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Butterbredt Christmas Count 12/17/2021

December 20, 2021

The Butterbredt count circle has quite varied habitats inside its 15 mile diameter. We have desert scrub (creosote and coyote bush), steep hillsides and large flatlands, dry land and Kelso Creek with lots of trees, cattle fields, cattle ponds, and oak woodlands up in the Piute Mountains. That leads to a wide variety of birdlife, but we also have to remember that it is (1) the middle of winter, and (2) we’ve been in a drought for some time. So, this year when we saw 34 species it’s not so bad compared to the norm of 50+ a few years back. With this season’s rains we are probably on the up side of the curve for next year.


Years of drought have affected many of the live oaks. This one is almost entirely consumed by mistletoe.


Weather was sunny but cold: 34 degrees at the start. Only a light breeze made it easy to take. It was suggested that our Covid masks made for warmer breathing – a silver lining!

My group got lucky and found some really nice and some unusual birds. On our very first stop in the desert scrub at the edge of the circle we found 70 Bell’s Sparrows. Yow! The trip total of 122 was over double the average. Perhaps the bird of the day was a Short-eared Owl that sprang up from the ground as Chris Lord was coming back to the car. This is the first time one has been seen on the count – we took care to make sure of it, but we are sure.


Bell’s Sparrow, formerly Sage Sparrow. One of the prettiest of the sparrows.


Not too long afterwards we scoured the area where Le Conte’s Thrasher has been seen every now and then and struck out. Five minutes later as we drove along we spotted one. Very lucky. And a lot of very good looks in bright sun.


Junco country. At 4200 feet there was snow on the ground from last week’s storm.


Juncos were strong at 147 and White-crowned Sparrows were down at 255. No Mountain Bluebirds – a real disappointment. Ravens were down again, but we think it is because cattle operations are much less than in the past. We expected raptors would be down again (fewer furry mammals in this drought) but at the end of our run through open pasture we got really lucky.

A Prairie Falcon spooked and flew much ahead of us to perch on a fencepost. We approached carefully and saw it fly off to a distant field. Rats. But then it spooked at least 200 Horned Larks that flew up like one of those starling flights one sees on YouTube. There were a lot of birds – 200 is our conservative guess. Or perhaps we should say 199 Horned Larks. The falcon was then seen on a far fencepost eating something from under one foot. Nature: red in tooth and claw.

Many thanks to our counters: Alice Bragg, Kathy Dwyer, Jean Garrett, Ray Juncosa, Chris Lord, Mary Martin, Cindy Schotté, Grady Smith, Reed Tollefson. We really appreciate the effort they put out to make CBC season a success.

The List:

Duck species 3

California Quail 16

Northern Harrier 1

Sharp-shinned Hawk 1

Cooper’s Hawk 2

Red-tailed Hawk 6

Short-eared Owl 1

Acorn Woodpecker 12

Ladder-backed Woodpecker 1

Hairy Woodpecker 3

Woodpecker species 1

Prairie Falcon 1

Loggerhead Shrike 4

California Scrub Jay 23

American Crow 3

Common Raven 19

Horned Lark 200

Oak Titmouse 2

Bushtit 17

White-breasted Nuthatch 1

Rock Wren 3

Bewick’s Wren 9

Ruby-crowned Kinglet 7

Western Bluebird 7

Le Conte’s Thrasher 1

Phainopepla 7

Yellow-rumped Warbler 1

Dark-eyed (Oregon) Junco 147

White-crowned Sparrow 255

Golden-crowned Sparrow 6

Bell’s Sparrow (belli) 122

Song Sparrow 1

California Towhee 11

Spotted Towhee 9

House Finch 27

Number of Birds Seen 930

Net Species Seen 34

  1. December 20, 2021 9:55 pm

    Hi Chuck, Is this count held in the Butterbredt Canyon area? Sounds interesting. Nice birds. Wishing you and your family a happy and healthy holiday. Best, Enid HayflickNewport Beach 


    • December 21, 2021 5:37 pm

      Yes, the canyon is in the circle (centered on Butterbredt Peak. Sadly this year it was pretty quiet.


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