About our 2020 Christmas Bird Count
The 50th annual Putah Creek CBC is scheduled for Sunday, December 20th, regardless of weather. We will be following National Audubon guidance regarding Covid-19.
- THE 2020 PUTAH CREEK CBC IS NOW CLOSED TO NEW VOLUNTEERS. Following strict Covid regulations, we will be conducting the count with small teams of experts who have already come forward. Please join our Zoom presentation at 7pm this Wednesday, Dec 9 for a discussion of recent count trends, including a discussion of climate change and the LNU Fire which impacted most of the count circle. Also join us for the online compilation at 7pm on December 20. Finally, please join us next year when we hope to run a normal count and encourage full participation by all!
- Masks or social distancing are required at all times. No carpooling with people outside your bubble. This may limit team sizes, including the number of vehicles. Our primary goal is to cover the usual routes from past years, even if only 1 or 2 people are able to cover a route.
- No social gatherings before or after the count. 1) The regular Bird ID Workshop and Count Background will be Zoom-style on Wednesday evening, Dec 9th. (The workshop was recorded and is available for viewing on the YAS YouTube channel.) 2) In lieu of a Compilation Dinner, there will be a Compilation Night on-line where we will share results and stories.
Approximately 60% of the count circle burned in the LNU fire, including all (or nearly all) of Areas 1, 2, 8, 9, and 10, and large sections of Areas 3, 4, 6, and 7. Also, the marina we normally use to put a boat on Lake Berryessa burned and is closed. This makes this count interesting and important for documenting avian changes due to fire and climate change. We already have a considerable fire history — and you’ll hear more about that at the CBC workshop.
Putah Creek CBC Area Leaders
Sunday, December 20th, 2020
|Organizer and Compiler||Steve Hampton|
|Area 1: Lake Berryessa, Thompson Canyon, & Quail Ridge||Area Leader: Bobby Walsh|
|Area 2: Bray Canyon||Area Leader: Ian Taylor|
|Area 3: North Side |
|Area Leader: Mary Schiedt|
|Area 4: Winters to Monticello Dam||Area Leader: Michael Perrone|
|Area 5: East Side |
(Putah Creek & Hwy 505)
|Area Leader: Kevin Guse|
|Area 6: English Hills North||Area Leader: Emmett Iverson|
|Area 7: English Hills South||Area Leader: Cameron Tescher|
|Area 8: Mt. Vaca |
(Mix & Gates Canyons)
|Area Leader: Bart Wickel|
|Area 9: Solano Park||Area Leader: Chris Dunford|
|Area 10: Wragg & Cold Canyon||Area Leader: Rob Furrow|
Yolo Audubon Society’s Putah Creek Christmas Bird Count was begun in 1971 and is one of California’s longest-running CBCs. As we approach 50 consecutive years of solid data collection, Steve Hampton (our CBC compiler for many of those years) has been able to identify trends for several species from the results and to relate them to conservation issues.
- We typically have about 80 participants, making it one of the largest inland counts in California and the Central Valley.
- We typically see over 140 species.
- We have led the nation in Northern Pygmy-Owl, Northern (Red-shafted) Flicker, Nuttall’s Woodpecker, Red-breasted Sapsucker, Yellow-billed Magpie, Oak Titmouse, American Robin, Lark Sparrow, and Lesser Goldfinch counts.
- We have provided important data on the effects of West Nile Virus on some species (especially Yellow-billed Magpie).
- We have data useful for illustrating impacts of climate change and loss of grasslands.
The 15-mile diameter count circle is centered southwest of Winters, California. It is divided into 10 areas and spans parts of Yolo, Solano, and Napa Counties. View the Putah Creek CBC areas in Google Earth by downloading the .kmz file. You may also view the Putah Creek CBC areas on Google Maps by clicking on the image below.
If you’re interested in the history of Christmas Bird Counts, this page on the Audubon website is helpful. Summary: instead of killing as many birds as possible at Christmas, we now count as many as we can.
2020 Putah Creek CBC Summary
By Steve Hampton
The 50th Putah Creek Christmas Bird Count was held on December 20, 2020 under strict Covid protocol. Area leaders sought to cover all usual routes with teams of one to two local experienced birders only. Thus, the count was essentially closed to the public. No carpooling was allowed and social distancing was required.
Clear and calm weather made for a long and enjoyable counting day, ultimately tallying 143 species.
As expected, the total number of participants was low, only 55 compared to the usual 85. The count was successful in covering all the usual routes, as evidenced by 206 party hours, the third highest total ever. This high number was largely driven by an extraordinary effort in Area 6, whose 38 party hours eclipsed the historical average of 13.
We traveled 121 miles on foot, a record high, and 171 miles by car. The early hours were marked by 16.4 hours of owling, also a record high.
There was one new species found on the count: a Black-throated Sparrow that was known to be over-wintering at a private residence in Area 4 (Yolo County).
Record high counts were set for seven species. These were: Virginia Rail (7), Great-horned Owl (95), Anna’s Hummingbird (262), Black Phoebe (252), Common Raven (450), White-breasted Nuthatch (236), and White-crowned Sparrow (3,011).
Many of the record high counts continue increasing trends among insectivores and fructivores, correlated with warmer winters and a lack of overnight freezes. Yellow-billed Magpies rebounded to their highest total since 2011, though still below pre-West Nile Virus numbers, especially when adjusted for party hours.
For the second year in a row, the only all-time low record was for Brewer’s Blackbird (370).
The count was notable for another reason: approximately 60% of the count was burned in the LNU Lightning Complex megafire in August 2020. A review of the 49-year history of the count suggests this fire was larger than all previous fires in the count circle combined. Specifically, the hills and canyons were often moonscaped, resulting in lower numbers of chaparral species, as well as displaced individuals (e.g. wrentits, thrashers) in unexpected areas.
Thanks to all the area leaders for assembling thorough coverage under pandemic conditions. We hope next year we can invite all birders and birders-to-be and finish the day with the comradery of a potluck.