Sea Rim State Park Christmas Bird Count, 3 January 2011
Sea Rim State Park Christmas Bird Count – 3 January 2011
Twenty-six participants gathered for the Sea Rim State Park Christmas Bird Count under clear skies but with slightly chilly air. However, there was very little wind initially, and it was a good day to see birds. Conditions in the circle that were disrupted by Hurricane Ike are rapidly returning to normal, but there were some other issues. The South Levee Road on Pleasure Island is still under rebuild, along with levee work, and we could not negotiate access. In any event, the very dry conditions have left that impoundment with very little water, and it is not clear whether all the salt water has yet been flushed out of the impoundment, which practically only "drains" by overflowing and only receives inflow from local rainfall. There is work in progress in Murphree Wildlife Management Area which will eventually improve the area for wildlife, but which is having a negative short term effect. Those who surveyed the beaches from near Texas Point to the western boundary of Sea Rim found them strangely devoid of the large gull and tern flocks that are usually there. This may just be one of those chance things that the birds had picked other areas on that day. We still miss some of the areas that used to have trees or more trees than they now have, especially the Willows at Sea Rim, and perhaps the underbrush is not fully back to normal in the places where there are living trees.
The provisional total number of species is 158, two more than last year. The number of birds seen was very much larger than any year since the count was restarted in 1995, but that was almost exclusively because a huge flock of Snow Geese, estimated at 50,000 birds, was in the sliver of Southwest Louisiana that is in the count circle. While on the Johnson Bayou count, we were told by locals that that was where most of the Snow Geese in the area were congregating. Likely, hunting is not occurring in that area this year. That notwithstanding, we did not find Greater White-fronted Geese this year. We missed the species in January 2009, but it was always found before that. Numbers of Snow Geese elsewhere in the circle were on the low side. It is very difficult to pick out Ross's Geese in a flock on the ground, or massing overhead, so it may not be surprising that we only detected a small number of them. All other evidence points to an increasing percentage of Ross's among the local white geese.
Many duck species were seen in relatively normal numbers, although the numbers over the years have varied widely for many species, reflecting perhaps the chance to finding one of the larger flocks of some species, especially teal. Wood Ducks were found this year; this species was last seen on the count in December 2000, but was seen more often in the late 1990s. Mottled Ducks were up over the last three years, while Blue-winged Teal, although not reaching last year's all time high, were the second highest ever. We did not find many Northern Pintails, and those we did tended to be in mixed flocks. Canvasback numbers were low by historical standards, but the combination of the Pleasure Island and Murphree habitat abnormalities may have forced them away from their favored locations in those areas. Bufflehead numbers were very low, perhaps for the same reason. Ring-necked Ducks tend not to be too numerous near the immediate coast, but the number seen was low nevertheless. It was a little disappointing again not to find scoters in the Gulf, but perhaps the combination of wind and tide levels was unfavorable for finding offshore birds. We have been finding one or two Common Goldeneye much more frequently in recent years, but it was nice to see them this year. Hooded Mergansers were in good numbers even though absent from some usual spots, while Red-breasted Merganser numbers were very low. Ruddy Duck numbers were also low, although, within the circle, they tend to be very concentrated, and can easily be on some pond close-by but not inside the circle. Common Loons – five is a good number by the standards of recent years – were over in Louisiana this year.
One has to go back to the late nineties to find higher numbers of Pied-billed Grebes. Eared Grebes are expected, but in small numbers. It is now a few years since we have seen any Gannets on the count. Numbers of American White and Brown Pelicans were "high normal." We haven't kept track of the ages of the Brown Pelicans we have seen on the count, but it appears that the percentage of adult birds is steadily growing. In the early days of re-colonization of the area, it was all immature birds that we saw, as they spread out from the then existing colonies. Missing Anhinga was a disappointment.
We always manage to find one or two American Bitterns in McFaddin NWR even though some of the areas there that have the highest concentration are west of the circle. While there were good numbers of herons and egrets, most were, in fact, near normal except for Little Blue Herons, which have not been seen in such numbers on the count since 2000. Reddish Egrets are typically very numerous at Bolivar Flats, but become progressively more difficult to find to the east. This year, two very pale immature birds were in the ponds inside Texas Point NWR. Cattle Egrets almost all leave for the winter, but we can sometimes, as this year, find one that has stayed for whatever reason. Similarly, Green Herons remain in the area in very small numbers so finding two was nice. Numbers of both Night-Herons were low this year, but better than last year when we missed Yellow-crowned altogether. The number of White Ibis seen was an all-time high, while good numbers of dark Ibis (Plegadis species) were seen. Roseate Spoonbill numbers were disappointing.
In the 1980 and early 1990s, Black Vultures were rarely seen on the coast, but we have come to expect them, and, indeed, numbers of both Black and Turkey Vultures were very normal. In the last few years, we have seen more than two Ospreys on the count, but over the entire span of counts, that is about average. White-tailed Kites became scarce after the hurricanes, but seem to be holding their own again. Most of the rest of the raptors were in unremarkable numbers, except for Red-tailed Hawks which, as even the most casual observer in the area will have noticed, are extremely numerous this year and 121 is more than double the previous high. A pair of Crested Caracaras has made the stretch of Highway 87 from Sabine Pass to Clam Lake Road its hunting grounds, but we only saw one of them on this year's count. Falcons were pretty much normal.
Of the usually easier-to-find rails, most were found in near normal numbers, except that only one Sora was unusual. We know there are Yellow and Black Rails in the marshes in winter, but they are not easy to find. Last year we were lucky to find a Black Rail; this year we flushed two Yellow Rails, recording that species for the seventh time in sixteen years. Common Moorhens still seem to be in low numbers by pre-hurricane standards, while American Coots have declined somewhat from recent highs.
Black-bellied Plovers weren't quite as numerous as we have come to expect, but the Sea Rim beach seems to have become well established as the local stronghold of Snowy Plovers. An encouraging sign was finding 16 Piping Plovers, close to the all time high for this count. Killdeer are always obvious to anyone who listens, and likely very few escape being counted, but the numbers this year were very high. It was disappointing to miss American Oystercatchers again this year after they seemed to have established a toe-hold in the areas from 2000 to 2006. In what may well be hurricane related, Black-necked Stilt numbers, although up from last years total, were still below average. American Avocets were not numerous, although this may mostly reflect the current conditions on Pleasure Island.
Spotted Sandpiper numbers were the highest in more than a decade, while Greater Yellowlegs were at a new all time high. Many other shorebirds were present in fairly low numbers, especially Western Sandpipers and even Sanderlings. Ruddy Turnstones were present, unlike last year, while Least Sandpipers seemed to be everywhere and we comfortably established a new high. Stilt Sandpipers have been seen on the count more frequently in recent years, so 29 birds in Texas Point NWR was nice. Dunlins were the common bird along much of the shore this year. The total number of Dowitchers was normal, but only Short-billed were identified as to species. Finally, as has been happening on almost all counts in the region this year, there was an American Woodcock, a species last seen on this count from 2003 to 2006. Again, as has been the experience in counts in the region, there are a lot of Wilson's Snipe wintering this year.
The number of gulls seen was very normal, except for Bonaparte's Gulls which have become much less common in recent years. However, the terns seemed to be elsewhere on count day. Caspian and Royal Tern numbers were lowish, Forster's Tern numbers very much so, while no Common Terns were seen for the third year in a row. Finding two Black Skimmers, while welcome was unusual, as we usually find either none or a large number.
Eurasian Collared-Doves were seen again after two years absence, possibly hurricane related. We again found a few (nine) White-winged Doves, a strange contrast to many other local areas where they are extremely numerous. The area is not a stronghold for Mourning Doves, but only 28 was quite low.
Owls always elicit much interest. With probably six Barn Owls spending the fall in Sabine Woods, it was surprising to find them mostly in the marshes. Four Great Horned Owls is very much normal. The star owl of the count was Short-eared Owl. One was seen near Sabine Woods in the dawn's early light, while three more were seen in Texas Point NWR, one near the beach, and two up nearer the highway.
There were no hummingbirds found this year, while most of the woodpecker species were seen in normal to low normal, except Red-bellied Woodpeckers, which seem to have been increasing in time within the circle.
Everyone likes to see male Vermilion Flycatchers, but the bird that was staked out at the Sabine Pass Cemetery brought the number of counts with the species only up to six. Eastern Phoebes were seen in decent but not high numbers.
Three Horned Larks, flushed immediately inland from the Texas Point beach, were the first ever on the count. Tree Swallows have become a normal sight over the marshes in winter, but this year, the numbers were quite high.
Some woodland species are not easy to find in a count circle that does not provide a continuous connector of wooded areas from areas north of IH-10. However, we do regularly find Brown Creeper – three this year – and Carolina Chickadees in respectable numbers. Carolina Wrens were seen in the highest numbers of the decade, while it was nice to find Winter Wren for only the third time in the past ten years. Sedge Wrens, the staple little brown bird seen from the airboat in the marsh, were back in very good numbers, after some low numbers in the wake of the hurricanes. Marsh Wren numbers, however, were low.
All across the region, Golden-crowned Kinglets have been very obvious this winter, and it is no surprise that 62 came close to equaling the number of Ruby-crowned Kinglets (70). Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, spread out over all patches of suitable habitat were still in "low normal" numbers, perhaps reflecting the not quite complete recovery from the hurricanes of the underbrush.
Eastern Bluebird is a species that rarely makes it all the way to the coast, so finding one was nice. As usual, it was some distance inland. Hermit Thrushes have occasionally irrupted into large number in the count circle, but this year's four was perhaps "low normal." American Robins tend to be peripatetic in winter, responding to weather events and food availability. This year's numbers in the count circle were very low, although from what we hear from other counts, they are not in any population danger. Brown Thrasher numbers crashed after the hurricanes, especially Ike, reflecting the loss of underbrush, but increased this year to a very modest eight. Cedar Waxwings, seemingly in very low numbers across the region this year, were not seen.
Both Orange-crowned and Yellow-rumped Warblers were low in number, while Pine warblers, not present last year, were seen again in normal numbers. Ten Palm Warblers is high by recent standards, but not really unexpected after very large numbers were seen in Sabine Woods both spring and well into the fall.
Historically, a few Eastern (and sometimes Spotted) Towhees have wintered in the circle, although they have not always cooperated on count day. Two Eastern Towhees were seen in two different wooded areas. Of the sparrow associated with woodlands, White-throated were present in very good numbers, Field Sparrows, seen only on about 40 percent of counts, were found, while Chipping Sparrow was not, despite a decent number having been in Sabine Woods a week or two earlier. Of the wet country sparrows, Swamp and Lincoln's were in good numbers; Seaside Sparrows seem to have recovered from the hurricanes, but it was not until late in the day that we found Nelson's Sparrows, which have become difficult to find in mid-winter even though they are easy and present in good numbers in fall and spring. White-crowned are not common in the circle, so finding 15 was nice. Savannah sparrows, however, were present in high numbers along the roadsides and along the edge of the beach. Dark-eyed Junco is not an expected species, so finding one was nice.
A female Painted Bunting, in very bright unmistakable female-Painted-Bunting green, made an appearance at the drip in Sabine Woods late in the day. This was a new species for the count, although not totally unexpected as presumably the same bird had been seen there a couple of weeks earlier. The Indigo Buntings also there earlier were not seen on count say, however.
Blackbird numbers were unremarkable, although 125 Brown-headed Cowbirds made up for last year's lack the species. American Goldfinch numbers were in what we have come to regard as normal numbers.
Thanks are due to all who helped. We thank Jim Sutherlin for access to Murphree, Tracy Ferguson for Sea Rim, and especially Patrick Walther for providing access to and transportation in Texas Point and McFaddin NWRs.
We thank all who participated: Cody Conway; Howard Davis; Terry Ferguson; Nancy Fisher; Sherry Gibson; John Haynes; Don Jeane; Rose Ann and Harrison Jordan; Denise and Gary Kelley; Karen McCormick; Art MacKinnon; Steve Mayes; Sherrie Roden; Kelley Sampeck; Jenny Shuffield; Christine Sliva; Mary Ann and Don Stockard; Ken Sztraky; Tex Wells; Patrick Walther; Jana and John Whittle; Bill Wright.
GOOSE, Snow (51519); GOOSE, Ross's (3); DUCK, Wood (8); GADWALL (545); WIGEON, American (5); MALLARD (2); DUCK, Mottled (77); TEAL, Blue-winged (238); SHOVELER, Northern (202); PINTAIL, Northern (26); TEAL, Green-winged (1392); CANVASBACK (870); DUCK, Ring-necked (15); SCAUP, Greater (3); SCAUP, Lesser (1488); SCAUP, Species (280); BUFFLEHEAD (12); GOLDENEYE, Common (2); MERGANSER, Hooded (24); MERGANSER, Red-breasted (5); DUCK, Ruddy (44); DUCK, species (1062); LOON, Common (5); GREBE, Pied-billed (78); GREBE, Eared (3); PELICAN, American White (1240); PELICAN, Brown (100); CORMORANT, Neotropic (329); CORMORANT, Double-crested (287); BITTERN, American (2); HERON, Great Blue (75); EGRET, Great (271); EGRET, Snowy (212); HERON, Little Blue (40); HERON, Tricolored (66); EGRET, Reddish (2); EGRET, Cattle (1); HERON, Green (2); NIGHT-HERON, Black-crowned (10); NIGHT-HERON, Yellow-crowned (1); IBIS, White (2204); IBIS, White-faced (75); IBIS, Plegadis species (1097); SPOONBILL, Roseate (54); VULTURE, Black (17); VULTURE, Turkey (40); OSPREY (2); KITE, White-tailed (4); HARRIER, Northern (40); HAWK, Sharp-shinned (5); HAWK, Cooper's (5); HAWK, Red-shouldered (4); HAWK, Red-tailed (133); CARACARA, Crested (1); KESTREL, American (12); MERLIN (7); FALCON, Peregrine (2); RAIL, Yellow (2); RAIL, Clapper (14); RAIL, King (8); RAIL, Virginia (4); SORA (1); RAIL, species (1); MOORHEN, Common (30); COOT, American (640); PLOVER, Black-bellied (56); PLOVER, Snowy (24); PLOVER, Semipalmated (40); PLOVER, Piping (16); KILLDEER (233); STILT, Black-necked (101); AVOCET, American (49); SANDPIPER, Spotted (9); YELLOWLEGS, Greater (42); WILLET (123); YELLOWLEGS, Lesser (32); YELLOWLEGS, species (20); WHIMBREL (6); CURLEW, Long-billed (15); GODWIT, Marbled (13); TURNSTONE, Ruddy (3); SANDERLING (159); SANDPIPER, Western (7); SANDPIPER, Least (171); DUNLIN (942); SANDPIPER, Stilt (29); SANDPIPER species (56); DOWITCHER, Short-billed (35); DOWITCHER, species (282); SNIPE, Wilson's (60); WOODCOCK, American (1); GULL, Laughing (1453); GULL, Bonaparte's (8); GULL, Ring-billed (873); GULL, Herring (48); TERN, Caspian (17); TERN, Forster's (86); TERN, Royal (69); SKIMMER, Black (2); PIGEON, Rock (121); COLLARED-DOVE, Eurasian (10); DOVE, White-winged (9); DOVE, Mourning (28); OWL, Barn (3); OWL, Great Horned (4); OWL, Short-eared (4); KINGFISHER, Belted (21); WOODPECKER, Red-bellied (22); SAPSUCKER, Yellow-bellied (4); WOODPECKER, Downy (24); FLICKER, Northern (3); PHOEBE, Eastern (38); FLYCATCHER, Vermilion (1); SHRIKE, Loggerhead (50); VIREO, White-eyed (4); VIREO, Blue-headed (12); JAY, Blue (19); LARK, Horned (3); SWALLOW, Tree (781); CHICKADEE, Carolina (18); CREEPER, Brown (3); WREN, Carolina (11); WREN, House (22); WREN, Winter (2); WREN, Sedge (131); WREN, Marsh (9); KINGLET, Golden-crowned (62); KINGLET, Ruby-crowned (70); GNATCATCHER, Blue-gray (30); BLUEBIRD, Eastern (1); THRUSH, Hermit (4); ROBIN, American (7); CATBIRD, Gray (15); MOCKINGBIRD, Northern (50); THRASHER, Brown (8); STARLING, European (432); PIPIT, American (15); WARBLER, Orange-crowned (34); WARBLER, Yellow-rumped (5); WARBLER, Yellow-rumped(Myrtle) (97); WARBLER, Pine (23); WARBLER, Palm (10); YELLOWTHROAT, Common (18); TOWHEE, Eastern (2); SPARROW, Field (4); SPARROW, Savannah (493); SPARROW, LeConte's (6); SPARROW, Nelson's (10); SPARROW, Seaside (30); SPARROW, Song (21); SPARROW, Lincoln's (5); SPARROW, Swamp (201); SPARROW, White-throated (90); SPARROW, White-crowned (15); JUNCO, Dark-eyed (1); CARDINAL, Northern (35); BUNTING, Painted (1); BLACKBIRD, Red-winged (1055); MEADOWLARK, Eastern (78); GRACKLE, Common (328); GRACKLE, Boat-tailed (929); GRACKLE, Great-tailed (147); GRACKLE, species (82); COWBIRD, Brown-headed (125); GOLDFINCH, American (32); SPARROW, House (21); SPECIES, total (158); INDIVIDUALS, total (75964) Observers (26); Parties (9); Party-hours total (69.00); Party-miles total (98.75); Party-hours on foot (35.25); Party-miles on foot (17.25); Party-hours by car (27.00); Party-miles by car (49.50); Party-hours by airboat (3.00); Party-miles by airboat (27.00); Party-hours by 4-wheeler (3.00); Party-miles by 4-wheeler (5.00); Party-hours stationary (0.75).