In recent years’ CBC announcements, I have often mentioned the fact that I seem to be writing them on unseasonably warm days. Well, not so much this year! To say the weather during trick-or-treating last night was brutal would be an understatement – rain, wind, even snow buffeted the committed youngsters (and their equally committed parents) going door-to-door in our neighborhood. Could this be a sign of things to come in the next several months? Clearly, winter is on its way, but is this early cold snap a sign that we’re in for an extra cold and snowy season? Only time will tell, but what is for sure is that we are closing in on that greatest of winter birding traditions, the Ann Arbor CBC, sponsored by the Washtenaw Audubon Society. So get your pencils out and jot down Saturday, December 21st as the day where we somewhat mad birders will be heading out and counting birds to play our part in this hemisphere-wide citizen science event. Of course, setting an alert on your smart phones will work, too.
Last year, the major talking point was, justifiably, the first record of Townsend’s Solitaire for our count (and Washtenaw County, generally), found by Ben Hack and Sarah Toner – check out Lyle Hamilton’s amazing shot of this at times elusive rarity. We can only speculate what this year’s highlight will be, but be sure there will be a highlight, possibly several! Of course, that is just the more eye-catching aspect of the count – the event’s real impact is made by the collective data points we gather. Over the years, and in conjunction with all the other CBCs across the continent, these data points paint a picture of population trends and changes in distribution patterns for our feathered friends. Of course, our own circle’s 70+ years of counting do so as well – several (too many) species show distinct downward trends or have disappeared altogether, whereas others have become decidedly more common. I, for one, am curious what the 2019 count will bring and I hope you will be joining me in putting together our piece of the puzzle on the 21st!
The event brings out both advanced, intermediate, and beginning birders, and it is a wonderful occasion for volunteers new to the area, or birding itself, to meet the local birding community and become part of the Ann Arbor area’s extensive birding network. As a former newbie, I can attest to the warm and knowledgeable welcome WAS birders will and continue to give!
In keeping with general trends to make most, if not all, information available online, The National Audubon Society has been posting annual results on its website at http://netapp.audubon.org/cbcobservation/. This is an amazing resource, allowing you to check historical results for every count circle! In addition, you can sign up for NAS’s citizen science publication American Birds, here: https://action.audubon.org/signup/sign-citizen-science; American Birds summarizes data not only for the Christmas Bird Count, but also the May Count, the Great Backyard Bird Count, and other citizen science efforts.
If you’re unfamiliar with the CBC format, a quick reminder of the nature of our count is in order. All CBCs are conducted during a 3-week period from December 14 to January 5, all over the western (and even a small and growing part of the eastern) hemisphere. Historically, the Ann Arbor count always takes place on the 3rd Saturday in December, to prevent scheduling conflicts with other nearby counts. Each count circle covers an area 15 miles in diameter; the Ann Arbor circle is centered on the Foster Road bridge, near the intersection of Maple Road and Huron River Drive and extends roughly from Dexter in the west to Dixboro in the east, and from Whitmore Lake in the north to the Ann Arbor Airport in the south – the map accompanying this article shows the count circle in immaculate detail. Our objective is to identify all bird species present in this circle and count how many individuals of each species are present. In addition to the daylight bird census, several hardy observers will conduct a pre-dawn search for owls.
There are a number of ways to participate in this count, the main one of which is field observer. Given how well the online sign-up option has been working, I would like to ask you all to use that feature on the WAS CBC page. Doing so will allow you to sign up for the event, designate a preferred area in which you’d like to count, and even indicate which dish you plan on bringing to the potluck (see below). After you’ve signed up here, an alert is sent to me, which I will then forward to the area leader of your preferred count area. With the help of these alerts, I get a good idea of which area is in need of volunteers, and I can then direct counters with no area preference to where they are needed most. Of course, you can still email or call me (CBC Compiler Jacco Gelderloos) or your preferred area’s leader - check out the detailed maps on our Christmas Bird Count page. Please sign up using the form on our Christmas Bird Count page, or go directly to the form.
If you’d rather not brave the weather (whatever it may be like on count day), there is always the option of staying indoors and pitching in as a feeder watcher. If you have a feeder within the count circle, this is a fun and easy way to participate. (Remember: the feeder MUST be within the count circle, otherwise the data is invalid for our count – simply type your address into Google Maps to make sure, or check with me). Like field observers, you may sign up to participate for any length of time – from one hour to all day. Contact feeder watch coordinator Kurt Hagemeister for more information, to sign up, or to get feeder watch forms.
As always, the real fun and excitement, the highlight of the event really, happens at the end of the day at the potluck dinner, when the final results are tallied and announced after dessert. In recent years the potluck has been held at the main meeting room of the Matthaei Botanical Gardens - all participants are invited! As I write this, no one has yet taken on the role of potluck coordinator - please contact me if you are interested in filling Nicole Sefton’s shoes. For now, just tell us what your food contribution will be when you sign up online – please note that alcohol is not permitted on the MBG premises. The MBG are located at 1800 N Dixboro Rd, just about one mile south of Plymouth Rd in Ann Arbor. The University of Michigan charges a $1.20/hour fee at the Bot Gardens. Area leaders can give directions if you need them; plan to gather there around 5:15 – 5:30 p.m.
Please remember that the CBC is run entirely by volunteers and can always use your help. Consider helping out with the potluck set-up and clean-up: it is exceedingly helpful to arrive early at the potluck site, lend a hand setting up tables and chairs, and help prepare for the arrival and arrangement of food. This may also entail getting supplies such as tablecloths, plates, etc. (costs will be reimbursed by WAS). After the supper, we will need to clean up as well. Remember: many hands make light work!
Updates will be posted on this website as count day approaches. Please keep an eye on http://www.washtenawaudubon.org/events/christmas-bird-count for news and updates regarding the event.
The big story of the 2019 Washtenaw May Count is YOU, the volunteers. This year we turned out an absolutely astounding number of volunteers, 105 of us, counting every township, every bird, every species, and posting it all to eBird. Organizing, recruiting, and helping you find your places to volunteer to bird the Count was a delight for me, with so many new volunteer individuals and groups joining in. Thank you to the new group of Feibai and Jack Yang, Judy Wade, and Maryse Brouwers who turned up our County’s only Ruddy Ducks and many warbler species at Gallup and Furstenberg Parks. Dominick Fenech, a new WAS member, happened to bird several underbirded areas in Superior TWP and was able to make a super contribution to that township’s tally. Ann Arbor had several new volunteers like Edgar Otto and Craig Perdue, birding Matthaei Botanical Gardens and South Pond. Keith Dickey, Ben Winger, Jason Contrucci, and Dan Ezekiel made first time contributions in Ann Arbor, as well. Lima and Freedom Townships had a new area leader, Jim Law, who recruited several great birders for a good count. Thanks to Mike Bowen for volunteering for the first time in Lima TWP. Thank you to Carol Watson, who came back as a volunteer with Dawn Holloway in Saline TWP. I can’t mention all 105 birders. However, I can’t stress enough how much your efforts mean to this count. Several years ago, State birders stopped compiling an annual Michigan bird migration count, but we kept counting in Washtenaw. With our data now all being shared with eBird, we’re making a significant citizen science contribution to understanding bird migration in our area.
Warblers were the next big story in this year’s Count. Probably because of the spring’s wet and cold weather, and north winds preventing northward migration, many of the early warblers were still around during the second Saturday of May. For example, we posted a record number of Palm Warblers, 187, usually only in low double digits by our count day, and more twice our usual number of Yellow-rumpeds, 442, also usually on the downswing by this time. Orange-crowned Warblers posted in double digits at 10, for the first time in recent memory. Other Warblers were here in record numbers, as well, on their way up North for breeding, though perhaps because of the cold, many were not singing. Good thing the experienced birders knew where to look in their traditional hotspots. Here are some examples of our astounding numbers of warbler species— Northern Parula, 278, up from 75 last year, Nashville Warbler, 214, doubled from last year, Northern Waterthrush, 33, usually scarce but found in in 12 of 20 townships this year, Black-and-White Warbler, 119, up from 43 last year, Black-throated Blue Warbler, 127, nearly quadrupled from last year, and Black-throated Green Warbler, 251, more than doubled from last year’s 108. Karen Markey posted our only Louisiana Waterthrush and Prothonotary Warblers at Hudson Mills, for Dexter Township. It was a good day for Warbler lovers, like me.
Shorebirds were a big non-story. The cold, wet conditions apparently sent them on their way, many missing Washtenaw altogether. Normally common on the second Saturday of May, Least Sandpipers were totally absent. Roger Wykes’ discovery of 6 Short-billed Dowitchers on Arkona Rd. , was the single unusual shorebird species for the count. However, though they’re wading birds, not shorebirds, a record 2 American Bitterns were found by Dave Borneman and Linda Ar’s crew in Sharon and by Silas Bialecki and Jeremy Siegrist, in Manchester. My husband, Scott, and I found a Least Bittern in Lodi, near where one was found last year.
The last fact I’ll mention is our Scarlet Tanager total, 71, substantially below our six-year average of 87, but up from last year’s low of 63. We’ll have to see what the long-term trends show for my favorite bird. Check our tallies for details on other bird species.
Check for details in the tally spreadsheet, published in the July/August edition of the WAS Newsletter, and posted here. I’m already looking forward to the 2020 May Count and I’m counting on all of you to be there!!!
As always, I am for the birds,
Juliet Berger, May Count Compiler and President, Washtenaw Audubon Society
Here are some relevant links for your perusal:
Again, thank you to our concerned community for responding on behalf of the swifts! Never doubt that you can change the world....you just did!
by Glenn Belyea
LaRue “Tex” Wells of Ann Arbor, dean of Michigan birders and a Washtenaw Audubon member since 1973, passed away on August 16, 2018, just a few days shy of his 97th birthday. Tex, as he was always known in Michigan, was born in Rockport, Texas, but soon moved to Port Arthur, Texas where his father was a tugboat captain. After graduating from high school, he took flying lessons and obtained his pilot’s license. In July of 1942 he enlisted in the Army as an Aviation Cadet. Tex was sent to England as a C-47 (the military version of the Douglas DC-3 passenger plane) pilot where he transported troops and supplies into Europe and returned wounded soldiers to England.
Our May Count 2018 results are finally in (download a PDF of results with link below), and thanks to so many volunteers, about 70 of us strong, we made a great showing, under adverse conditions. 176 species were observed by birders in Washtenaw County's 20 Townships, just slightly above our 5-year average of 175.
Much like I did last year, I’d like to start off this year’s CBC report with an administrative note. As we were gathering for the potluck-tally at the Matthaei Botanical Gardens, Mike Kielb pointed out that this year’s count really should be noted as Ann Arbor’s 72nd edition of the CBC, not the 71st. This due to the somewhat obscure 1947 edition, which was listed as count 1b in the booklet “Fifty Years & Counting,” written in early 1997 by Rob and Nancy French and Mike Kielb. Doing the math, Mike is absolutely correct: the 2017 Ann Arbor CBC was, in fact, the 72nd time the event was run! Amazing stuff, and as good an indication as any to show what a committed birding community the Ann Arbor area has—here’s to 72 more!
The 2017 Washtenaw County May Count is finally a wrap! Our total of 171 bird species observed stands respectable among the totals of years past, with 132 expected species and 39 unusual species for the area. Last year we observed 176 species. This year we had dozens of volunteers fan out throughout the county, searching for birds, and recording everything in eBird, a citizen science project, though Cornell University. Now, instead of our results being buried in the obscure scientific journal, Michigan Birds and Natural History, to be published several years after the fact, scientists have access to our data in real time. Was it a light migration in mid-May for common Warbler species? Yes, it was, as we can see from our County Results. If I am a scientist studying trends from this year’s migration, I have the Washtenaw County data at my fingertips, right in eBird. For the complete count of species by Townships, click here.
During the potluck-tally gathering at the closing of this year’s Ann Arbor Christmas Bird Count, we discussed if the 2016 edition was the tenth anniversary of my role as count compiler. Neither the previous compiler, Nancy French, nor I was sure when the baton was passed from her to me, but after reviewing my CBC records, I found that 2007 was my inaugural year as compiler, which means that this year, 2016, was, indeed, my tenth year in charge of the Ann Arbor CBC—how time flies!
Saturday, May 14, the second Saturday of the month, dawned cold and wet. There were freezing conditions forecast, with gale force winds, and it was nearly so at 5 a.m. when my husband, Scott, and I set out from home to begin our Spring Migration count in Lodi Township. All over the county, birders were up early - obscenely early - to count birds. 91 birders, to be exact, 20 more than last year. All pitched in for a massive volunteer effort to count all the birds, all the species in our county.
Our hardy group of nine Washtenaw Audubon birders braved a 25-degree windchill and heavy-at-times snow showers in search of spring migrants in the Arb. We lingered for a long time where ground litter obscured a Fox sparrow and Winter wren. Suddenly the Fox sparrow perched in the open where everyone had long and close looks; a Hermit thrush perched even closer displaying his profile and straight on. We met Andrew Pawluk at the boardwalk who put us onto a Winter wren.