Harlan County Christmas Bird Count Recap

By Joel Jorgensen | joel.jorgensen@nebraska.gov | 21 December 2018

The 11th Harlan County Christmas Bird Count (CBC) took place on 14 December 2018.  Weather was excellent with a high around 43 degrees and a low of 19 degrees.  Skies were clear and winds were light all day.   Thirteen observers recorded a total of 94 species, which is the second highest total ever recorded.  For the record, the Harlan County CBC has been conducted annually during the years 1996-2001 and 2014-2018.  Below, is a summary of the notable results from the CBC.

Species new to the count:  Red-shouldered Hawk, Bohemian Waxing and Gray Catbird were all notable species recorded for the first time.

Other good birds: Long-tailed Duck, Golden Eagle, Marsh Wren and Mountain Bluebird (pictured, above) were other excellent finds and all of these species have been recorded on only one previous Harlan County CBC prior to 2018. Pied-billed Grebe is another bird found in 2018 that surprisingly has only been recorded one other year (1998).

Record high counts:  Perhaps the most notable high count was the 18 Mountain Bluebirds, which, as noted above, is rare on the count.  The bluebirds were in four small groups scattered around the lake.  A total of 3 Barred Owl near Orleans suggests this species is now established within the count circle. The total of 3 Swamp Sparrows, a species recorded on only two other counts, was also noteworthy.  Other record high counts include Cackling Goose (34), Northern Pintail (21), Rock Pigeon (341) and Mourning Dove (37).

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker has been recorded every year since 2014.

Record low count:  A meager 10 Black-capped Chickadees were tallied, which is just a bit lower than the previous record low of 12 found in 2016.  These totals are much lower than the average 99 recorded in the late 1990s before West Nile Virus hit and raises questions whether the disease is still negatively impacting this species in this area.  Only species regularly recorded on the CBC were considered here.

Biggest miss:   Without a doubt it was Brown Creeper. This species was recorded on all ten previous Harlan County CBCs with an average 7 individuals tallied annually.

Other big misses:   Merlin was recorded on eight of ten previous counts and Lesser Black-backed Gull was recorded on three of the last four counts.   Other misses include Canvasback, Bufflehead, Ruddy Duck and White-throated Sparrow.   Ferruginous Hawk and Townsend’s Solitaire are two species I would have guessed we would get with some regularity, but each has only been recorded on three counts total.

Still no magpies:  This is the fourth year in a row that Black-billed Magpie has gone unrecorded on the CBC.   Prior to 2014, the species was a regular with an average of 24 recorded during the period 1996-2001.  West Nile Virus has hammered this species in the state and is the likely reason it is absent and has been missed in recent years.

Sapsucker now a staple:   Yellow-bellied Sapsucker went unrecorded during the first era of the CBC (1996-2001), but has been recorded every year during the more recent iteration (2014-2018).  Two were found this year.

Common Mergansers from a distance

2018 Participants:  Mary Bomberger Brown, Stephen Brenner, Kenny Dinan, Lauren Dinan, Robin Harding, Andrew Furman, Joel Jorgensen, Clem and Bette Klaphake, Jonathan Nikkila, Brian Peterson, Lanny Randolph, Ross Silcock and T.J. Walker

Thanks to those individuals that spent their day counting birds in Harlan County.  This year’s CBC was another great count.  One of these years the stars will align and we’ll reach 100 species.   Maybe next year?