January 5, 2019’s 119th Audubon Christmas Bird Count is now going into the books. Our final official tally is 197 species.
This tally can be found at this link: 119th Santa Barbara CBC Results
Each year, compilers are required by National Audubon to conduct their annual CBC between December 14 and January 5. The Santa Barbara CBC is held on the last Saturday of that period, and this time the last Saturday fell on the last day of that window. No postponing if we had to cancel, no second chance. After last year’s cat- astrophic fires and floods, we couldn’t help but wonder if we’d have to adjust at the last minute, as other nearby CBCs had to do last year. But for busy compilers, this late date is actually a benefit: the bulk of the holiday bustle is behind us and those who travel during that season have returned home to participate.
While the CBC is about data—trends and the historical context of bird populations around the country—Count Day itself is also about the birding experience. January 5 came storming in with the first of the winter weather. The mountain teams birded in dense fog, rain, and clouds forcing birders to rely on hearing alone to find the elusive Mountain Quail, listening for its “Quark!” call to travel up the slopes of West Camino Cielo through the clouds. On La Cumbre Peak, high winds made hearing impossible, bringing birding to a standstill. Down below, by noon it became clear that the boat crew was in difficulty, with a dead engine off Arroyo Burro in rough seas. We breathed a sigh of relief to hear the crew had returned to safety, towed in by the Harbor Patrol. And yet, over 200 birders spread out around the count circle, taking a careful census of everything they observed. Along the way, they made discoveries that brought many bright spots to the gloomy day.
For the third year in a row, we found a new species to add to our CBC, this time a surprise Dusky Flycatcher at Laguna Blanca. Two Long-eared Owls turned up in a pepper tree at Lake Los Carneros, only the second time this species has been recorded on our count (the first was in 1982). As the day and its stories unfolded, there were other highlights: the return of the Tufted Duck at Lauro Reservoir, here for its sixth winter; Surfbirds at East Beach; an Ancient Murrelet seen from Butterfly Beach; Lewis’s Woodpeckerson both sides of the Santa Ynez range; and a Lucy’s Warbler in Santa Barbara. Another surprise was a female Black-headed Gros- beak gorging on pomegranates at Fairview Gardens, giving its breast a pink bib that made it look like a Rose-breasted. We had eight species of owl: Barn, Long-eared, Great Horned, Spotted, Northern Saw-whet, Burrowing, Western Screech, and Northern Pygmy. Wintering orioles were somewhat scarce in the lead-up to Count Day, but we ended up with Bullock’s and Orchard. (TheBaltimore seen the day before was hunkered down and missed on Count Day.)
Other notable misses this year were Common Murre (if only we could have counted the deceased one at Goleta Beach!); Rhi- noceros Auklet and Bonaparte’s Gull were among the seabirds missed due to poor boat conditions. A Williamson’s Sapsucker, found just before Count Day, was undetectable in the high winds at La Cumbre Peak—hard to hear gentle tapping on tree trunks when the wind is howling around you! Palm Warbler, present in good numbers through fall and winter, was not found anywhere on Count Day.
A week later, when we got down to compiling totals across the circle, it became clear that waterfowl counts continued to be low, as did White-crowned Sparrow, Lincoln’s Sparrow, Townsend’s Warbler and Yellow-rumped Warbler, some mirroring a Southern California trend of low counts for these species. Noticeable declines such as these—over relatively short periods—ask us to take a hard look at the causes, and our long-term drought is undoubtedly at the top of that list. Foul weather on Count Day also affects species numbers. When entering data at the national level, we give a detailed description of weather conditions so that the species counts for that year can be studied alongside all the factors that might have affected them. For this reason, we also collect effort data—how much time and mileage are spent by how many people. These factors are all part of the calculations used by regional and national compilers to determine population trends on a larger scale.
As always, we are grateful to the teams of birders of all ages who give their time and energy to plan, scout, and participate in our CBC. Your dedication makes it all possible. Our thanks also go to Santa Barbara Audubon, Bill Pollock, Glenn Kincaid, Dave Compton, and the Museum of Natural History for supporting this effort.
Rebecca Coulter, Liz Muraoka, Joan Murdoch and Libby Patten
SB CBC Coordinators