The 72nd Chapel Hill Christmas Bird Count, held on Sunday, 22 December 2002, was one of our best, above average for both species and individuals. This year's 94 species is well above the ten-year average 84, while the 14577 individuals is just slightly above the average of 13819. The totals this year are quite similar to 2000, our best count in many years (94 species, 14652 birds). We were helped by an above-average 147.5 party-hours (average 133), but the number of birds per party-hour was a little below normal 99 (average 105).
Without a doubt, the birds of the count were the two Lapland Longspurs that Derb Carter found in the freshly plowed field across from the Mapleview Farm dairy store on Dairyland Road west of Chapel Hill. Not only are these the first for a Chapel Hill count, they're also the first for Orange County, as far as I know. Derb's assigned count area was on the south side of Dairyland Road - I'm glad he poached a few good birds on the north side! Fish Crow is also a new bird for the count, though this one's not unexpected since they're found regularly on the neighboring Raleigh and Falls Lake counts. Ginger Travis heard the "uh- oh" call of a Fish Crow near Finley Golf Course. Three other boldface birds were not firsts for the count. Jeff Pippen and Toni Rexrode found a male Black-and-white Warbler for our second count record. They saw it in a pine forest, along with a mixed flock that also included a Blue-headed Vireo, after enduring a long, birdless hike. Brian Bockhahn had good luck at the wastewater plant on Farrington Road in Durham, finding our third Least Sandpipers (2). Covering the field north of Morgan Creek (opposite the main area of Mason Farm), Jerome Brewster and I found an Orange-crowned Warbler in the weeds, the third for the count.
Other good finds include a Northern Harrier at Mapleview Farm (Derb Carter), our first since 1995, our 5th count record of Northern Shovelers at Mapleview (Derb Carter, Pam Timmons, and Perry Haaland), our first Palm Warbler since 1992 (Brian Bockhahn), and Shelley Theye's backyard Baltimore Oriole. Tantalizingly close to the count circle (less than a mile outside) was Ginger Travis's adult male Calliope Hummingbird, which Susan Campbell banded earlier in the month.
We set a few record highs: an astounding 216 Black Vultures (nearly twice the previous record of 129 in 1977), 618 Canada Geese (590 in 1998), 5 Northern Shovelers (3 in 1990), 124 Brown-headed Nuthatches (95 in 2001), 434 Carolina Wrens (368 in 1991), and 43 Winter Wrens (39 in 1999 and 2001). American Robin, Northern Mockingbird, and American Goldfinch were also well above average, though not near a record.
We found only 9 Red-headed Woodpeckers this year, which seems very low compared to the record 87 found in both 2000 and 2001. However, the average for the three years before that is just 7.7. The 451 European Starlings is about half the average, the lowest count since 1985.
Teams with highest totals: Derb Carter had an outstanding day, turning in the highest species total with 61 (1147 individuals), adding Lapland Longspur, Northern Harrier, and Brown-headed Cowbird to the overall count. The team of Jeff Pippen and Toni Rexrode (with a reporter and photographer tagging along) turned in the highest number of birds, with a total of 1221 (in 51 species). Their most abundant bird was Cedar Waxwing (130), though on the overall count American Robin was #1 with 1267, followed by Dark-eyed Junco (1026) and White-throated Sparrow (994).
Weather: Low 31 F, high 63 F, wind west 0-5 mph, partly cloudy-clear, no precipitation, water open. Effort: 41 observers in 23 field parties, 147.5 party hours (117 by foot, 30.5 by car), 404.5 party miles (103.5 by foot, 301 by car), 5.5 hours and 14.5 miles owling, 7 people and 20 hours watching feeders.
Full count results are online at the Christmas Bird Count web site: http://www.audubon.org/bird/cbc/.
Thanks to everyone who helped make this an excellent count!
-- Will Cook, compiler, 1/16/2003
Full results in PDF format
Chapel Hill Bird Club