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Published: Sunday, January 12, 2014, 1:00 a.m.

Bird count sets records for scope, sightings

It's a numbers game when tallying the results of the annual Christmas Bird Count in Everett and Marysville.
Bird-watchers spotted 13 pine siskins (record low, 779 average 1995-2013), 2,558 ring-necked ducks (record high, perhaps in the state), four western gulls (record low), 18 Eurasian collared-dove (record high, first counted 2011), 54 Anna's hummingbirds (record high, more than double 2012 record), and record highs for red-breasted sapsuckers, northern flickers, pelagic cormorants, fox sparrow, golden-crowned sparrow, dark-eyed (Oregon) junco, Stellar's jays, black-capped chickadee, bushtits, marsh wrens and fox sparrows.
But the Pilchuck Audubon Society's local count went far beyond the bird numbers.
"The biggest news this year was a vast expansion in coverage in terms of both accessing new areas and number of participants," coordinator Scott Atkinson said.
Three kayak teams paddled Ebey and Union sloughs, a first, and counted 54 species. Jetty Island had its first count on foot, as well as a kayaker making her annual count on a round-the-island paddle. Covering most of the Centennial Trail was also a first.
The record high counts can be attributed to various factors, Atkinson said, including the deep freeze pushing some songbirds to sea level, and a gradual trend to increasing numbers.
"It is well-documented that the sapsucker especially is often more numerous at middle elevations and in the foothills in winter," Atkinson said. "As in past years, low temperatures bring them down into the lowlands.
"For freshwater ducks, frozen beaver and farm ponds push the birds down closer to sea level where open water can be found. A very strong breeding season last summer (two-month stretch of beautiful weather), was surely part of the reason certain lowland residents (including bushtits and downy woodpeckers) having record-high showings.
Another factor was a record 89 bird-watchers, including 18 counting birds at their feeders or on their property.
They tallied 37,328 birds and 135 species, covering 514 miles over 215 volunteer hours, setting records for hours on foot; hours on personal private property; miles and hours by bike; and hours and miles by kayak or boat.
"The Marysville sewage treatment plant produced an awesome 1,904 ring-necked ducks, which must have been a breathtaking sight," Atkinson said.
He's already is looking forward to the 2014 count.
"We are pleased to have had 18 feeder-watchers this year, but ideally we would have at least one (feeder counter) in each land-based territory … about 24 feeder-watching stations," Atkinson said.
First-time feeder-watchers can contribute valuable information.
During the Christmas Bird count, one new feeder/yard-watcher recorded most of his territory's 394 dark-eyed juncos; one new watcher saw a barred owl; another saw three evening grosbeaks, only the second place they were seen during the count; and one provided the only yellow-rumped (Myrtle) warbler seen during the count.
Columnist Sharon Wootton can be reached at 360-468-3964 or www.songandword.com.
Story tags » Bird-watching

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