2023 CHIRSTMAS BIRD COUNT SUMMARIES
Big thanks to all participants in the 2023 Audubon Christmas Bird Count, and especially to all the compilers. Your dedication and love of birds and citizen science is admirable.
The mild weather (then!) was reflected in the species observed with fewer winter residents, and with many fall migrants lingering in our area.
Summaries from area compliers are as follow:
SHERIDAN CBC 12/16/23 - Compilers: Annie Dunn and Sid Taylor
Many reported observing both fewer birds and fewer species on our unseasonably warm and sunny count day. These observations were generally reflected in our count totals as we recorded seven fewer species than in 2022, while our total individual bird count was stable compared to 2022 (4820 vs 4745).
Notable was a decrease in the Bald Eagle (15 vs 43) and no sightings of the Horned Lark. We recorded a significant increase in the American Robin (557 vs 95). We also saw an increase in the Canada Goose (540 vs 341) and the Mallard (395 vs 158). A few other notes below.
Species/# observed in 2022 but not observed this year:
Common Merganser (1)
Sharp-tailed Grouse (18)
Mountain Chickadee (2)
Horned Lark (20)
Bohemian waxwing (148)
Pine Grosbeak (2)
Cassin’s Finch (2)
Pine Siskin (2)
White-crowned Sparrow (2)
The Red Crossbill (10) was the one species reported this year but not last year. Two of our groups spotted these beauties.
GILLETTE CBC 12/16/23- Compiler: Bill Vetter
The count went generally well – it was certainly a nice day for being out – but finding a good diversity of species was a little challenging. I suspect it has been cold enough to push most birds south already but not cold enough to force many of our wintering birds down yet, as we were missing several typical winter species.
We finished with 29 total species and 1,229 detections. Three species (European starling, house sparrow, and Eurasian collared-dove) represented more than 76% of the total detections, with approximately 81% of the remaining species representing less than 1%.
KANE CBC 12/16/23 - Compilers: Christy Fleming (National Park Service) and Sue Consolo-Murphy
The Bighorn Canyon Yellowtail Habitat Christmas Bird Count (Kane Count) was held on December 16th with 22 participants traveling 249 miles by vehicle and on foot. The count started at 13 degrees and ended a pleasant 42 degrees, with light to no wind. Pinyon Jays, Canyon and Marsh Wrens, as well as White-crowned Sparrows were among the 46 species and 5,906 individuals reported.
The Count Summary Report noted "The weather this year has been unusually warm. Wyoming Game and Fish had planted pheasants the day before but did not seem to affect the normal pheasant count. There were also a lot of hunters in the count area this year due to the nice weather."
Also noted "One of our longtime birders counted 30 red crossbills."
BUFFALO CBC 12/17/23 - Compliers: Deane Bjerke and JoAnne Puckett
The 42nd annual Buffalo Christmas Bird Count was held on Sunday, December 17th. Data collected from this count is used to determine bird populations and trends for short- and long-term analysis.
Sixteen volunteers observed 58 species and over 2,200 individual birds during relatively mild weather. A 50-degree temperature swing from the 2022 count where volunteers braved snow, ice, wind, and bitter cold – all for the joy of counting birds. We appreciate these dedicated folks for showing up and getting out early on a late December morning - no matter what the weather brings.
The eastern side of the Bighorns is a main migratory path for hundreds of species, both in spring and winter. The milder temperatures seemed to have kept some fall migrants parked here longer than “normal”, and our winter residents may be lingering north of us.
Highlights of this Christmas Bird Count (CBC) include two Marsh Wrens, one at Mountain Plains Heritage Park wetlands and the other at Healy Reservoir. (photo above) This species is a first for the Buffalo count. These tiny quick birds, very difficult to spot in the reeds, are considered unusual for our area in general and rare this time of year. Their wintering grounds extend to southwest U.S., and into Mexico. Another fun observation, and uncommon, was four male Wood Ducks, a strikingly colorful small duck. They nest in trees near water. Young ducklings will drop to the ground from great heights of as much 50 feet and without injury. Wood Ducks are rarely seen during the winter in our region, and uncommon during breeding season.
Spotted in town was a Mourning Dove which usually departs Johnson County in early October for winter habitats as far as Central America. This is the first observation during this count. A distant larger cousin and non-native to the U.S, the Eurasian Collared Dove, finds Buffalo’s climate (and feeders!) attractive year-round since 2002.
Winter migrants such as Bohemian Waxwings, often seen in abundance during the count, are likely finding adequate food and shelter north of us – for now as the mild weather continues. 24 were seen on this count with as many 1,400 observed in past years and as few as zero. True to their name, Bohemian Waxwings are wanderers in large groups through northern United States.
Several other exciting species observed were a Northern Goshawk, and Snow and Cackling Geese to name a few. We were also happy to have Gray-crowned Rosy finches back in the neighborhood after a noticeable absence in 2022.
STORY/BIG HORN CBC 12/30/23 Compilers: Ariel Downing and Dainis Hazner
Summary by Ariel Downing
The Story-Big Horn Christmas Bird Count was held on Saturday Dec. 30, 2023. A total of 7 teams spent close to 45 hours in the field, plus 12 feeder-watchers, for a total of 27 participants.
Weather conditions were sunny and mild, with a temperature range of 19 degrees to 51 degrees Fahrenheit. Snow cover ranged from 0 to 6 inches, and streams were open, although ponds were mostly frozen over. Birders had a calm, bright winter day for the CBC, and we counted 2780 individual birds and 47 species (two additional species were seen during Count Week).
Some species were noticeably absent or few in number, probably because the birds were dispersed due to the warm winter temperatures and lack of snow cover. We saw few ducks, no Canada Geese, and common species such as various sparrows and finches were down in numbers. Even the numbers of Eurasian-collared Doves were down slightly.
Teams saw expected numbers of Wild Turkeys, Blue Jays, crows and ravens, owls, eagles, and various hawk species. Bohemian and Cedar Waxwing numbers are down considerably from previous years, as are all types of juncos.
We saw unusually high numbers of Clark’s Nutcrackers, Mountain Chickadees and Red-breasted Nuthatches. And the good news is that the Gray-crowned Rosy-finches have returned, after being noticeably absent last year.
Species seen during Count Week included a Cooper’s Hawk; an Eastern Screech Owl was heard on the Brinton Museum grounds. One lucky individual saw a leucistic Red-tailed Hawk at the north end of the town of Big Horn.
Most participants mentioned seeing a low number of birds this year, and a comparison with previous years confirmed their observation—total numbers have been declining steadily, for the most part, since 2015. It is more important than ever that we continue to provide food, water and habitat for birds, and that we continue to participate in citizen science in order to track bird populations.