The Humboldt Christmas Bird Count was held January 5th, 2018, the date was changed due to inclement weather conditions. As such, the date change did give us marginally improved conditions with light winds, mostly clear skies and ten degrees of extra warmth. Snow pack conditions provided anywhere between 1.5 to 4 inches of cover in general. Most water was fully iced over except for some of the traditional locations on the West Des Moines River below Rutland Dam and within Humboldt south of Nokomis Dam. We had three field parties this year, which greatly improves our ability to cover ground and more thoroughly inspect areas. As such we detected 33 species of birds. This is statistically above the Humboldt count circle's fifteen year average of 30 species. We saw collectively an estimated 1802 individuals which is also above average for Humboldt Count circle.
Notable things found this year include a large roosting flock of 170 Red-winged Blackbirds found West of Rutland, a Short-eared Owl that was flushed at Ottosen Potholes, and 3 Merlins (a small falcon that hunts birds) representing the largest number of that species on the count. A Song Sparrow was also detected representing only the second time that species has been detected on the count. Backyard finches decided to be detected this year as both House Finches and an American Goldfinch were found on local feeders, this count circle has an 'on again off again' relationship when it comes to detecting some backyard bird species such as finches, so finding them this year was a pleasant surprise. Other historically unreliable species (largely due to foibles of detection I suspect) found include Cedar Waxwings, Mourning Doves and Cooper's Hawk. Ring-necked Pheasants numbered high this year, but not well distributed; the vast majority of this year's pheasants came in the form of two sizable flocks. Wild Turkeys were hard to find with only two being detected. No Gray Partridge were detected, though that isn't terribly surprising since that species is notoriously difficult to detect. Bald Eagles were present in higher than average numbers, which fits with the good showing that raptors in general had this year.
Particularly notable misses this year include a baffling lack of Eurasian Collared-doves. This large, white dove with a black neck ring is an non-native, invasive species that has had a firm grip in Humboldt County for a long while and in the communities surrounding the count circle (Bode, Ottosen, Livermore) are almost annoying in their numbers, yet this year weren't to be found even within Rutland, which has historically been the place to find them in the circle. This species is undoubtedly present, it is undoubtedly a detection issue rather than a presence issue. Another disappointing disappearance was the lack of Snow Buntings, the small roadside bird wasn't present in the flocks of other such roadside birds like Horned Lark or Lapland Longspur, which were detected. Sparrow diversity in general was also lackluster, only three species of the five or six sparrow species possible were detected this year. Another miss that I keep eyes and ears open for is our small, resident owl, the Eastern Screech Owl, admittedly they are hard to detect in general but I had hoped we may get lucky, especially when the two, larger resident owl species (Barred and Great Horned) were detected.
Overall the Humboldt Christmas Bird Count was successful. It was a fun, if chilly, day out and hopefully we can provide some useful information for posterity's sake. I would like to thank Tyler Harms and Bill Blackburn for the miles on foot and car they put in, as well as the time they put in helping me. Having a little help makes this day go far more successfully than when I have done this count alone.