Audubon Christmas Bird Count totals 49 species
After weeks of record warmth in November and early December, temperatures dipped to single digits for the annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count (CBC) held Saturday, Dec. 19, in Stevens Point. The morning chill and brisk breeze were tempered by clear skies and bright sun, a welcome relief from the dreary periods of fog and rain.
Volunteers tallied 49 species, about average for the past 10 years, but disappointingly below the record 54 species found in 2012. The number of individual birds, 5,614, was only slightly better than the 10-year average, and well below the high count of 8,106 individuals recorded in 2011.
The Stevens Point count area is a 15-mile diameter circle centered on Old Main at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point campus. Teams of volunteers are assigned to specific areas of the circle for the greatest coverage possible.
Thirty-one birders in eight field parties drove 464 miles by car and covered 56 miles on foot to count every bird seen or heard in one 24-hour period. Four birders went owling in the cold pre-dawn, driving an additional 35 miles, and eight volunteers monitored backyard feeding stations.
Temperatures ranged from 6 to 21 degrees with a chilling west wind. The Wisconsin River and its tributaries were flowing strongly after heavy rains, with only a skim of ice along the shores, but still water in ponds, backwaters and wetlands was frozen. Boulevard trees bore abundant fruit, and in rural areas the wild food crop of nuts, berries and seeds was readily available. There was no snow cover.
Fruit-loving cedar waxwings were hard to find, limited to 25 birds in three scattered locations. Birders tallied only three purple finches, and common redpolls were found in just one sector. There were no pine grosbeaks and only one white-winged crossbill. Goldfinches and pine siskins, however, were well distributed throughout the count area.
In one yard, siskins filled the tree tops, buzzing and chattering in the early morning sun. In open country fields, another group of birders watched a flock of 70 Lapland longspurs, last recorded in 2011 and 2001.
It was a banner day for raptors with good numbers of red-tailed and rough-legged hawks, a merlin fly-by, a close encounter with a saw-whet owl, and a record-setting 22 bald eagles, but the greatest surprise of the day, recorded only once before on a Christmas bird count, was an adult golden eagle, soaring above open fields near the Lost Creek wetlands.
Count totals are Canada goose, 430; American black duck, four; mallard, 742; common goldeneye, 73; wild turkey, 61; bald eagle, 22; northern harrier, five; Cooper’s hawk, two; red-tailed hawk, 22; rough-legged hawk, 10; golden eagle, one; American kestrel, two; merlin, one; ring-billed gull, two; rock pigeon, 345; mourning dove, 201; great horned owl, two; barred owl, five; saw-whet owl, two; red-bellied woodpecker, 33; downy woodpecker, 83; hairy woodpecker, 44; pileated woodpecker, eight; northern shrike, two; blue jay, 279; American crow, 535; common raven, six; black-capped chickadee, 676; tufted titmouse, thre; red-breasted nuthatch, 49; white-breasted nuthatch, 111; brown creeper, four; golden-crowned kinglet, thre; American robin, four; European starling, 416; cedar waxwing, 25; American tree sparrow, 80; white-throated sparrow, two; dark-eyed junco, 394; Lapland longspur, 70; snow bunting, 31; northern cardinal, 75; purple finch, three; house finch, 110; white-winged crossbill, one; common redpoll, 33; pine siskin, 330; American goldfinch, 224; and house sparrow, 317.
Volunteers included Don Baumgartner, Maureen Brocken, Barb DeWeerd, Janet Eschenbauch, Bob Freckmann, Barb Gifford, Jim Gifford, Anne Graham, Kent Hall, Sue Hall, Alan Haney, Vince Heig, Jackie Hertel, Gene Jacobs, Lorraine Jacobs, Gerry Janz, Tom Johnson, Nancy Knudson, Ralph Knudsen, Katie Kozak, Linda Leindecker, Jarod Lueck, Donna Martens, John McDonald, Liz McDonald, Joe Schultz, Dan Sivek, Stan Skutek, Janet Smith, Nancy Stevenson, Kay Underwood, Joe Vinopal, Andy Whitmire, Nancy Whitmire, Rob Whitmire, Herb Wievel, Bill Ziehr, Jill Ziehr and Brad Zinda.
Nancy Stevenson served as coordinator and compiler.
2015 marks the 56th year of local participation in the Audubon Christmas bird count by Portage County Birders (1960-79) and Aldo Leopold Audubon Society (1980-2015).