SOUTH COAST - Despite showery winter weather, the 22nd Coquille Valley Christmas Bird Count on Jan. 5 reported the highest number of different bird species seen in any of the Christmas Bird Counts in Oregon this season.
Forty-five birders came from near and far to participate in the field during the count. They came from as far as Bend, Portland, Florence, the Coos Bay area, Gold Beach and Brookings to enjoy a less than pleasant day of birding on the southern Oregon coast. They were assisted by 12 observers at feeders throughout the 15-mile diameter Christmas Count circle that stretches from Bandon to Coquille and just beyond.
Count compiler and organizer Harv Schubothe reported that only 36,534 different birds were seen, the lowest total since 2002 and far below the 22-year average of nearly 43,000. On the other hand, 150 distinct species were found, two above the average number of species seen in the 22 years of this count. It matches last year’s highest species count in five years and, for the second straight year, is believed to be the highest species count for all the Christmas Bird Counts in Oregon this year.
Two bird species were seen for the first time ever in this circle. A tropical kingbird was witnessed near U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Bandon Marsh headquarters and a black-throated gray warbler was seen in Coquille by a team that included an 8 and 10-year-old. A goshawk was observed for only the second time and the first time since 1994 while a wandering tattler was also seen for the second time, just one year after the first was detected. A trio of species were seen for only the third time: two different burrowing owls on Bandon Dunes Golf Resort, a northern mockingbird and a Bullock’s oriole on June Avenue in Bandon. Seen for the fourth time were a yellow-bellied sapsucker (in that same tree on June Avenue), a Nashville warbler, a common yellowthroat and a snow goose.
"It was the rare finds like this that overcame the small number of birds braving the weather," Schubothe said. "Record numbers were seen of the following species: gadwall, bald eagle, rock pigeon, bushtit and red-winged blackbird. Records were tied for Clark’s grebe and osprey. The latter used to be rare on South Coast Christmas Bird Counts, but this is the fourth time in the last five years that an osprey has been seen in this circle."
Two other birds could have made the count even higher. A red-naped sapsucker is very rare and one red-naped, red-breasted sapsucker hybrid was found in Riverton while a seawatch observer spotted an alcid but could not positively identify the species.
Obviously, there had to be misses as well. Some were notable and unexpected as they are observed almost daily in Bandon. But a storm surge and high tides drove most shorebirds from sight. Sanderling, western sandpiper and black-bellied plovers were not found while least sandpiper and dunlin counts were extremely low. A ring-billed gull was missed as well.
Several other species were found, but in much lower numbers than in previous counts. These included lesser scaup, pine siskins and common murre.
Next year’s Coquille Valley Christmas Bird Count is tentatively scheduled for Saturday, Jan. 4, 2020. For more information about the bird count or about getting involved in the next count, contact Schubothe at 541-297-2342.