By David Assmann
While conducting a Christmas Bird Count as an atmospheric river moves through is not ideal, the 2022 San Francisco Christmas Bird Count exceeded expectations. One hundred twenty participants braved the elements for the count. Due to the weather, our boat survey had to be moved to the next day.
By the time Count Week (CW) was over, the species tally was at 188, exactly the same as last year. For the official Count Day, our species total was 178, three fewer than last year’s 181. Our total count of birds for the Count Day was 58,183 – about 6,000 fewer than last year’s 64,176. However, if you add the 9,221 birds counted on the boat the day after, our numbers are actually up.
There were 29 rare or uncommon birds found on this year’s count, 21 of which were found on Count Day. Twelve of the 18 count areas had a rare species. The best bird on Count Day was a Winter Wren found by Jonah Benningfield in the Presidio. Not only was this a new species for the San Francisco Christmas Bird Count, but it was also the first San Francisco eBird record for Winter Wren.
The other new species for Count Day was a Sage Thrasher found by Malia DeFelice and Chris Hayward at Sierra Point. A new Count Week bird was a Black Skimmer. It was by far the most challenging species to locate. Acting on a tip from a co-worker of SF CBC co-compiler Siobhan Ruck’s who saw a Tern skimming the water in the dark from a ferry in San Francisco, Keith Maley braved the rain and wind after sunset on December 29th to finally spot a Skimmer just offshore from Pier 14 at 7pm.
Overall duck numbers were about the same this year, although we missed some of the uncommon species seen last year (Harlequin Duck, Long-tailed Duck, Cinnamon Teal and Redhead). American Wigeon, Bufflehead, and Greater Scaup numbers were up significantly, whereas Surf Scoter numbers continue their long and steep decline. There were 530 Surf Scoters seen, down from 1,144 last year. In 1985 the count for Surf Scoters was 13,600 and as recently as 2015, the count totaled more than 3,000.
Although the numbers are still small, we did set a new record for Hooded Mergansers, with 27 seen on count day. A Barrow’s Goldeneye in the Presidio and a Wood Duck in Golden Gate Park were the best ducks this year. A Snow Goose reported on four eBird lists in three count areas turned out to be the same active bird. Seven Greater-White Fronted Geese were reported. We missed White-winged Scoter and Common Merganser on the day of the count, but they were seen during Count Week.
Shorebird numbers appear to be stable, with the highlight being the fourth winter appearance of the Rock Sandpiper at Heron’s Head. Wandering Tattler was missed for the second year in a row. We set a new record for Spotted Sandpiper, with 29 tallied.
Gull numbers continue to increase, and the most common bird seen on the count was the California Gull with 8,260, setting a new record for us. We also set a new record for Iceland Gull with 219. The number of Glaucous-winged Gulls, at 815, was more than double last year’s total. We had our first Glaucous Gull since 2015 with a sighting in Colma. The 5,173 Western Gulls counted were down from last year’s 6,187 (the highest in the country for 2021). Our wading birds highlight was a Cattle Egret in Colma. We also set a new record at 82 for Snowy Egrets.
With the inclement weather, sea-watching was limited, but we still had two Red Phalaropes, a Rhinoceros Auklet, a Red-necked Grebe, and Count Week Ancient Murrelets and a Brown Booby.
This year’s count of Mourning Doves was 171, continuing a decline from our peak of 1,162 in 1989. At the same time, we set a record for the number of Eurasian Collared-Doves this year with 158.
It’s been a mixed year for woodpeckers. Downy Woodpecker numbers continue to decline, with 23 marking the lowest count in 15 years. By contrast, there were four times as many Nuttall’s Woodpeckers at 96. A dozen years ago, Nuttall’s were fairly scarce with numbers in the single digits. We set a new record for Hairy Woodpeckers, with 28 this year. A Red-naped Sapsucker was seen in Golden Gate Park, along with a Count Week Yellow-bellied Sapsucker.
If you think you have been seeing more Hermit Thrushes this year, the record 489 seen this year confirms it (last year we had the highest CBC number in the country with 267). We also set a record for Cedar Waxwings with 757.
Sparrow numbers were mixed this year, with 898 Dark-eyed Juncos totally eclipsing last year’s record 668, although the 2,802 White-crowned Sparrows was well below last year’s nationwide record of 3,768. Golden-crowned Sparrow numbers were up to 2,004 (from 1,690 last year). We also set a new record for White-throated Sparrow, with 31, and for California Towhee, with 485. A Swamp Sparrow in Golden Gate Park was a nice bird for the Count.
Best Warbler sightings this year were a Tennessee Warbler in Golden Gate Park and a Wilson’s Warbler in Sue Bierman Park. Yellow-rumped Warblers came in at 1,753, down from 2,685 last year. Last year we had the most Townsend’s Warblers in the country with 363 – this year we tallied 384, but still well below the SF record of 572 in 2020.
Last year we had no overwintering Orioles, but this year we had a Bullock’s Oriole in South San Francisco, a Baltimore Oriole (CW) in Pine Lake Park and an Orchard Oriole in Golden Gate Park.
Other good sightings this year included a Tropical Kingbird, two Rock Wrens, two Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, two Scaly-breasted Munia, a Western Tanager (CW), and a Summer Tanager.
Next year the count will be on Tuesday December 28th – mark your calendars.
Heartfelt thanks to all the counters who participated this year, including those who made this their first Christmas Bird Count. Many thanks as well to Siobhan Ruck as co-compiler for the count, and to Trista Bernasconi, who spent many hours helping collect and compile data.
Many thanks to San Francisco Baykeeper, who provided the boat for this year’s count, and to Fabio Ciulla, who volunteered to be the skipper of the boat that day.