Saturday, February 7, 2015

The Great Backyard Bird Count - 2015

Launched in 1998 by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and National Audubon Society, the Great Backyard Bird Count was the first online citizen-science project to collect data on wild birds and to display results in near real-time.
Since then, more than 100,000 people of all ages and walks of life have joined the four-day count each February to create an annual snapshot of the distribution and abundance of birds.
We invite you to participate! Simply tally the numbers and kinds of birds you see for at least 15 minutes on one or more days of the count, February 13-16, 2015.You can count from any location, anywhere in the world!
If you’re new to the count, first register online then enter your checklist. If you have already participated in another Cornell Lab citizen-science project, you can use your existing login.

Making sure that they get enough energy and fresh water...


GBBC 2015 Halftime Report

by Marshall Iliff, eBird/GBBC

February 15, 2015

We’re off to another great start this year, despite very trying winter weather conditions in some parts of the United States. (Currently -2° F, and -26° F with wind chill, here in Ithaca, N.Y.!) Thanks to all of you who have been out counting birds! The checklists are rolling in from around the globe and we’re hoping to surpass last year’s record Great Backyard Bird Count results.  Like many of us, Gary Mueller of Missouri and his birds have caught GBBC fever. See his great photo below!
Photo by Gary Mueller, Missouri, 2015 GBBC

As of mid-afternoon on Sunday, February 15, (eastern U.S. time zone) we have received checklists from 116 countries, including Australia, Kuwait, Iceland, India, South Africa, Thailand, Malaysia, the Philippines, Turkey, and many more. Below are the top 10 countries by numbers of checklists submitted along with their species tallies. Click on the country name to get the very latest totals in our “Explore a Region” tool.
 Number of Species 
 Number of Checklists 

Last year participants tallied more than 40% of the world’s bird species and we’re wondering if we might reach 50% this year. It will be quite a challenge, but there’s still time to get out there and add new species!

The Snowy Owl invasion—round 2

Last year was an epic year for Snowy Owls, but winter 2014-2015 has brought a pretty impressive “echo” flight. Read more about the where Snowy Owls have been appearing this winter.

Compare the February 2014 map (top) to this year (bottom). You’ll notice that both years have a lot of Snowy Owls and that the regions with snowies are pretty similar between years, but that there were more individuals reported in 2015—a classic “echo” flight. Zoom in on this map to see where Snowy Owls are being seen this month. Taking a non-birding friend out to see a Snowy Owl is one of the surest ways to get a new person interested in birding!

Snowy Owl eBird Reports February 2014


Snowy Owl eBird Reports February 2015


Winter finches are on the move this year, after an abysmal GBBC in 2014 when most winter finches stayed too far north in Canada to be counted. Watch the maps fill in for Common Redpoll and Pine Siskin, and see if you can find those species in your area!

Exciting rare birds

Along the Pacific Coast there have been good numbers of Asian birds spending the winter. Some of the strong Pacific storms in the fall may have blown a few birds off course, and once on the North American landmass it seems that some species wandered south. A Rustic Bunting in San Francisco has been a star attraction for a few months now, and has been counted for the GBBC—the first ever for San Francisco and one of very few for California. (Photo of Rustic Bunting by Michael O'Brien, California)

News just in today is that a backyard GBBCer in King County, Washington, photographed a Brambling at her feeders. A number of Bramblings reached the West Coast of the United States this year after the Pacific storms, but this is a super-exciting find for the GBBC—this is a species that is common in Eurasia and extremely rare in the Americas.

The Arctic is changing, and while its overall effects on our climate and on the fragile Arctic ecosystem are still being studied, one thing seems clear: the thawing Arctic is allowing birds to move more freely around the poles. Slaty-backed Gull, Tufted Puffin, Northern Gannet, and a number of other species have appeared in the “wrong” oceans in recent years, presumably dispersing through open water corridors in northern Canada and maybe over the pole.

This could be the explanation for north America’s first Common Scoter, which was first identified a few weeks ago in Crescent City, California. Since this is a European species, birders have been watching for it on the East Coast, and its appearance in the Pacific is a first-ever for the species and is very unexpected. It may headline as the most exciting bird counted for the GBBC in North America. Have a look at the GBBC checklist with a photo of the species.

Last year we highlighted two Mexican species that are moving north and being found regularly in the border states now: Sinaloa Wren (so far, found only in Arizona) and Rufous-capped Warbler (Arizona and Texas). Both have been found during this year’s GBBC too, and there is a new one to add to the mix that few would have expected: Striped Sparrow. This Mexican endemic sparrow is almost towhee-sized and few experts would have predicted its appearance, especially so far from the border near Austin. Although how and why it has appeared in the U.S. is still unclear, intrepid GBBCers have gone out to make sure it has been counted and it represents a new bird for the count in the U.S. (Striped Sparrow by Dominic Sherony via Wikipedia Creative Commons)

International highlights

Once again, India has been a lot of fun to watch during the GBBC! Indian birders have been abuzz on Facebook and other social media to promote the count and their great efforts are showing. This year we are seeing 598 species and 3,096 checklists (a huge increase over the 500 species and 1,184 checklists at this point last year!)

Some 485 species have been found down under these past 2 days. Several of the top submitters have had more than 100 species--pretty impressive for the dead of summer for Oz! I bet they have been warmer than the Canadian eBirders/GBBCers, who have dressed warm and worked hard for their 228 species. Thank goodness for the comparatively temperate province of British Columbia, which is leading the way by contributing 80% of the species (184). Reifel Bird Sanctuary alone has contributed 76 species, more than provincial totals for all but Ontario, Quebec, and Nova Scotia. Kudos to all Canadians who have braved the temperatures in the dead of winter to monitor bird populations! Birders in Mexico have surely been more comfortable as they have tallied 516 species (half of the country’s avifauna!) on their 147 checklists. With lots of endemic birds in the country, we hope a few more can be added to the global tally before the count closes out tomorrow. (Mauritius Fody by Varina Ramdonee, Mauritius, 2015 GBBC)

New and growing eBird communities are becoming part of the GBBC. Malaysian birders are taking part this year for the first time. Their start is modest (17 lists and 190 species), but this is an area that had not been covered at all before, so this is a great beginning. Watch for Malaysia to take off in 2016! In the Philippines, birders have posted 34 lists and 154 species and like Malaysia, this includes a lot of unique species that cannot be found elsewhere. Portuguese birders are rising to the challenge too, and will be adding a custom version of eBird for their country very soon. As of midday Sunday, they have spotted 164 species on 102 checklists, with more still coming in. Taiwan, which will also be adding a version of eBird in Mandarin later this year, is another area rich in endemic birds, so the 33 checklists reporting 153 species include some key ones for the global total. Some excellent local promotion has made Serbia a surprise member of the leader board. Serbian birders have found 120 species so far in 2015, with 77 so far for the GBBC. Can they break 100 species on the final day of the GBBC? Let’s all join in cheering them towards that goal! There are many other areas pitching in: Argentina, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Kuwait, Thailand, New Zealand, and more. Try exploring yourself to see what others are seeing around the world.

You can continue to enter your checklists through the GBBC website through the end of February. After that, you can still enter lists for the count by going directly to the eBird website, using your same user name and password.

If you haven’t already, try some of these activities:
  • Explore what’s being reported with the “Explore a Location” tool. You can see what species are being reported and how many checklists are being turned in at the county, state/province, and country levels. Just click “Explore Data” on the GBBC or eBird websites and you’ll see the “Explore a Location” tool at the top of the list.
  • Go to and try making a Targets list for your county or state in February. This may show what species are around that you have not yet reported. Click “map” to see where to find those birds and perhaps you’ll get to see and report them for the GBBC.
  • Submit photos for the GBBC photo contest or just explore some of the fantastic images that are coming in!
  • Sign up for the GBBC eNewsletter on the website homepage. This is the best way to stay on top of any updates and to get word of the 2014 count summary when it’s ready.
Thanks for counting with us—let’s keep a good thing going!


Lake Michigan Duck Watch - 2015

View from the WPT

On a sub-zero day in January 2015, I drove the WPT east to the shores of bone-chilling Lake Michigan to see just what ducks were there.  It was overcast, gray and windy as I pulled up in the parking lot of the water station and strapped on my gear.  I was dressed in layers to help fight the cold, but my hands were having a tough time with the gloves I had chosen.  Mittens would have been smarter; but using a camera with no finger dexterity is difficult.  I waded through a freshly falled amount of powder and approached the lake.  Ice had formed to within 10 yards of the shore in chaotically layered islands.  A slow but determined wave motion sloshed up into small "bays" and cuts in the ice pack.  I needed to be extremely careful not to slip; but even more wary not to blunder into a disguised mini-gorge and into the ice water. There was virtually no one who would ever hear any pleas for help.  The only other person I saw was one of those psycho-runners tip-toeing on the icy public sidewalk near Lakeshore Drive...and I thought I was nuts.

Ooh boy it's cold!
The predominant avian form seen this day was the Common goldeneye.  1. "Among Common Goldeneyes pair formation begins in midwinter, and until then the two sexes often form separate flocks. Indeed, males winter farther north than do the females. During its courtship display, the male stretches his head forward along the water and then snaps it rapidly upward over his back, bill pointed skyward, while uttering a shrill, two-noted call. Then he swings his orange feet forward, sending up a small shower in front of him. The wings of this species produce a loud whistling sound in flight, easily identified even when the birds cannot be seen; hunters call this species the "Whistler." Goldeneyes can dive to depths of 20 feet (6 meters) or more, but generally limit themselves to about 10 feet (3 meters). In winter, goldeneyes feed mainly on mollusks; in summer, their diet shifts to aquatic plants and insects.

Common Goldeneye
This species is particularly hardy and often the last waterfowl species to leave the breeding grounds and the first to return. Migration peaks occur in November and March/April. The species migrates in small, loose flocks, concentrating at suitable stopover points, especially in spring when these are limited. River valleys tend to funnel inland migrants to some extent. All populations are migratory, even where the species occurs year-round. Individuals may migrate only as far as necessary to find open water. The winter range is contiguous with the breeding range except in south-coastal Alaska and extends from the Alaska Peninsula along the Pacific coast to southern British Columbia, then across southern Canada and the lower 48 (except inland southern areas and south Florida) into coastal and lowland northern Mexico. Adult males tend to remain farther north than adult females, which in turn remain north of juveniles. The species also breeds across northern Eurasia and winters south to the Mediterranean, Caspian Sea, and Japan."

Lake Michigan shoreline in January

1. Source: Boreal about the Common Goldeneye