Tuesday, February 24, 2015

147 Species - A NEW RECORD!

A total of 147 species were tallied for the count this year, breaking the old record of 142 set in 2012! Below is a narrative of the highlights, followed by a listing of just the statistics. Thanks again to all those participants who put in the effort to count birds in this remote area. I'm sure we can all agree it's well worth it!

Panorama of awe-inspiring Atascosa Mountains on CBC day. Photo by Jake Mohlmann


It was 12:01 a.m. when we were hiking around the rocky rim of Pena Blanca Lake and heard the repeated rising "weeeeeeeia" of a Great Horned Owl quickly followed by its companion's familiar tooted, "Who's awake, you two?" These were a pair of 11 that were detected this year. Not a cloud in the sky and nothing but bright stars quickly morphed into an overcast outing as a smaller contestant started to sound from across the lake in a guise of high-pitched "tut, tut, tuts." A Western Screech Owl finally bounced its ball from afar confirming its identification. Six species of owls were counted this year. Both a single Barn Owl and one Short-eared Owl decided to find refuge in Bellota Canyon, as did a pair of Golden Eagles making a total of 12 for the day. Jalisco and Apache Canyons provided 2 Peregrine Falcons, while Bear Valley Ranch hosted a nice Merlin.

Bear Grass Tank again contributed a nice suite of 13 waterfowl species with such birds as Blue-winged Teal, Lesser Scaup, and Bufflehead. All ducks were very wary this year, and hunters were encountered at water spots throughout the day. This area also hosted good numbers of sparrows which were lacking in most areas throughout the day. It also produced a Sage Thrasher, last seen on the count in 1989. Their non-avian highlight, though, was a hooded skunk. At Arivaca Lake the ducks flushed immediately when the group got in their boat. Thanks to the keen eyed observers here a few notables were spotted on the wing including the count's only Redhead, Canvasback, and Wood Duck. The road into California Gulch hosted a pair of Least Grebes on the pool below the dam.

Least Grebe on the way into California Gulch. Photo by Keith Kamper

Cedar and Bartolo Canyons hosted a Cassin's Finch which are more common this year in Southeast Arizona than usual.

Oro Blanco Wash had a Red-breasted X Red-naped Sapsucker hybrid but only Upper Sycamore Canyon could produce a pure Red-breasted Sapsucker for the list.

Perhaps it's no surprise that California Gulch hosted some exciting species including a trio of vireos; Cassin’s, Plumbeous, and Hutton’s. Not only is it the hotspot for Five-Striped Sparrows in the monsoon season, it's also the best place to see the species in winter. Six of these rarities were seen at the bottom of the Gulch that added greatly to the total of 8, a new CBC high count for the nation.

Five-striped Sparrow in California Gulch. Photo by Patty Tersey

This area also had three gnatcatcher species with the most exciting being one Black-capped Gnatcatcher (BCGN), of which a total of 3 were tallied for the day. BCGN was also seen in Rock Corral Canyon.

Black-capped Gnatcatcher in California Gulch. Photo by Keith Kamper

Sycamore Canyon is perhaps the most popular and productive spot in the CBC circle for Mexican vagrants. It was covered in it's entirety by nine intrepid souls. Upper Sycamore produced 1 of only 2 Whiskered Screech Owls for the count along with an amazing 10 Red-naped Sapsuckers. Middle Sycamore held 3 Elegant Trogons as well as one Northern Pgymy-Owl A good berry crop aided in producing 64 Western Bluebirds, 16 Townsend Solitaires, and 30 Hermit Thrushes there. Three Painted Redstarts is a good number for anywhere, but two areas each had 3, the other area being East Ruby Road. Lower Sycamore Canyon added the other 2 Five-striped Sparrows detected on the count. Other surprises down by the border included a Grasshopper Sparrow and a silent "Western” Flycatcher. Further east along the southern edge of the circle a Baird's Sparrow was well spotted in a grassy area along the Summit Motorway.

Abert's Towhees can be difficult to locate within the count circle, but a total of 3 were produced this year.

In upper Chimney Canyon traveling with a flock of 4 Cedar Waxwings was a lovely Evening Grosbeak, possibly from a Mexican population. Pine Siskins were scattered here and there throughout the circle.

Montezuma Quail weren’t as prevalent during the CBC this year, but a total of 83 were still found. They were mostly hanging out along the hike into the remote Pine Canyon. Interestingly, this area hosts the only Chihuahua Pines in the circle. In addition to the quail, it also produced 2 out of the 3 Northern Pygmy-Owls.

Two people hiked up to the top of Atascosa Lookout this year. It is been four years since a severe fire whipped through this area leaving it nearly devoid of birds and bird habitat. It was decided to see what was up there after some recent reports that there was a lot of bird activity near the peak. The Crissal Thrasher, Fox Sparrow, Green-tailed Towheesand Spotted Towhees all lend support that the scrubby undergrowth is coming back nicely.

Heading to the east side of the Atascosa Mountains, Rock Corral Canyon was ripe with berries and harbored at least 56 Hermit Thrushes, 4 Hepatic Tanagers, 6 Green-tailed Towhees, 13 Spotted Towhees, and 26 Canyon Towhees. A Band-tailed Pigeon was observed here, and in other areas within the circle, bringing the total to 6. In nearby Peck Canyon the group found some eastern winter visitors to the tune of a very vocal Winter Wren and White-throated and Clay-colored Sparrows. On the drive into this canyon some rich grasslands hosted a bevy of other sparrows including Rufous-winged, 24 Vesper, Black-throated, 39 Savannah, Grasshopper, and Rufous-crowned. Over 300 White-crowned sparrows were seen, the most for any section this year.

In Ramanote Canyon a new species was added to the overall checklist: 6 Eurasian-collared Doves. Not exactly the rarity one hopes for, but I guess its inevitable at some point. This area also produced a rare Williamson Sapsucker adding depth to their 7 woodpecker species day. Both Eastern and Western Meadowlarks were ticked on Wise Mesa along the entrance road to this spectacular canyon. It also provided an amazing 12 Cassins Kingbirds, which greatly helped out the total of 23 this year.

Last but not least, Peña Blanca lake also produced a new species for the count: a Wilson’s Warbler was spotted along its shrubby shores.

Wilson's Warbler at Pena Blanca Lake, a new species for the count! Photo by Ken Kertell.

Just the Numbers:
foot hours – 156.75
foot miles – 100.08
car hours – 33.25
car miles – 141.1
boat hours - 4
boat miles - 3
owling hours – 9.75
owling miles – 37.75
Max # of Parties - 25
# of Participants – 60
Total species – 147
Old record – 142 set in 2012
Total individual birds – 11,830

New Species for Count:
Eurasian Collared Dove – 6 Wise Mesa/Ramanote Canyon
Wilson’s Warbler – 1 Pena Blanca Lake

New record high counts:
Mallard (Northern) – 80 : old record 30
Northern Shoveler – 56 : old record 24
American Kestrel – 63 : old record 40
Red-naped Sapsucker – 58 : old record 57
Ladder-backed Woodpecker – 111 : old record 110
Cassin’s Kingbird – 23 : old record 19
Loggerhead Shrike – 45 : old record 40
Cassin’s Vireo – 3 : old record 2
Common Raven – 145 : old record 106
Marsh Wren – 13 : old record 12
Ruby-crowned Kinglet – 529 : old record 490
Yellow-rumped (Audobon’s) Warbler – 137 : old record 120
Five-striped Sparrow – 8 : old record 6
Lincoln’s Sparrow – 159 : old record 98
Western Meadowlark – 74 : old record 71

Notables: out of 41 years
Wood Duck – 1 : previously seen 5 years
Least Grebe – 2 : previously seen 3 years
Merlin – 2 : previously seen 8 years
Barn Owl – 1 : previously seen 4 years
Short-eared Owl – 1 : previously seen 2 years
Williamson’s Sapsucker – 1 : previously seen 6 years
Red-breasted Sapsucker – 1 : previously seen 1 year
“Western” Flycatcher – 1 : previously seen 3 years
Winter Wren – 1 : previously seen 4 years
Black-capped Gnatcatcher – 3 : previously seen 5 years
Sage Thrasher – 2 : previously seen 5 years
Clay-colored Sparrow – 1 : previously seen 6 years
Baird’s Sparrow – 1 : previously seen 4 years
Evening Grosbeak – 1 : previously seen 3 years

Until next year...
Jake Mohlmann
Compiler - Atascosa Highlands CBC

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