By Ranger Steve Mueller
Three Great Horned Owls and 3 Barred Owls were reported on count day with one Eastern Screech Owl added during count week. Total individuals sighted was 11,246 and was about 1,500 more than last year. Weather was great for field exploration. The species count of 53 was 6 fewer than last year but might be explained by more open water this year. Frozen water concentrates waterfowl and increases the likelihood for counting more species. We usually have approximately 60 species sighted annually so our species count was slightly down even though over all numbers were up.
Two Golden Eagles were sighted. This is the first time the species has been seen on our Christmas count. They are in surrounding areas and counties with more frequent sightings in recent years and especially during the winter months.
Regarding hawks, note the order of birds on checklists has been rearranged in recent years. The falcons now follow the woodpeckers instead of being grouped with other hawks. DNA sequencing is one reason for the revised placement as scientists work to understand evolutionary phylogenetic order of species. Phylogenetic trees have several developmental aspects that are cross referenced to understand bird origins, relationships and development.
The Carolina Wren continues to be present with four seen this year. It is becoming a regular but in the past it was primarily a southern bird.
The Christmas bird counts across the continent document geographic population changes with shifts resulting in decreases or increases. Data helps scientists with environmental quality, habitat and climate change evidence to understand impacts for our growing population, land use changes and resource consumption. When I was in high school there were 3 billion people on Earth. Now there are over 7 billion.
Weather conditions were 100 percent cloudy in the morning but mostly clear during the afternoon. Temperatures were between 24 and 36F. Winds grew to 19 mph from the southwest. Snow cover was 1-3 inches. Moving water was open with still water partly frozen.
We totaled 107 hours in vehicles traveling 884 miles. We had more hours on the road than last year but drove about half the distance. I am thinking we might have spent more time out of the vehicles at stops because it was such a fine weather day. About 18 hours was spent on foot covering 23 miles. A combined total of 907.5 miles were on foot and driving. Groups totaled 125.5 hours of daytime birding. Night owling was 7.5 hours covering 13.5 miles of effort in four count sections. There were 16 birding parties in the morning and 15 in the afternoon.
Consider joining us next year. We were pleased to have new participants this year. Check out the Grand Rapids Audubon Club at www.graud.org.
Wittenbach/Wege Agri-science and Environmental Education Center (WWC) in Lowell co-hosted and we appreciate use of the facility. We encourage everyone to visit and enjoy the WWC grounds and to support their community programs.
Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at firstname.lastname@example.org – Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary, 13010 Northland Dr. Cedar Springs, MI 49319 or call 616-696-1753.