The Chapel Hill (NC) Christmas Bird Count on 12/24/2000 was one of our best, with 94 species and 14652 birds on count day, far above the 10-year average of 82.5 species and 12860 birds. Out of the 70 Chapel Hill counts going back to 1924, the only higher species total was in 1983, with 98. The high count is not due to a higher than normal level of participation -- the 125 party-hours is below average, the lowest since 1995 (the last time the count was held on Christmas Eve). We were probably helped by the cold weather preceding the count, which may have brought us more ducks as they were frozen out up north, and by the low water level at Jordan Lake.
The boldface birds: Doug Shadwick found our second record of ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLER in his territory near Jordan Lake. While this bird is not too unusual in winter as near as Raleigh, we haven't had one since 1946! Randy Bishop saw the female RUFOUS HUMMINGBIRD, a stray from the Pacific northwest that's been coming to his feeder on Mount Carmel Church Road since Dec. 16. Female Rufous Hummingbirds can only be told apart from Allen's Hummingbirds by fine details of the tail feathers, so on Jan. 11, Susan Campbell of the Museum of Natural Sciences caught, identified and banded the hummer. Last year we had our first Rufous, also identified and banded by Susan Campbell. Three BLUE-GRAY GNATCATCHERS, our fourth count record, were seen by Anson Cooke and Alan Johnston's parties near Jordan Lake. The previously reported blue morph Snow Goose was deleted from the count after it was observed more closely and determined to be a goose of mixed parentage, possibly Canada x something, that just happened to look a lot like a blue goose.
Other goodies: Ducks are not as easy to find here as in Raleigh -- Northern Shovelers (2) are our fourth count record, all in the last 10 years, and Gadwall (18) turn up about once every 5 years. The Canvasback (2) and Common Yellowthroats (3) are both our first since 1983. Baltimore Oriole (1) is a good find, though they were annual from 1955-1976. Though they're not as common now as they were in the 60's, they're much more common now than in 1924-1951, when none were found. Catbird is rare on some of our neighboring counts, but it's expected in Chapel Hill -- three different parties found one this year.
High counts: We set a bunch of record highs this year, which is surprising since party-hours were relatively low. The most stunning high, absolutely smashing the old record of 40 to bits, is the count of 87 Red-headed Woodpeckers. The average for the past 10 counts is just 19 and the past three years the counts were 5, 4, and 14. Five parties had more than a dozen each. Why are there so many here this winter? Other record highs: 18 Gadwall (tie), 146 Downy Woodpeckers (old record 108), 18 Pileated Woodpeckers (17), 397 Tufted Titmice (391), 115 White-breasted Nuthatches (90), 71 Brown-headed Nuthatches (tie), 5 House Wrens (tie), 3 Blue-gray Gnatcatchers (2), 726 Yellow-rumped (Myrtle) Warblers (653), 107 Pine Warblers (78), and 363 Swamp Sparrows (247). We also had unusually high numbers of Turkey Vulture, Great Horned Owl, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Carolina Chickadee, Brown Creeper, Winter Wren, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Eastern Bluebird, Brown Thrasher, Cedar Waxwing, and Savannah Sparrow.
Only a few species were found in remarkably low numbers: 13 Chipping Sparrows (average 42), 36 Field Sparrows (119), and 3 Purple Finches (19).
Participation: 43 field birders in 21 parties, plus 11 feeder-watchers. 125 party-hours (100 foot, 25 car) and 327 miles (78 foot, 249 car) plus 4.5 hours and 12.5 miles owling and 27 feeder hours.
Weather: low 16, high 48; wind W 5-10; cloudy first thing, then clear; no precip; still water partly open; running water open.
Thanks to all participants for a great count! You can see full results here and on the Christmas Bird Count web site.
-- Will Cook, compiler, 1/6/2001, revised 2/20/02
Chapel Hill Bird Club