The birders participating in the Saturday, December 15 Clear Lake Christmas Bird Count were challenged this year by the weather. We had a minimum temperature of 26 and a high of 37, partly frozen moving water, and strong snow flurries in the early afternoon resulting in 1½+ of snow at the higher elevations and slippery road conditions throughout the count circle. Fortunately, the east wind was mild.
Despite all, we ended up with 126 species, significantly less than the previous 10-year average of 141 species. The total number of birds seen was 24,112, again less than the 10-year average of 49,335 birds. The 10-year average figure is skewed somewhat by the fact that in the years of 2004, 2005 and 2006 we had an unusual high count for many of our water birds on Clear Lake due to the abundance of food, primarily threadfin shad and silversides. To put this in perspective, in the year 2004 we had a total of 135,312 individual birds counted, more than 5½ times the total number counted this year.
The weather did not discourage the participants, however. We had 53 birders in the field and 3 feeder watchers, significantly higher than the 10-year average of 41 in the field and 3.5 at feeders. We were delighted to have 17 first-time observers in the Clear Lake Count. The majority of our participants were Lake County residents, but we were pleased to have birders join us from Santa Rosa, St. Helena, Napa and Woodland. Thank you Out of Towners!
The Ruddy Duck for the second year in a row wins the prize for the most individuals seen at 8,170, a slight increase over a 5-year average of 8,068 but dramatically lower than last year's total of 14,838. A record high count of 44 was set for the Snowy Egret, beating out the previous high of 40 in 2005. This can be attributed in part to the fact that we had 3 kayakers in the Anderson Marsh area for the first time and accessing habitat unseen from land.
Unfortunately, we are also seeing an increase in the introduced, invasive Eurasian Collared Dove that this year for the first time equaled the number of the native Mourning Doves with a count of 94 each. The Eurasian Collared Dove first appeared on the CBC with 6 individuals in 2008 and reached 26 last year, and we can expect to see dramatic increases of the Collared Dove in the future while our Mourning Dove numbers will likely decrease.
Anna's Hummingbird showed up in good numbers with a total of 64 only to be outdone by the 67 counted in 1998. Twenty-one of these hummers turned up at a feeder in the Riviera and another 20 were found feeding on the flowers of the Common or English Ivy.
The Red-breasted Nuthatch experienced another high count with a total of 33 individuals but less than the incredible 71 counted in the year 1984. Its more typical high is in the single digits, but this year is an "irruptive" year for this species as presumably a lack of food on the bird's normal wintering ground is moving them further south in search of food.
The only species that was seen by all participating groups was the Western Scrub Jay. The big misses were Barn Owl which has been counted yearly except for a period from l984 through 1988 and Cooper's Hawk which has been absent only once before in 2001. The other continued miss is the Yellow-billed Magpie, which might be permanently absent from our count in the future. It has made the CBC most years since 1989 with the number diminishing since the West Ville Virus epidemic. The species had a high count of 25 in the 1995 CBC and another high of 17 in 1999. These highs diminished to 3 in 2008, 1 in 2009, 2 in 2010, none last year and again missing this year. Sadly, the High Valley population appears to be extirpated.
The California Thrasher made an historic low count with only 1 bird seen this year as opposed to a 10-year average of 8 birds. Only 1 Lincoln's Sparrow appeared as well.
On the high note, it is 2013 and another Christmas Bird Count to plan for on December 14, 2013. Yeah!
My deep gratitude to all the leaders and participants who have dedicated their time and heart to count all those birds year after year after year.