• Schonchin Butte

    Lava Beds

    National Monument California

Annual Christmas Bird Count

Three birders, observing sump from West Wildlife Overlook
Birders observing from the West Wildlife Overlook during the 2014 Christmas Bird Count.
NPS, Nancy Nordensten

Join us for the next Tule Lake Christmas Bird Count, which includes areas within Lava Beds National Monument, on Sunday, January 4, 2015. To attend the full-day event, bring binoculars, a field guide, lunch, water, plenty of warm cloths, and sturdy shoes. Plan to be outside all day, from dawn to dusk. An annual compilation potluck dinner in the town of Tulelake completes the day and allows participants to share good food and birding highlights. To participate, you must register in advance. Contact the count organizer, Kevin Spencer by e-mail at rriparia@charter.net.

Red-brested Sapsucker

Red-brested Sapsucker

For over a hundred years, birders across the nation have gathered for one full day each winter to complete the Christmas Bird Count, an annual event sponsored by the National Audubon Society. On the day of the count, local groups gather to identify and count every bird they see within an established survey area. The goal is to find as many species as possible and to accurately count those observed. When the results of the count are compiled, they provide valuable information about wintering bird populations.

The Tule Lake count began in 1979 and usually draws about a dozen participants consisting of local biologists, park staff and community members who have a keen interest in birds. The designated survey area includes the northern portion of Lava Beds National Monument.


American Wigeon - Dave Menke

American Wigeon

Dave Menke

Here's an account of last year's count highlights from coordinator Kevin Spencer:

Twenty-one participants conducted the count, which included the following notable sightings: three Red-shouldered Hawks, one very brave Black Phoebe (due to the very cold temperatures!), 28 Pinyon Jays in the Lava Beds NM area, one Eurasian Wigeon (scoped out of the dense waterfowl group on Sump 1B), at least 3 Wood Ducks (amazing!), about 12,000 American Wigeon, and 12,000 blackbirds (including 10,000 Red-winged Blackbirds and 1,800 Brewers Blackbirds), 538 White-crowned Sparrows, and the last bird, a Short-eared Owl!

Both Northern and Loggerhead Shrikes were very good to see. The lack of Horned Larks, and absence of Lapland Longspur was disappointing. The lack of trees in the southern portion of the count circle, which happened as a result of the 2008 Jack Fire in Lava Beds NM, really showed its impact on this count in recent years as forest species were not detected.

In looking at total numbers, 80% of the birds on the count consisted of three species: American Wigeon, Red-winged Blackbird, and Brewer's Blackbird. Those were contained mostly in one very crowded hole in the ice on the Tule Lake Wildlife Refuge in Sump 1B, and in dense balls of mesmerizing murmurations. The other 20% were scattered loosely and sometimes singly over the rest of the circle.

Those are some amazing statistics! All the participants enjoyed the beautifully sunny, but cold, count conditions, and learned something about winter bird populations in the lower Klamath Basin.


White-crowned Sparrow - Dave Menke

White-crowned Sparrow

Dave Menke

These bird counts are important because environmental conditions are changing as a result of events such as forest fires, and due to climate change impacts upon average annual temperature, as well as on the timing, amount and type of precipitation in our area. This annual bird count provides data, and insight, on how environmental changes are affecting the presence of native bird species in our area. The National Audubon Field Note is the offical count publication and lists highlights of the Christmas International Bird Count.
Bird Watchers and a bald eagle keep an eye on waterfowl in sump 1B
Bird Watchers and a bald eagle keep an eye on waterfowl in sump 1B
NPS, Nancy Nordensten

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