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Siskins off Medford CBC's AWOL list

After reading your (Dec. 19) Oregon Outdoors story about the Medford version of the Christmas Bird Count, I've been wondering whether our local birders found any pine siskins this year?

— Jill, Medford

After the pine siskins showed up AWOL in the 2013 count, members of the Rogue Valley Audubon Society are happy to report that the pine siskins definitely are back.

The total bird counts from volunteers taking part in the Dec. 20 local count aren't tallied yet, but the little woodland finch made its presence known.

"We did get a lot of pine siskins, and that was good," says Bob Hunter, an Eagle Point birder who headed this year's efforts.

In all, the counters spotted and identified 123 different species as the Medford version of the National Audubon Society counts done here the past 61 years. This year's species total is two higher than last year, Hunter says.

Along with the siskin resurgence, two interesting espies in the field that day were two great-tailed grackle spotted near Lower Table Rocks and a grasshopper sparrow eyed in the Eagle Point area, Hunter says.

The great-tailed grackle, whose normal northern range is Southern California, is a rarity in the Pacific Northwest and Hunter says this could very well be the first one tallied in a Medford count.

The jet-black males sport have a violet sheen to their feathers and a long tail that can stretch their length to about 17 inches, according to several birding reference books. Females are a mix of black and brown.

Grasshopper sparrows are 4- to 5-inch-long birds that stretch across the United States but are primarily prairie in habitats. Adults have light brown, gray, black and white streaks with a light-brown breast, white belly and short brown tail. Their main diet was self-explanatory even to us at Since You Asked Central, where there is a dearth of bird knowledge at times.

This was the second time a grasshopper sparrow has made the Medford CBC list, Hunter says.

This marks the 115th consecutive year that the National Audubon Society has organized its annual exercise in "citizen science" in which amateur birders count all the birds in a given area on a given day from sunrise to sunset.

The national event began Dec. 14 and continues through Jan. 5. Ashland's Christmas Bird Count is slated for Saturday Jan. 3.

They are two of thousands of surveys across the country that take place within "count circles" that center on specific areas.

The circles cover a 7.5-mile radius from a specific centerpoint. In Medford, ground zero is the intersection of Highways 62 and 140 — a point that's been used to center this count since it began in 1953.

Individually and collectively, the counts provide local, regional and national snapshots of what birds are present and visible on count day. The long-term data set can help show trends in abundance and distribution of species.

Send questions to “Since You Asked,” Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by email to youasked@mailtribune.com. We’re sorry, but the volume of questions received prevents us from answering all of them.