2003 Chapel Hill (NC) Christmas Bird Count Summary

This year's Chapel Hill Christmas Bird Count, held on Sunday, 21 December 2003, returned to near normal after last year's fantastic species count of 94. Still, this year's 89 species is 4 above the ten-year average of 85, and the count of 14909 birds is above the average of 14163. Party-hours were well above normal at 160.2 (average 136), the highest since 1985, while birds per party-hour was a low 93 (average 105). The count circle received almost complete coverage, though unfortunately the key territory in the circle, which can add 5-10 species to the count, went uncovered due to illness.

The bird of the count was one that was seen both before and after the count, but not on count day - the Common Raven that's been frequenting Maple View Farm west of Chapel Hill. Derb Carter reports that he's seen it fairly regularly flying by the dairy store around noon-12:30 since the count. This would've been a first count record and is only the second or third sighting for Orange County. Another bird that would have been a great addition was a male Blue-winged Teal, which Rob Gluck saw the day before, but not on count day. We've had that species only once, in 1949.

The adult female Rufous Hummingbird being released after being banded and color-marked (note the orange blotch on top of the head) by Susan Campbell. Her notes on this bird: "The Kilgour's hummingbird is an adult female Rufous. She was banded on 12/23/03. Her size (wing of 45.05 mm) and second rectrix shape (nippled) confirmed her identity. She was in very healthy condition with a bit of molt on the head and wing (primaries 1-5 brand new). She has 12 iridescent feathers in her gorget that are tipped red-orange. In addition to the characteristic rufous at the base of her tail feathers, she has substantial rufous feathering along her flanks, on the sides of her face and in her undertail coverts."
The rarest bird actually seen on count day was a Rufous Hummingbird at Fred & Eleanor Kilgour's feeder in Carolina Meadows, our third count record, all since 1999. Susan Campbell later banded and identified it as an adult female Rufous. Other good birds included 6 Northern Shovelers at Mapleview (Carter; becoming more regular - our first count record was in 1990, but we've had them 4 of the last 5 counts), 7 Red-breasted Mergansers at Jordan Lake (Johnston party), 2 Northern Harriers (Carter and Johnston parties; formerly more regular in the count circle), 2 Wild Turkeys (Stiffler party; only the 4th in last 40 years), 2 Palm Warblers (Fiala and Bockhahn), 2 Common Yellowthroats at Mason Farm (Cook party), and a Baltimore Oriole at April Smyth's feeder in Chapel Hill.

We set a good number of record highs, the most notable of which is the 11 House Wrens, which beats the stew out of the old record of 5 set in 2000. Jeff Pippen found 6 of the wrens near the Orange County dump on Eubanks Road. Canada Geese numbers continue to take off, jetting into the stratosphere with 747 (618 in 2002). Other records are 6 Northern Shovelers (5 in 2002), 98 Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers (91 in 1976), 21 Pileated Woodpeckers (20 in 2001), 562 Carolina Chickadees (544 in 1991), 439 Tufted Titmice (416 in 2001), 128 White-breasted Nuthatch (124 in 2001), and 181 Chipping Sparrows (142 in 2001). We also found well above average numbers of Sharp-shinned Hawk, Ring-billed and Herring Gulls, Brown Creeper (27, highest since 1977), Carolina Wren, Northern Mockingbird (180, highest since 1980), Brown Thrasher (37, highest since 1976), Eastern Towhee (208, highest since 1982), Purple Finch (76, highest since 1986). We didn't set any record lows, but the count of 187 House Finches is well below the average of 260.

Teams with highest totals: Once again Derb Carter, covering the Dairyland Road area, turned in the highest species count, with 63 (1197 individuals). And once again the Pippen team - this time Jeff was ably assisted by Anne and 9-year old daughter Erica - had the highest count of individuals with 1308 (48 species), finding large numbers of birds hanging out at the dump. Their most abundant bird was European Starling (201), though on the overall count Dark-eyed Junco came out on top (1631), followed by White-throated Sparrow (1397) - the only two species to break 1000.

Weather was much colder than average: Low 21 F, high 47 F, wind west 0- 10 mph, clear, no precipitation, still water partly frozen. Effort: 45 observers in 23 field parties, 160.2 party hours (137.45 by foot, 22.75 by car), 349 party miles (90 by foot, 259 by car), 6.25 hours and 3.25 miles owling, 8 people and 31 hours watching feeders.

Full count results will be online at the Christmas Bird Count web site if they get it up and running: http://www.audubon.org/bird/cbc/. (The count entry system worked fine last year, so they decided to improve it and now of course it doesn't work at all!)

Capping off the day was a countdown party at Derb Carter's new house near Maple View Farm. The company was warm and the food delicious. Thanks for hosting, Derb, and thanks to all counters for a job well done!

-- Will Cook, compiler, 1/21/2004

Full results in PDF format

Chapel Hill Bird Club