red-shouldered Hawk

16

Am. Kestrel

4

American Coot

1

Virginia Rail

2

Sora

4

Killdeer

34

American Woodcock

1

Common Snipe

2

Spotted Sandpiper

1

Ring-billed Gull

1

Rock Dove/Pigeon

178

Mourning Dove

85

Eurasian Collared Dove

10

Common Ground Dove

1

Screech Owl

4

Great Horned Owl

4

Barred Owl

2

Belted Kingfisher

8

Northern Flicker

21

Pileated Woodpecker

14

Red-bellied Woodpecker

52

Red-headed Woodpecker

10

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

12

Downy Woodpecker

15

Hairy Woodpecker

1

Eastern Phoebe

36

Horned Lark

15

Blue Jay

81

Fish Crow

93

American Crow

585

Carolina Chickadee

66

Tufted Titmouse

61

Brown-headed Nuthatch

29

Brown Creeper

2

Winter Wren

2

House Wren

5

Sedge Wren

2

Marsh Wren

1

Carolina Wren

48

Gray Catbird

1

N. Mockingbird

63

Brown Thrasher

17

American Robin

34

Hermit Thrush

9

Eastern Bluebird

154

Golden-crowned Kinglet

13

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

83

Water Pipit

18

Cedar Waxwing

10

Loggerhead Shrike

7

E. Starling

560

Blue-headed Vireo

3

Yellow-rumped Warbler

110

Palm Warbler

3

Orange-crowned Warbler

3

Pine Warbler

36

Common Yellowthroat

6

House Sparrow

17

Baltimore Oriole

2

E. Meadowlark

20

Red-winged Blackbird

52

Common Grackle

857

Rusty Blackbird

18

Brown-headed Cowbird

57

N. Cardinal

102

Rufous-sided Towhee

32

Savanah Sparrow

52

Vesper Sparrow

1

Dark-eyed Junco

41

Chipping Sparrow

134

Field Sparrow

16

White-throated Sparrow

31

Swamp Sparrow

46

Song Sparrow

86

LeConte's Sparrow

1

House Finch

49

Am. Goldfinch

55

Pine Siskin

3

Total species: 95

Total individuals 4833