Kelly Bostian: Annual bird count helps identify long-term trends
BY KELLY BOSTIAN World Outdoors Writer
Sunday, December 23, 2012
12/23/12 at 7:23 AM
Go to Kelly Bostian's blog Original Print Headline: For the birds
IN THE DAYS since participating in the Audubon Society's annual Christmas Bird Count, the odd story I find myself repeating involves insects, not birds, but the story reflects the day.
The Tulsa chapter chose to participate on Dec. 15 this year. Several teams split up to cover their portions of the chapter's "count circle," a 15-mile radius centered at the intersection of East 116th Street North and North Sheridan Road, near Sperry. Team captain Jeff Cox reconvened our count group from a few years back with Christine Otto, Bill Carrell and me.
Cox has covered his route through Sperry and outlying areas for 19 years with various team members. No two years have been the same in terms of birds or weather, but the count is intended to track long-term trends. Cox has done his part by counting the same route year after year.
"A lot of us have counted the same areas for years, and that makes things a little more consistent," he said.
In 19 years of these mid-December forays to the roadsides, hillsides, creek-sides and sewage ponds of the Sperry area, Cox and crew have seen just about every kind of weather.
"I don't think we've ever had thunderstorms, but about everything else," he said.
Misty, damp, cold, snowing - or all four on the same day - post-blizzard, mild years, wet years and dry years all have an effect on the numbers and types of birds - and other stuff - that are seen.
That brings me around to the insects - and one arthropod. As we walked a breezy, dry and warm hillside on Judy Kishner's Black Dog Ranch, I think it was Carrell who first noticed a buckeye butterfly in the grass. Granted, the typically brilliant butterfly looked a little dull and worse for wear as it flitted about, but Dec. 15 is not prime butterfly viewing time in northeast Oklahoma.
Moments later, a yellow sulphur flitted past, and just a little ways up the hill we spotted a giant desert centipede (though it was on the smallish side) in the grass.
So add drought and unseasonably warm 60-degree weather conditions to those that the Cox Christmas Bird Count team has monitored. Bird activity was best in the early morning and evening, naturally. A few puddles in a roadway created a particularly busy spot in the morning. One has to think drought had something to do with that.
Typically the group hits roadsides in the morning and late afternoon and visits a few nice folks who have some acreages and active bird feeders to boost their mid-day numbers. The feeders were little help this year, however. The grasses, forbs and shrubs were unusually thin due to the drought.
Weather is not everything when it comes to the bird count. Some bird species numbers just typically ebb and flow. But the drought had obvious impact this year. Typically sunrise on count day finds the Cox team near Sperry Lake counting waterfowl and throngs of blackbirds and grackles coming off their roosts.
This year, Sperry Lake is dry. Likewise the roadside stream that is famous to the group as Otto's "Duck!" spot held little more than dry, cracked mud.
With mild weather and some insects still crawling around in the woods, it's no wonder the bird feeders weren't too busy either, although they were the best spots to find pine siskins, gold finches and house finches.
Although the warm mid-day period was slow, the day was interesting nonetheless. We didn't hear owls when we went owling pre-dawn, but we spotted two barred owls that sat calmly while we watched them. Last time I joined Cox we all marveled that we didn't see but one red-headed woodpecker all day and I saw that one on my way home. This time we counted 22.
Cox reported that we ended up counting 63 species after he tallied the results.
"Not bad, but about six under our 19-year average," he reported. "We missed some common birds, like Belted Kingfisher, Pileated Woodpecker, both kinglets, Brown Creeper, Field Sparrow and Great-tailed Grackle. We did not find any completely new species, but we did have high counts for Loggerhead Shrike, Lesser Scaup, Bonaparte's Gull, Hooded Merganser, Northern Mockingbird, and Pine Siskin. All in all, a good day."
In the long run, absolutely, it was a good day.
A pine siskin rests on a feeder outside Judy Kishner's home in Sperry as a house finch comes in to land. Siskins are not common in northeast Oklahoma in winter, but many were spotted during this year's Audubon Society Christmas Bird Count. KELLY BOSTIAN/Tulsa World
Jeff Cox (left) and Christine Otto count birds near Sperry during the Audubon Society Christmas Bird Count on Dec. 15. KELLY BOSTIAN/Tulsa World