[Tweeters] Keystone Breeding Bird Survey

festuca at comcast.net festuca at comcast.net
Mon Jun 5 21:11:20 PDT 2017

No, not THAT Keystone - the one in eastern Washington!

Hi folks,

Yesterday, I ran the “Keystone” Breeding Bird Survey Route in Adams and Lincoln Counties (yes – there is a Keystone in eastern Washington!). I love getting over into the sagebrush steppe and wheat country, and getting the opportunity to go “Birding With A Purpose”.

Each year during the height of the avian breeding season, June for most of the U.S. and Canada, participants skilled in avian identification collect bird population data along roadside survey routes. Each survey route is 24.5 miles long with stops situated 1/2-mile apart. At each of the 50 stops, a 3-minute point count is conducted. During the count, every bird seen within a 1/4-mile radius or heard is recorded. Surveys start one-half hour before local sunrise and take about 5 hours to complete. Over 4,100 survey routes are located across the continental U.S. and Canada. For those wanting more information on the Survey (and potentially to volunteer for one of the vacant routes), I suggest going to the BBS Web Page at https://www.pwrc.usgs.gov/bbs/about/

I stay in Ritzville for the night, as this count starts at Cow Lake, about 10 miles east of town, at 4:26 a.m. Driving out to the lake, there was lightning flashing on the horizon to the south & east, but the weather was perfect for the count – overcast so that it was not too hot, and light breeze with just a sprinkle of rain early on. The dawn song always impresses and delights me, and this year the curlews’ calls carried across the steppe, mingling with everything from Marsh Wrens, Coots and Yellow-headed Blackbirds to Meadowlarks, Sage Thrashers and Grasshopper Sparrows!

This has been a wet Spring in the Channeled Scablands, following a winter with lots of snow. There is water in ponds and potholes that have been dry for the past several years, and this is reflected in waterfowl and waterbirds seen in low spots between the "mima" mounds. Northern Pintails were new for this count, and I saw this species while scouting the area and birding after the count, so they may be breeding here in greater numbers than usual? I "missed" getting Avocets at Stop #17, where I'd seen them the evening before the count, and also missed getting Wilson's Phalaropes on the count - although I saw a pair along the roadside in-between stops, as well as while birding the area afterward.

The moisture is reflected in tall, full heads of wheat in the croplands, tall grass in the meadows and hayfields, and luxurious growth and beautiful flowers in the native sagebrush steppe. Curiously, this is the first time in years that I didn't see or hear coyotes along the route. Perhaps they are sleeping off meals of mice & voles - the fields and steppe have lots of the voles' holes and runways. I saw fewer deer along the route this year, perhaps reflecting the tough, cold winter they experienced.

Every few years, I have one of the local farmers spot me stopping and "glassing their homes, livestock and farm equipment". They hop in their pickups and roar out of the farmsteads or across the wheat stubble to check me out, citing issues with vandals and thieves. I always give them a quick briefing of my survey is about (noting that it is a timed count), sympathize with their concerns (noting that I grew up in farm country and understand their issues), and give them my name and phone number along with a printout from the BBS explaining the Survey. The gentleman who 'investigated' me this year was quite surprised when I told him I've been doing this route for over 20 years . . . "Huh! Never seen you here before this...."

In any event, it was a great day to spend birding!!


Jon. Anderson


Species list for the point count:

Gadwall - 7 at 5 stops

Mallard - 7 4

Northern Shoveler - 1 1

Northern Pintail - 4 2

Cinnamon Teal - 2 1

Redhead - 9 2

California Quail - 2 2

Ring-necked Pheasant - - 15 13

Rock Pigeon - 41 3

Eurasian Collared-Dove - - 3 2

Mourning Dove - 14 9

Common Nighthawk - 3 1

American Coot - 8 3

Killdeer - 3 2

Long-billed Curlew - 2 1

Ring-billed Gull - 52 17

California Gull - 2 1

Double-crested Corm. - 5 2

American White Pelican - 5 2

American Bittern - 1 1

Black-cr. Night-Heron - - 1 1

Swainson's Hawk - 12 9

Red-tailed Hawk - 2 2

American Kestrel - 2 2

Western Wood-Pewee - - 2 2

Willow Flycatcher - 2 2

Say's Phoebe - 6 3

Western Kingbird - 7 7

Eastern Kingbird - 1 1

Common Raven - 10 8

Horned Lark - 130 40

Violet-green Swallow - - 3 2

Bank Swallow - 3 1

Cliff Swallow - 54 7

Barn Swallow - 12 6

House Wren - 2 2

Marsh Wren - 2 1

American Robin - 5 5

Sage Thrasher - 2 2

European Starling - 119 9

House Sparrow - 5 2

House Finch - 2 1

American Goldfinch - 1 1

Brewer's Sparrow - 5 5

Vesper Sparrow - 34 21

Savannah Sparrow - 43 27

Grasshopper Sparrow - - 15 13

Red-winged Blackbird - - 36 10

Western Meadowlark - - 97 34

Yellow-headed Blackbird - 23 2

Brewer's Blackbird - 25 8

Brown-headed Cowbird - - 11 5

Total Species: 52 Total individuals: 860

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