Bird Counts

The Olympia Christmas Bird Count – December 16th, 2018

This year marks the 119th year of the annual Christmas Bird Count sponsored by the National Audubon Society. Locally, the Olympia Count will take place on Sunday, December 16th. This count has been conducted since the 1970’s with 50 to 90 volunteer counters participating. Each count takes place within a pre-determined “count circle” that is 15 miles in diameter. Most participants join 1 of 16 count teams that cover a designated area. However, some choose to contribute by counting birds coming to feeders on their own property. Over the years, we have recorded between 117 and 134 different species of birds on count day.

After the count, at about 4:30pm, participants gather at Gull Harbor Lutheran Church for a chili feed followed by a compilation of the day’s results. Dinner is sponsored by Black Hills Audubon (BHAS). If you are interested in participating in this year’s count, contact count organizer Bill Shelmerdine at

A Mid-winter Waterfowl Survey Near Lake Lawrence

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) requested some assistance from BHAS members to survey waterfowl near Lake Lawrence the first week of January. Surveys were conducted at the 163rd-Lane wetland and Smith Prairie. As you may remember, the 25-acre 163rd-Lane wetland is next to a proposed cell tower site that BHAS and local neighbors have been opposing for the last two years. This survey, however, was not about the tower but to help WDFW to provide data to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) for its Mid-winter Waterfowl Survey, which is conducted nationwide each year in January. Some geese and ducks are not adequately monitored during the spring and summer because they nest in areas not well covered by breeding-population surveys, as explained on the USFWS website. Abundance indices for these species are obtained from surveys on wintering areas such as the 163rd-Lane wetland. The Mid-winter Waterfowl Survey provides information on population trends for some species, distribution on the wintering grounds, and habitat use. This wetland provides excellent habitat and will be part of future waterfowl surveys.

BHAS members Sue Danver, Rella Schafer, and Alex Foster counted 63 ducks including Ringed-necks, Buffleheads, Common Goldeneye, Mallards and Northern Shovelers. After the wetland survey, the group drove to Smith Prairie, a lovely pasture with a magnificent view of Mount Rainier and a favorite wintering spot for waterfowl just east of Lake Lawrence. Here they counted 98 dabblers including Green-winged Teal, American Wigeon and Northern Shovelers in the ponds. A large flock of Canada Geese made a low flyover above our observation point, landing in the pasture where 85 total geese plus 26 beautiful Trumpeter Swans were counted. Several Kestrels perching atop fence posts provided some wonderful photographs. It was a fun and productive day. (by Sue Danver)

2017 Christmas Bird Count

This year’s Christmas Bird Count (CBC)—held annually between December 14 and January 5—will be on Sunday December 17 in the Olympia area. According to the National Audubon Society it is the “nation’s longest- running citizen science bird project,” now in its 117th year. Beginning on Christmas day 1900, it was proposed as an alternative to the “side hunt,” a holiday tradition that basically involved venturing afield with guns to shoot as many birds and other animals as possible. Early conservationists proposed counting species as an alternative. Participation has grown from those humble beginnings to more than 70,000 participants in over 2,300 counts world-wide, 1,850 in the U.S. alone.

Each count takes place during a specified 24-hour period within a designated count circle 15 miles across. The boundaries are well established and do not change from year to year. The Olympia CBC circle is centered at 47° 04′ 20.0892″ N and 122°51′ 11.87″ (off of South Bay Road). The count area is divided into 16 sub-areas, each covered by a team of observers with a leader who has usually covered that area for many years. Some teams spend the day walking most of the assigned area and can be on their feet all day; others do less walking and/or split into smaller groups. A map of the area can be found on the Black Hills Audubon webpage under the CBC tab.

Those interested in participating have several options. If you are interested in joining the count, please contact me by email at Most participants contact the count coordinator for assignment to one of the teams. Other options include feeder watching or recording birds on your own property. The count is traditionally followed by a countdown and compilation of the species seen that day, rewarding participants with a chili-feed dinner at dusk at Gull Harbor Lutheran Church, 4610 Boston Harbor Road NE. (by Bill Shelmerdine)

2015 Olympia Christmas Count Results

This year’s Olympia Christmas Bird Count (CBC) on Sunday December 20 was the 116th year for this annual event sponsored by the National Audubon Society. Black Hills Audubon sponsors the Olympia Area CBC, which has been conducted about 40 times beginning in 1954, and more or less continuously since 1978. This year 89 field observers covered the 16 areas within the 15-mile-diameter count circle, most on foot or by car, with two teams on boats to cover Puget Sound waters from Olympia to the Nisqually Reach—many thanks to boat owners and skippers Eric Hulbert and Greg Kluh who kindly volunteer their boats, time, and expertise.

The weather was somewhat better than the forecast predicted: overall cool, 35-45oF with intermittent showers. Count day came on a cooling trend following a persistent cycle of stormy weather. Rain was heavy rain at times, especially between 10:00 and noon. Birders in forested areas at that time, as our teams were, found conditions difficult and birds scarce.

Count day begins at midnight and runs for 24 hours. Most participants count only during daylight hours, though a few intrepid souls venture into the darkness in hopes of adding an owl or two to the day’s tally. This year rain and wind in the pre-dawn hours made me forgo the owling experience in the morning, but others were more hardy and we ended the day with four species of owls: Barn, Great Horned, Northern Pygmy, and Barred. The following day I encountered a Western Screech-Owl just ¼ mile outside the count circle—not good enough for count week, but still a rare find in our area these days.

The Results:
In general, participants felt that the overall numbers were low. A total of 127 species for the day equaled the average count over the past 20 years, but well short of the high count of 134 species in 1994 and 1998. The total number of 41,400 for the day was 10-20% below average for the past five years.

The best finds on the included Red-shouldered Hawk (second time in past 30 years); Black Phoebe (3 previous records, all in past 5 years); Townsends Solitaire (second count record); and Swamp Sparrow. New high counts were reported for: Eurasian Wigeon (8); Northern Shoveler (425; previous high 274); Ring-necked Duck (683; previous high 603); Bald Eagle (189 with more than half in the McLane Creek-Mud Bay Area); and White-throated Sparrow (4). The sentimental favorite for me was Ruffed Grouse, seen for the first time since 2007; it had been recorded every year prior to that.

On the flip side are the more sobering low counts. Northern Shrike was a no-show on count day for the first time in more that 30 years. Historic low numbers were also reported for: Northern Harrier. (5, tied for new low); Dunlin (94, by far the lowest count ever for a species typically reported in the low thousands); Common Murre (15); Glaucous-winged Gull (835) and Glaucous-winged x Western Gull hybrids (516). It is noteworthy that the combined number for this latter group is lower than the previous low count for Glaucous-winged Gull alone. Pileated Woodpecker (1) and Purple Finch (7) also reported new low numbers, and only 169 Green-winged Teal were recorded, far below the 1,000-2,000 birds of the recent past.

This year’s count numbers show some interesting trends. Species that have posted high or near-high numbers consistently over the past three years include Bald Eagle; Eurasian Collared (71) and Mourning Doves (89); Anna’s Hummingbird (104); Western Scrub-Jay (60); Common Raven (33) and Brown Creeper (47). Species that have shown very low numbers in recent years include Red-throated and Pacific Loons and the salt-water grebes; Horned and Red-necked Grebe had the three lowest count totals within the past three years. Alcids and some finches were also low, with low numbers clustered in recent years.

In the evening following the count, the compilation and count-down of species seen accompanied the chili dinner at the Temple Beth Hatfiloh in downtown Olympia. Our heartfelt thanks go to the many BHAS volunteers who plan, prepare, and execute the event. It was wonderful as usual. The count would not take place without the help of our volunteers: thanks to all the participants who make this event a success year in and year out. Until next year, cheers, good birding. (by Bill Shelmerdine, Olympia CBC Coordinator, photo – Carol Poulos)

Audubon Christmas Bird Count

The mission of the Christmas Bird Count is to identify, count, and record as many different bird species as you see in a particular area. You don’t have to stay in one spot all day, nor participate all day long.

The Annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count (CBC) is held each year during a two-week window around the Christmas holiday. Audubon chapters all across the country choose a date within that window for their own count.


This count is part of a larger citizen science effort led by Audubon chapters throughout the nation. CBC data are then sent to National Audubon for analysis.


Bill Shelmerdine,
or call 360-866-9106.