Monday, January 13, 2014

2013 Morro Bay Christmas Bird Count Results

The 60th Morro Bay Christmas Bird Count held on December 14, 2013 recorded a total of 203 species. Mild conditions throughout the day contributed to the overall count success.  The number of participants increased again this year with 110 birders scouring the count circle (thank you to everyone that participated!).  They were divided into a maximum of 53 parties that spent 82.75 hours driving 385.5 miles, 194.5 hours walking 126 miles, 7.85 hours boating 12.95 miles, 4 hours bicycling 9 miles, 4.25 hours at feeders, and 6.5 hours and 8.6 miles owling (foot & car).  The total of 52,927 birds recorded is 4,753 more than the average since 1980.  One new species, Grasshopper Sparrow, was added to the count this year and three additional species were recorded during count week, two of them new for the count circle (Black Vulture and Western Kingbird).  The count’s cumulative species total (1948-2013) is now 316 species.

The most notable species this year (recorded on 10 counts or less since 1980) were Common Merganser (9th), Bald Eagle (4th), Lesser Yellowlegs (6th), Eastern Phoebe (6th), Common Raven (4th), Barn Swallow (8th), Tennessee Warbler (8th), Grasshopper Sparrow (1st), Nelsons Sparrow (9th), and Great-tailed Grackle (7th).  Other rarities of note were Eurasian Wigeon (1 male), Mountain Bluebird (5), Black-throated Gray Warbler (1), Hermit Warbler (3), Wilson’s Warbler (1) and White-throated Sparrow (9). Species seen during count week, but not on count day, were Black Vulture, Western Kingbird, and Phainopepla.

There were a few notable counts and misses. Brant numbers were low for the second year with only 537, or 30% of average, and notable high counts were 166 Wild Turkeys and 111 Nutmeg Mannikins. In the almost missed group (only one recorded) were Short-billed Dowitcher (surely many more on the bay…), Bonaparte’s Gull, Herring Gull, Tree Swallow, Red-breasted Nuthatch, and Golden-crowned Kinglet.  The biggest miss was Barn Owl, which was last missed in 1974!

So, how do we compare to other counts around the U.S. and in California?  Apparently the top count in the nation was once again Mad Island Marsh in coastal Texas with 228 species. In California, Santa Barbara was the top count in California with 222 species, followed by San Diego with 215 species, and then it appears Morro Bay at 203 species. Another coastal Texas count reportedly came in at 212 species. All of these numbers (and rankings) are tentative, but Morro Bay once again appears to be is in the top five nationwide for bird diversity.

Thanks to the all the participants that contributed to this year’s success.  Special thanks to Bert and Elaine Townsend for excellently coordinating the count registrations, to the area leaders Maggie Smith, Mike Stiles, Eric Weir, Kaaren Perry, and Bill Bouton for organizing the participants, Connie Harms for helping track our progress during count day, and again to Maggie Smith for all the effort she put into organizing the count.

Complete count details should be available on the Audubon Website - http://birds.audubon.org/data-research - after Feb 15th.

-Tom Edell, Count Compiler