It was definitely the year of the Cedar Waxwing in this year’s Medford, Oregon, Christmas Bird Count. In 2006 the whole region reported a single Waxwing. This year in our section of the count circle, we totalled over 800 Waxwings. At one point high on Roxy Ann ridge we could see three separate dense flocks swirling along the mountain slope. A slope, non coincidentally, that is heavily forested and contains numerous ancient madrone that this year are full of berries.
When we neared feeding flocks they were often mixed with American Robins, the only species more abundant in our count area than the Waxwings this year. The Waxwing is more dependent on sugar-rich fruit than is the adaptable Robin who can feed on invertebrates when the weather is warmer. The highly gregarious Waxwing is almost always seen in flocks, flying high overhead in the same kind of tight pattern you see with small shorebirds along a beach or mudflat. I recently found a single Waxwing tail feather, a pale gray tipped with buttery yellow. It’s a talisman for this Year of the Waxwing here in southern Oregon. Perhaps it should be better known as the year of the madrone berry, for I suspect that’s the reason for the many Waxwings here.
Unpredictable: one bird in 2006, thousands in 2007. BNA also points out the Waxwing seems to be expanding its range and thriving in the man-altered habitat of North America. More berry-bearing bushes and trees.
My Christmas Count team was led by Dick Ashford but he and I were both new to this particular territory. His supremely good pygmy owl imitation netted us our only owl for the day: a mid-afternoon Western Pygmy Owl who ignored hundreds of scolding Robins to find the other calling owl. He came within a dozen feet of us. And stared us down as we slinked out of his territory. The owl was an Oregon lifer for me, #178.
Also for the day our team had an unsual Mockingbird, several Harriers, a couple White-tailed Kites, a couple dozen Acorn Woodpeckers, numerous Ravens but not a single Crow, and no Varied Thrush anywhere in the count circle. Last year THEY had been as common as Waxwings are this year.
Here the Cinnamon Teal, Common Yellowthroat and Turkey Vulture are migratory birds, disappearing over the winter. None on the Christmas Count.