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Harlan County Christmas Bird Count recap

After a one week weather delay, the Harlan County Christmas Bird Count (CBC) took place Monday, 21 December.  This was the 8th edition of the Harlan County CBC.  Previous counts were held in consecutive years from 1996-2001.  The CBC resumed in 2014.  Weather for 2015 was cloudy and a tad chilly in the morning, but skies cleared, winds became calm and temperature reached the mid 40s in the afternoon.    Lake levels were relatively low.

Fourteen observers tallied 82 species.  This is above the seven year average of 73, but short of the record of 85 species recorded in 1998 and 1999.  CBC highlights are summarized below with a few CBC photos included for good measure.

  • New CBC species:    An adult Mew Gull was the CBC’s best bird and was also the only species previously unrecorded on the Harlan County CBC.  An adult Mew Gull has been seen down around Harlan County Lake the last couple late winters or early springs and I suspect one bird is the source for all of these sightings.  A distant shot of this bird is below.  The Mew Gull is in the center and is the slightly smaller bird with the slightly darker mantle and the large white tertial crescent compared to the Ring-billed Gulls.

Mew Gull

  • Almost a new CBC species:  I stumbled across a Dickcissel while scouting the area the afternoon before the CBC.  Unfortunately, the Dickcissel was not relocated the day of the count.  Nevertheless it is a nice count week addition.


  • Other count week birds:  Northern Shoveler and Canvasback were seen the day before, but not the day of, the CBC.
  • Other good CBC birds:  California Gull (1), Prairie Falcon (1), Winter Wren (1), Carolina Wren (2),  White-throated Sparrow (1), Fox Sparrow (2) and Purple Finch (2).
  • Record high counts likely due to mild fall/early winter:  Mild weather has apparently allowed a number of birds to linger into this winter.  Ruby-crowned Kinglet had only been recorded on one previous Harlan County CBC, but a whopping 10 were found this year.  The 220 American Coots trounced the previous high of 49.
Rough-legged Hawk
Rough-legged Hawk
  • Record high count because sapsuckers are all over:  The 4 Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers recorded this year beat the previous high of 2 recorded in 2014.  Prior to the 2014, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker was never recorded on the Harlan County CBC.
  • Other record high counts:  Overall counts of several species bested previous totals.  The 2015 high count is the first number and the previous high count is the second number listed in parenthesis after each species.   American Wigeon (6/4), Hooded Merganser (14/7), Wild Turkey (86/15), Northern Harrier (29/18), Cooper’s Hawk (9/3), Red-tailed Hawk (69/53), Eurasian Collared-Dove (142/22),  Hairy Woodpecker (6/5), Northern Flicker (85/55), Blue Jay (52/17), Eastern Bluebird (77/45), Meadowlark (476/246), Song Sparrow (53/47) and House Sparrow (319/202).
Northern Cardinal
Northern Cardinal
  • Record low counts:  The 11 Cackling Geese was one less than the 12 recorded last year.  During the first iteration of the CBC, Cackling Goose was considered a subspecies of the Canada Goose and numbers were not recorded.
  • Biggest miss:  Thayer’s Gull (recorded in 6/7 previous CBCs).  Overall gull numbers were way down, likely due to the mild fall.
Bald Eagle
Bald Eagle
  • Other notable misses:  Redhead (4/7), Glaucous Gull (3/7), Townsend’s Solitaire (3/7), Rusty Blackbird (5/7), Common Grackle (3/7) and Brown-headed Cowbird (5/7).
  • Notable misses considering the weather:  I had expectations we’d tally additional lingering species due to the relatively mild fall weather.  However, we failed to record any loons, grebes or shorebirds (including Killdeer) and only recorded small numbers of Great Blue Heron (1), Double-crested Cormorant (4) and American White Pelican (1).
  • Biggest absence:   Making the distinction, here, between a species present but not detected and one not present.   Black-billed Magpie was recorded on all previous Harlan County CBCs.  During the first iteration (1996-2001), an average 24 were recorded.  Last year, only 3 were found.  None were found this year, unfortunately.   This species has been declining in Nebraska for over a decade and is disappearing from areas.
  • Another notable absence:  Despite a coordinated pre-dawn owling effort, Barred Owl once again eluded CBC’ers.  Harlan County is at the western edge of the species’ range and I (and others) have suspected this species is present in the count circle.  However, it has yet to turn up.
Pine Siskin (fore) and American GoldfinchPine Siskin (fore) and American Goldfinch

 The overall species list

Greater White-fronted Goose

Snow Goose

Ross’s Goose

Cackling Goose

Canada Goose


American Wigeon


Northern Shoveler (CW)

Northern Pintail

Green-winged Teal

Canvasback (CW)

Lesser Scaup


Common Goldeneye

Hooded Merganser

Common Merganser

Red-breasted Merganser

Northern Bobwhite

Ring-necked Pheasant

Greater Prairie-Chicken

Wild Turkey

American White Pelican

Great Blue Heron

Double-crested Cormorant

Bald Eagle

Northern Harrier

Sharp-shinned Hawk

Cooper’s Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk

Rough-legged Hawk

American Kestrel


Prairie Falcon

American Coot

Bonaparte’s Gull

Ring-billed Gull

Mew Gull

California Gull

Herring Gull

Rock Pigeon

Eurasian Collared-Dove

Mourning Dove

Eastern Screech-Owl

Great Horned Owl

Belted Kingfisher

Red-bellied Woodpecker

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

Downy Woodpecker

Hairy Woodpecker

Northern Flicker

Northern Shrike

Blue Jay

American Crow

Horned Lark

Black-capped Chickadee

White-breasted Nuthatch

Brown Creeper

Carolina Wren

Winter Wren

Golden-crowned Kinglet

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

Eastern Bluebird

American Robin

European Starling

Cedar Waxwing

Lapland Longspur

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Spotted Towhee

American Tree Sparrow

Fox Sparrow

Song Sparrow

Lincoln’s Sparrow

White-throated Sparrow

Harris’s Sparrow

White-crowned Sparrow

Dark-eyed Junco

Dickcissel (CW)

Northern Cardinal

Red-winged Blackbird

Meadowlark (sp.)

Purple Finch

House Finch

Pine Siskin

American Goldfinch

House Sparrow

American Coots

Many thanks to the 14 participants of the 8th Harlan County CBC.

Good birding!

Nongame Bird Program

About Joel Jorgensen

Joel Jorgensen is a Nebraska native and he has been interested in birds just about as long as he has been breathing. He has been NGPC’s Nongame Bird Program Manager for eight years and he works on a array of monitoring, research, regulatory and conservation issues. Nongame birds are the 400 or so species that are not hunted and include the Whooping Crane, Least Tern, Piping Plover, Bald Eagle, and Peregrine Falcon. When not working, he enjoys birding.

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