Chirping about CBCs

By Patti Muzny

January is a pretty good month for “chirping” about Christmas Bird Counts. When I opened up my CBC file for OKC Audubon, I started to pull it out and it was so heavy, the old glue gave way and the metal file guide fell out, spilling part of the contents. Eeee-gads…there was a species list in the back from 1985 that John Newell or maybe Dorothy, had typed on a manual typewriter!! I’ve been getting up early on a Saturday in December and battling whatever elements that Mother Nature threw at me for over 30 years! CBC’s make for some interesting experiences – most of them wonderful and many of them hilarious.

Here I go again – laughing about a couple of memorable, long-ago CBC moments. There was the time at Crystal Lake when we were out counting in several inches of snow, capped with ice. The north wind was off the charts and it was beyond cold. My counting friends were Jimmy Woodard, Max Fuller, Nancy Vicars and my son, Brian. The wind was so strong, that if I got out of my truck, I had to hang onto the large side mirror to keep from being blown over – true story! Nancy and I decided we would just spend some time inside the truck and send Jimmy and Max out to walk around the north and east edge of Crystal Lake. We told them we would write down anything they told us to. I think Jimmy probably gave us a half-frosty glare and took off across the icy terrain. When they returned, I learned that the wind had indeed blown Jimmy over. All the more reason for ME to stay in the truck. Wish I could have seen that!

One more memory involved Ernie Wilson. We were doing the Arcadia CBC along the edge of Horseshoe Lake. Ernie stepped out of the rear door my truck and simply disappeared. One would think that Ernie would not be able to disappear so easily on a flat road at the edge of a wheat field. Soon he reappeared, scope and all. Unknown to any of us, there was a rather deep hole at the edge of a tin whistle that was overgrown with weeds. When Ernie stepped out, he fell backwards into the hidden hole. After I made sure his scope was OK, I collapsed into hysterical laughter. I still laugh about how amusing that sight was! Sorry, Ernie!

Brian and I participated in our OKC Audubon CBC on Saturday, December 20, 2014. As we expected, our count area has succumbed at an even more rapid pace to the need for far NW Oklahoma City and SW

Edmond to provide housing for its citizens. More and more of our pasture land is now either a gated community or in the process of morphing into one. There were very few children playing outside in the neighborhoods. While driving around behind a new private school, my eye was drawn to their new state-of-the art play area – the surface was fake grass. Sigh!

There is one positive note – although probably not for long – there is now access into the emerging subdivisions where streets have been poured and sometimes we can drive to the far edges of the development and look into the few areas of undisturbed habitat. We’ve always been pro-active bird counters and have loved to be out “beating the bushes.” We still love to beat bushes, but the bushes are not there to beat anymore! Progress seems to come with a price and it seems wildlife habit pays the most. Maybe not having to pick obnoxious weed seeds out of my fleece jacket is not too bad?

Another encouraging element is the larger amount of acreage owned by a few of the large churches in our territory. The land surrounding the churches still has some habitat left. It’s in these areas we found a few hawks scrutinizing the prairie, hoping for a catch. And they don’t have “no trespassing” signs everywhere. We had a couple of unexpected species – two Ross’s Geese and a large flock of American White Pelicans. Also located was one Ferruginous Hawk. After walking 5.5 miles of fields and woods, and counting for 8.5 hours, we managed to ferret out 58 species of birds. We enjoyed the light wind, although it was a little chilly and totally overcast all day.

Diane Newell continues to open her home to the hungry hoards that descend upon the Newell residence to savor the home-cooked chili’s, chowders, sides and desserts that fill the tables to overflowing each year. It’s always a treat to see members who don’t regularly attend the OKC Audubon meetings, but that always participate in our CBC. It’s a fun time catching up and trading bird “tales.” We do appreciate her generous hospitality. Thank you, Diane!

Moving along to the 2014 Cleveland County CBC. Esther Key, Brian and I spent December 28, 2014, Hiking and driving around the Little River State Park area for our CBC. It had been quite chilly on Saturday night and it was still quite chilly when we stopped near Twin Bridges to count.

We just watched and marveled at the fog that was shrouding the water. Couldn’t see any birds, but we could hear a few land birds. The temperature gauge on my truck was reading twenty degrees and my toes were not as cozy as they could have been. But this beautiful gift of a morning with fog slowly dissipating over a perfectly smooth lake surface was enticing. And we certainly enjoyed the sunshine that slowly emerged and chased away the fog.

As the fog began to lift, we could see the gulls and grebes and a few ducks and cormorants that had been waiting for better flying weather. Usually when we do this count we have a raw, stiff wind blowing at us from across water. As we scanned the lake, we knew any ripple we saw would indicate a bird on the water. Brian found our “usual” Winter Wren in this area.

We moved on to the marina area where we get out and hike around the point on the SE area of the marina. Brian went off on a hike and Esther and I sat in the truck a few minutes – it was time for our mid-morning snack! As we sat facing the east and watching for birds, a movement in a little tree near the water attracted our attention. We found a Pileated Woodpecker; then we saw another; then we saw Flickers, Red-belly, Downy, a Hairy, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker and Red-headed Woodpeckers! All of this activity happened in about 10 minutes and we didn’t even have to get out of the truck!

The main treat for our day was a total of 15 Red-headed Woodpeckers. It seemed like they were everywhere. They got the prize for the most woodpecker species for the day. Conspicuously absent from our tally was Robins. We didn’t see or hear a single Robin all day. I don’t think I’ve ever had that happen before. We can find Winter Wrens, Kinglets, Spotted Towhees, Yellowlegs, Sapsuckers, Nuthatches, Roadrunners (not this year), and Pileated Woodpeckers. We found no doves. We only found two Cedar Waxwings in an area where we usually see several.

Morning birding was excellent with several mixed flocks feeding in grassy areas where the snow had melted. After noon, the birds all seemed to disappear. Our afternoon, as soon as Esther left, just went into granny gear! It was still fun and the weather was chilly, but outstanding with no wind. So, last year we blamed the wind for lack of birds, but this year there was no wind. Maybe there just are not as many birds out there to count. We tend to do a lot of walking in various habitats, as well as count from the vehicle. If the birds are there, we usually can find them. Oh, well…got a lot of exercise, anyway.