2002 Chatham County Fall Bird Count

by Will Cook

The 2002 Chatham County (NC) Fall Count on Sept. 21, part of the North American Migration Count, went fairly well despite relatively the high water level, which obliterated all the mudflats that shorebirds had enjoyed for months, and low level of participation.

This year we ended up with 95 species (7.5 below average, the lowest since 1996, the first year of the count) and 3472 birds (179 below average). We had 14 observers in 9 parties (average 22 and 12), 53.8 party-hours (average 77), the lowest level of participation since 1996. On a birds per party- hour basis, however, we had by far the best count ever, with 64.6 birds per party-hour (average 49.5, previous high 57.9).

Two species are new to the count this year -- a Least Flycatcher seen by Will Cook at the Northeast Creek impoundment and a Clay-colored Sparrow seen by Amalie Lewis Tuffin, Jill Froning, and Shelley Theye at a farm off Big Woods Road. Other goodies include our second records for Philadelphia Vireo (Jeff Pippen and Toni Rexrode), Veery (Cook), Worm-eating Warbler (Cook), and Orchard Oriole (Tuffin, Froning, and Theye).

Despite the low turnout, we still set a number of record highs: Double- crested Cormorant (311), Great Blue Heron (143), Great Egret (282), Blue- winged Teal (47), Ring-billed Gull (3), E. Screech-Owl (6), Whip-poor-will (8), Swainson's Thrush (4), Brown Thrasher (18), and Black-throated Blue Warbler (11). The cormorants, herons, and egrets were all most abundant at the 751 bridge area. The whips were heard by three parties, including an outstanding 6 at the usual spot on Old Hope Valley Farm Road (Doug Shadwick). We tied a record high for Eastern Phoebe (32) thanks to Jill Froning's amazing count of 18 at a farm near the end of the day.

We also had some record lows and first misses: Red-shouldered Hawk (6), Mourning Dove (73), Ruby-throated Hummingbird (1), Yellow-throated Vireo (miss), Wood Thrush (3), A. Robin (14), Yellow-throated Warbler (miss), and Common Grackle (miss). Blackbirds are often very difficult to come by on this count -- we had just 5 total, three cowbirds and one of each oriole.

We had an typical warbler count with 18 species and 136 non-Pine individuals (average 19 and 155). Most common warblers: 204 Pine, 37 C. Yellowthroat, 34 A. Redstart, 15 N. Parula, 14 Black-and-white, 11 Magnolia, and 11 Black- throated Blue.

As expected, all the shorebirds were over at Falls Lake instead of Jordan Lake. For the first time ever, we had only one species (I bet you can guess which one!). The water level at Jordan was 214.0 feet above sea level, which is 2 feet below the level they normally keep it and about the point at which mudflats normally start to appear, but this year, since the water had been much lower and there was a recent rapid rise, all the potential mudflats were covered up in tall sedges and grasses.

Two of the best individual party counts ever were this year -- Will's 72 species and 1222 birds in the 751 area (highest ever) and Amalie, Jill, and Shelley's 61 species and 605 birds in the Big Woods Road area (4th highest ever). The previous record was set in 1999 by Josh Rose's team, which found 71 species and 534 birds in the Ebenezer-Horton's Pond area.

Thanks to all participants! It was a fun count, but I sure would like to see some mudflats (and shorebirds) next year!

Will Cook, compiler

Detailed Results (PDF format)

Chapel Hill Bird Club