We had a successful 121st Christmas Bird Count in the Leadbetter Circle on Saturday, Dec. 19, despite covid-19 precautions. At least all of our routes were covered by our 14 participants.

In spite of total coverage though, our overall species count was down to 88 from 97 in 2019. This is probably due to having fewer counters, down considerably from our recent yearly average of 32. According to weather642.com, the weather cooperated for most of the day. The rain held off until around 2:45 p.m. The temperature ranged from 43.4F to 48.6F and the humidity was in the 90s. It is also possible that the rain cut the day short for many of the counters.

Of the top 10 species, eight were waterfowl and shorebirds. The other two were songbirds, the European starling (620) and the pine siskin (485). The American crow (295) is usually in the top 10, but this year ranked 14th in terms of numbers. Dunlin (3,060), sanderling (2,750), American wigeon (1,818), northern pintail(1,299), and mallard (1,200) were the top five.

The number of dunlin in this year’s count declined from 12,277 in 2019 to 3,060 birds in 2020. Part of the explanation might be the large number of unidentified shorebirds reported. Sanderling, on the other hand, were up from 649 in 2019 to 2,750 in 2020. American wigeon numbers were down, but both northern pintail and mallard experienced gains in 2020. While pine siskins (485) ranked 10th, their numbers were down by about half from 2019. Both 2019 and 2020 were irruptive years for pine siskins. Hundreds were being reported at feeders in the two weeks prior to the count in both years. A lack of feeder counts in both years and again fewer counters in 2020 are the likely reasons for this drop in numbers.

One species that made its appearance this year was the bar-tailed godwit (1). It had been seen for several weeks prior to the count and luckily stayed to be counted. Among the most notable species missing in action this year on the day of the count were the band-tailed pigeon, snowy plover, owls, hairy woodpecker, pileated woodpecker and brant. Just over half of the species seen in 2020 showed a decline. Green-winged teal, for example, declined from 1,260 in 2019 to only 122 in the 2020 count.

The CBC could not have happened without the dedication of the counters and the property owners who granted access to their property for this important event. Thank you also goes to Robert Sudar, the compiler, and Suzy Whittey, the organizer. The figures I am working with are preliminary so there may a few updates in the weeks to come, and if so, I will keep you posted.

The most plausible explanation for the decline in this year’s number of species is covid-19 restrictions, which meant fewer counters than usual and the fact that we didn’t have any feeder watchers this year. I am hopeful that peninsula feeder watchers will join in this very important citizen science data collection on the status of birds in our area next year. Feeder watchers can make an important contribution to the Christmas Bird Count (CBC). The point of the CBC is to assess population trends and the distribution of birds on the Peninsula and its environs. Remember the story of the canary in the coal mine? Birds tell us a lot about the state of our environment. Please plan to participate!

”Common Birds of the Long Beach Peninsula,” by Kalbach and Stauffer, is available from Bay Avenue Gallery, Time Enough Books and the Long Beach Peninsula Visitors Bureau.

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