By Dick Gunn
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — Cleveland County’s annual Christmas bird count was done Dec. 30, the last Sunday of the year, with a number of souls venturing out to survey the numbers and number of species of birds within the county area.
The day was a bit cold and cloudy with no wind. Deep, cold, strong winds not only keep the birds hiding but keep birders inside or not out a much. Clouds can make the lighting tricky. The consensus was that that it could have been a lot worse. This year, about 30 birders were in about a dozen different parties, ranging from one to as many as nine and a number of feeder watchers.
Mark Howery, of Norman, a non-game biologist for the Wildlife Department, is the most knowledgeable analyst of local bird populations and has been coordinating the Cleveland County effort for at least the last 10 years. He is in charge of making sure the whole circle gets covered and for compiling and analyzing data.
Mark noted that of the 111 species seen, the largest numbers were species that travel in large flocks: Red-winged Blackbird (15,555), American Robin (6,688), European Starling (2,306), Ring-billed Gull (1,011) and Dark-eyed Junco (985).
He said there were a good number for most of the waterfowl.
“In fact, this is the first time in a long time that we have picked up all of the duck species that are likely for our county area. We even picked up all of the species that we only see sporadically, such as Wood Duck, Ruddy Duck, Lesser Scaup, Common Merganser and Red-breasted Merganser,” he said.
“This is the first year in about a decade that we have recorded all three Merganser species, and what is especially noteworthy is that all three were traveling together in one flock on the west side of Lake Thunderbird,” he said.
“We also picked up both species of vultures: Black Vultures and Turkey Vulture. This is only the second time that Black Vulture has been recorded on the Norman CBC and only about the ninth or tenth time that we’ve picked up Turkey Vulture.”
The other unusual findings this year included a flock of 13 Red Crossbills. Howery noted the sighting of two eruptive species — Pine Siskin and Red-breasted Nuthatch.
“We had a string of uncommon birds that were seen in small numbers, but at least they were found,” he said. “For example, we picked up Orange-crowned Warbler (1), Common Yellowthroat (1), Greater Roadrunner (1), Brown Thrasher (1), Marsh Wren (2), Le Conte’s Sparrow (1), Vesper Sparrow (2), Chipping Sparrow (1), American Tree Sparrow (1) and Swamp Sparrow (2) ...
“We had slightly higher numbers of Loggerhead Shrikes (6) and Western Meadowlarks (7) than the average over the past 20 years. That could be a result of the drought pushing western birds farther east and into central Oklahoma. That might also explain the presence of Vesper Sparrows ...”
Low numbers were recorded for many resident songbirds. Species seen in low numbers included Tufted Titmouse, Carolina Chickadee, Bewick’s Wren and Field Sparrow.
The wintering, native sparrows also were down, with low numbers for Field Sparrow, Harris’s Sparrow and Song Sparrow. The numbers for Spotted Towhee, White-throated Sparrow, White-crowned Sparrow and Savannah Sparrow also were low. Only the Northern Cardinal, Fox Sparrow and Dark-eyed Junco were close to normal.
Other species seen in low numbers this year included Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Common Grackle, Northern Flicker and Killdeer.
Belted Kingfishers and American Coot were especially low. And the Northern Bobwhite didn’t appear. The species has been in decline for 20-plus years.
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