The 71st Chapel Hill Christmas Bird Count was held on Sunday, December 23, 2001. It was a nice day, not too cold or windy, though considerably cooler than it had been recently, and there were extensive mudflats on Jordan Lake in the southern part of the count circle. We counted a total of 88 species, which is the well above the average 84, and 18017 individual birds, the most since 1981. We had an average level of participation, but the number of birds per party hour was 126, well above the average of 105.
Best birds of the count were three species that have only been found once before: Doug Shadwick and Anson Cooke independently found 2 Tundra Swans on Jordan Lake (there was 1 in 1961) and Doug Shadwick had a Greater Yellowlegs in the New Hope Creek mud flats (we had one in 1979). 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: Josh Rose found our first Loggerhead Shrike since 1986 (they used to be much more common, this is our 39th count record), my party found two Common Yellowthroats at Mason Farm (same as last year, last record before that was 1983), and Shelley Theye had a Baltimore Oriole in her yard in Chatham County. Another highlight for me was seeing a Bobcat at the Orange County landfill. It was walking about the trash heap amongst a bunch of vultures! (I guess they're adapting to modern civilization.)
Outside, but tantalizingly close to (<1 mile), the count circle were three hummingbirds (2 Rufous, 1 Calliope), which were banded by Susan Campbell the day before the count.
We set or tied a large number of record highs: 219 Double-crested Cormorants (old record 115 in 1997), 2 Tundra Swans, 37 Red-shouldered Hawks (27 in 1998), 120 Bonaparte's Gull (93 in 1998), 87 Red-headed Woodpeckers (ties record set last year), 31 Hairy Woodpecker (28 in 1999), 20 Pileated Woodpeckers (18 last year), 416 Tufted Titmice (397 last year), 124 White- breasted Nuthatches (115 last year), 95 Brown-headed Nuthatches (71 last year), 39 Winter Wrens (ties 1999), 400 American Pipits (325 in 1984), 142 Chipping Sparrows (120 in 1989), and an astonishing 786 American Goldfinches (491 in 1982). Other birds found in exceptionally high numbers were owls (highest total since 1985), the other woodpecker species (all 7 species were either record highs or second highest), Eastern Towhee, and Brown-headed Cowbird. The highs we're setting for woodpeckers may have something to do with all the downed and damaged trees from Hurricane Fran in 1996, but why so many goldfinches this year?
Lows: We missed Wood Duck for the first time since 1989 and American Kestrel for the first time since 1969. The Jordan Lake count also missed kestrel. Purple Finch numbers were also quite low.
Weather: Low 29 F, high 60 F, wind east 0-5 mph, partly cloudy-cloudy, no precipitation, water open. Effort: 40 observers in 21 field parties, 142.5 party hours (113.75 by foot, 28.75 by car), 311 party miles (88 by foot, 223 by car), 5 hours and 17 miles owling, 6 people and 17 hours watching feeders.
You can see the full count results online here and at the Christmas Bird Count web site.
Thanks to all participants for an outstanding count!
-- Will Cook, compiler, 1/14/2002, revised 1/3/03
Chapel Hill Bird Club