By Dr. Madeline A. Kalbach
For the Observer
Dec. 16 was the big day for making birds of the Willapa National Wildlife Refuge and the Peninsula count. This year 35 counters or citizen scientists spent the day from dawn until dusk counting birds in our area. Three feeder counts also added data to the count. In total 110 species were seen in 2017 compared to 98 species in 2016 and 95 species in 2015. Overall, the number of individual birds counted in 2017 numbered 24,978 compared to 24,077 in 2016.
The weather co-operated this year. According to 642weather, the average temperature for Dec. 16 was 46F. The highest temperature reached during the day was 48F at 1:01 p.m. The wind speed and gustiness were non-significant factors throughout the day as they ranged from 0.9 mph to 2.0 mph, respectively.
Of the top 10 species, eight were waterfowl and shorebirds. The other two were songbirds — namely, the European starling and the American crow. The American crow has been in the top 10 for at least the last three years. American wigeon, northern pintail, dunlin, mallard and the European starling were the top five most common species seen. All of the ducks in our area were seen in larger numbers than in 2016. The Canada goose count was down by half, but Brant numbers increased from a count of 160 birds in 2016 to almost 600 in 2017.
Many of our shorebird species were down in numbers from 2016. Dunlin, for example, dropped from a count of 11,214 to 3,283 in 2017. The tide is most likely the culprit here, because due to high-tide safety conditions, counters could not have cars on the oceanside beaches.
Snowy plovers were not seen again this year, making this the third year in a row that they were not seen on the count day. Again, this may be attributed to the high tide safety conditions.
There were several important sightings in 2017. All three scoter species — black, surf and white-winged — were seen on the count. Three species of loons were also reported — common, red-throated and Pacific. Grebes have been on the increase — the most notable being a slight increase in the number of western grebes. Two white-winged crossbills, a rarity in these parts, were seen.
An interesting absence was that of the pine siskin. Only one was noted. It is interesting because for several weeks before the count they were everywhere. Some feeders were reported to have hundreds on a daily basis.
The annual Christmas Bird Count is an interesting event and an exciting activity to participate in. It gives us, as citizen scientists, an opportunity to help update the information on our environment and the bird population distribution of the Willapa National Wildlife Refuge.