By Robert Sudar
The Leadbetter Point Christmas Bird Count was held on December 19th, 2020. Nationally, it was the 121st Christmas Bird Count. The Leadbetter count has been held each December since at least 1978, except for 2008, when it was cancelled because of heavy snow that made travel to the coast treacherous.
The count "circle" is centered in Willapa Bay and includes areas on both sides of the Bay, plus part of the Long Beach coastline including the Point itself. There are 8-10 "sectors" assigned to different counting teams, depending on how many counters are available and whether all areas are accessible.
For instance, the northern half of Long Island is within the count circle, but no one has counted it for many years because it's harder to reach. This year, COVID-19 created some challenges trying to make sure counters from different family groups weren't mixed, so there were fewer counters overall and each group had to be from the same household.
Some counters also chose not to participate because of health concerns, and some were unable to travel. But organizer Suzy Whittey, who lives on the peninsula, was able to recruit enough counters to get the job done. Counting is done from cars and on foot, depending on the location.
Many homeowners open their yards for counters, while others greet the slow-moving cars with questions, good wishes and the occasional tip as to where birds were recently seen. The weather was dry and adequately calm despite the storms that week until around 1PM, when the rain and wind returned. Still, the temperatures were moderate which made the work more enjoyable.
Overall, almost 18,000 individual birds were seen comprising 88 different species, which is a little lower than normal but still good results considering the challenges of staging the count at all.
The most unusual bird was a Bar-tailed Godwit spotted in the Oysterville area. Pine Siskins were definitely more abundant, often in a flock of over 150 birds. And there were over 80 Anna's Hummingbirds. They were rare at this time of year 40 years ago but are becoming increasingly common on the Leadbetter Count, just as they are in many local areas during the winter. There were also six American Dippers, a bird that likes to forage along fast-moving streams but can be challenging to see.
On the disappointing side of the count, there were no Brants, no Greater White-fronted Geese, no Gray Jays, no Snowy Plovers, no Northern Shovelers, no owls of any species, no Coots, no Bitterns, no Sapsuckers and only Common Loons this year. That doesn't mean there weren't some in the area, but they weren't seen on count day. It's not atypical to have some variation from year to year in what is seen but that doesn't lessen the disappointment for the counters! Brants and Snowy Plovers, for example, are species that have been rebounding a bit in numbers during the winter count in recent years and it would have been good to have recorded them again this year.
It was rewarding for all the counters to be able to spend the day recording birds and helping to maintain the continuity of the data set for the Leadbetter Christmas Bird Count. Hopefully, it will be less of a challenge in 2021!