Sunday, January 30, 2011

CBC was a Chart Buster! Sort of…

I’m expecting someone to tell me that there’s a glitch in my spreadsheet, because our grand total of species this year is a chart-busting 130!
Wait! There is a glitch. The total is 71.
I’m referring to the 60th annual Weldon Spring Christmas Bird Count on Sunday, January 2, 2011. A Christmas Bird Count (CBC) is a tally of the birds and number of species within a 15-mile diameter circle, in this case, centered on the town of Weldon Spring, St. Charles County, Missouri. Webster Groves Nature Study Society has sponsored MOWS (Missouri Weldon Spring) CBC since 1951. Most of our efforts are concentrated on Busch Memorial Conservation Area.
We had 81 party-hours, which sounds really fun. Actually. it’s just a total of the hours the groups spent surveying. The number of individual birds of each species is available in Audubon’s interactive data tables going back to the earliest Weldon count, but the “Species total” is not listed until the 1996 count year. It’s taking more time than I have right now to sift through the records, but so far the biggest total I’ve found was 80, on Jan. 3, 2009, with 61.5 party-hours. The prior year to that had 78 species in the composite list, with 79 party-hours.

I don’t know how to account for this number, especially when I look at the checklist you see in the above photo. An unknown compiler filled in a checklist including every species seen at least once starting in 1970. There is no end date specified, but it appears to be 1978. In that 8-year period, the total was 111. How could we surpass that in a single count?
Sorry! My mistake! We didn't. 71 is quite respectable, but not a chart-buster.

Some factors working in our favor this year was that we had 3 teams in the St. Louis County portion of the circle, including excellent wetland habitat in Howell Island, and Big Muddy National Wildlife Refuge, and mature forest with a small area of old growth in Babler State Park. At Howell Island, Mary Ann Auer and Mike Brady found a bird never recorded in the 60 year history of the Weldon Count: American Pipit!

Several birds were found by only one of the 16 groups: Tom Parmeter, working the northwestern portion of the circle touching Lake St. Louis found Green-wing Teal, seen on only 10 of the 60 Weldon Spring counts. Connie Alwood’s group was the only one to find Ring-necked Duck, and an amazing Short-eared Owl, seen only one other time in count history, in 1975! Dan Curran and Mary Smidt found Lesser Scaup in the southwest part of Busch. My group found Ruddy Duck on Lake 33. Bill Rowe’s group found Eastern Screech-Owl, seen on only 4 counts since 1951, and Brown-headed Cowbird. Working their way through central Weldon Spring CA, Bryan Prather and Paul Corley found Great Horned Owl and 6 Cedar Waxwings—this year was a low count for that species. Following the Hamburg Trail, Ken Hollinga was the only one to find Ruby-crowned Kinglet. Mike Grant. Mike Brady, and Mary Anne Auer were the only 2 groups to find Eastern Meadowlark, in the St. Louis County section of the circle. Jeannie Moe and Karen Meyer, as well as Bill Rowe’s group found Winter Wren.

There were a number of “high count” species, that is, birds in unusually high numbers. Turkey Vultures set a record of 85 (previous high was 18 in ’06), and I really think it was much higher than that. I saw a kettle of 50 but I could not determine if others counted the flock already. Their previous high count was 18 in ’06. Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers also set a record of 17 (11 in ’04), as did Yellow-rumped Warbler with 202 (200 in ’02). White-throated Sparrow totaled a mind-blowing 700, crushing the previous high count of 493 in ’01. 26 Eastern Towhees revealed themselves—previous maximum was 21 in ’08. Pileated Woodpecker scored an unusually high count of 32, just shy of the record of 33 set in 2004.

All together we counted 15,189 individual birds in the 15-mile diameter circle centered on Weldon Spring, St. Charles County. Our most widely distributed species were the Blue Jay (285 individuals), American Robin (3054), and of course, the 700 White-throated Sparrows! These were the only species were seen by every team whether counting in the forest at Lost Valley Trail or Babler State Park, the fields in Busch Wildlife Area, along the Katy Trail, or along the Missouri River at Howell Island or Greens Bottom Road. Other widely distributed bird, seen by 14 of the 16 teams, were Red-bellied Woodpecker (129 birds), N. Flicker (83), N. Cardinal (253).

I know what you’re thinking. Why do I keep saying this was the 60th count if it has been held since 1951? Well, there was no count data for 1968. Whether that was because of bad weather, lost records, or a lack of an organizer I don’t know. Thanks to everyone who participated! I wrote more about the Christmas Count experience in an earlier post. You might like to check the interactive data tables of historical and current results on National Audubon’s website.


  1. We had a good time too! Thanks for visiting!

  2. After gushing about our success to other birders-many of whom were skeptical, I got out a pencil and just counted the species. Using old school methods, I determined that there certainly was something wrong with my count function in Excel. Sorry about that Chief!

  3. I've added a page showing the spreadsheet of the compiled count. The link is above, just right of the title of this post.