Annual Christmas Bird Count at Yosemite

Foresta-observers

During the 2014 Christmas Bird Count, the teams of birders counted and identified 2,354 birds of 68 species in Yosemite.

 

Next Yosemite Christmas Bird Count: Dec. 20, 2015 (details below)


Tens of thousands of volunteers across the Americas join together annually during the Christmas Bird Count. The event provides a full day to celebrate birds. Since 1932, Yosemite's participation has contributed more than 95,000 observations to the conservation event.

Yosemite's CBC has become a treasured holiday tradition, a reunion with birding friends, and a way to play a small part in a big conservation picture. The CBC in Yosemite has been going strong since 1932, with the cumulative number of annual participants reaching 1,378! For many, the holiday season would not be complete without the CBC.

 
Lincoln Sparrow seen near Foresta during 2012 Christmas Bird Count

Northern pygmy-owl spotted near Foresta during the 2012 Christmas Bird Count

This year on December 14, 2014, 56 participants divided up into 9 groups, with the goal of counting as many species and individual birds as possible. Each group had at least one designated leader, a birding expert, who was responsible for the accuracy of the data. All day, the groups searched their respective areas, covering a 15-mile radius circle, which included El Portal, Foresta, Yosemite Valley, the Old Big Oak Flat Road Trail, and Chinquapin/Yosemite West. Just before dark, everyone convened in Yosemite Valley to warm up, eat good food, share their birding highlights, and tally results. This year, participants tallied 2,354 individual birds comprising 68 species! Since 1991, this is the third highest count for Yosemite's CBC, just behind 70 species (2011) and 69 species (2013).

With so many keen eyes and ears alert for birds, it's not surprising there were some great birding moments and highlights, including a green-tailed towhee and 5 Canada geese along the Big Oak Flat Road Trail, a red crossbill in Foresta, a rock wren in the El Portal area, and a flock of 33 Clark's nutcrackers in the Badger Pass area. The Foresta group made some interesting observations of fire-adapted birds in the Foresta area where two large forest fires occurred this past summer. Omnipresent was the sight and sound of 9 species of woodpeckers (acorn woodpecker, Williamson's sapsucker, red-breasted sapsucker, Nuttall's woodpecker, downy woodpecker, hairy woodpecker, white-headed woodpecker, northern flicker, and pileated woodpecker). These observations contributed to over-all Yosemite CBC record high counts for downy woodpecker (30 detections) and white-headed woodpecker (43 detections). This year, we also accrued the record high count for white-breasted nuthatch (24 detections), which is another species often observed in burned habitats. The three most unusual species were green-tailed towhee (only the 2nd time detected on a Yosemite CBC), and Canada goose and wild turkey (detected on 3 Yosemite CBCs). Somehow the bald eagle escaped our notice on count day, but we've been blessed with its regal presence on days since.

What a great start to the holiday season! See you at next year's Yosemite Christmas Bird Count on Sunday, December 20, 2015.

Some of the historic highlights from Yosemite's Christmas Bird Count include:
  • A record 1,100 band-tailed pigeons counted in 1971
  • A record 560 mountain chickadees in 1972
  • A record 483 golden-crowned kinglets in 1953
  • Two rare hooded mergansers spotted in 1940
  • Great gray owls observed during five different annual bird counts
 
white-headed woodpecker

White-headed woodpecker spotted during the 2014 annual event.

The next Yosemite Christmas Bird Count is Dec. 20, 2015. To attend the full-day event, bring binoculars, a field guide, lunch, plenty of warm clothes and sturdy shoes. Plan to be outside all day, from around dawn to dusk. An annual compilation potluck dinner closes the day to allow participants to share Yosemite birding highlights. To participate, you must register in advance. Contact the Yosemite Christmas Bird Count Organizer, Sarah Stock, by email or by phone at 209/379-1435.

 
When bird-watching, experienced birders confidently identify birds by just a glimpse. (See illustrations of Yosemite's most common species.) Remember that a bird’s feathers change as an adult molts into its winter plumage. For many species, a male bird’s winter plumage is dull compared to his colorful plumage in the spring when he is interested in attracting a female with whom to mate. Also, note subtle nuances in a bird’s song or call—long trills or short chips. In the winter, birds rarely sing but make call notes to defend a territory, announce the presence of a predator, or to keep up with a mixed-species foraging flock.
 
Birder stands in field in winter

Yosemite has participated in the Christmas Bird Count since 1932.

Karyn O'Hearn

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