We did fairly well on the 2004 Chapel Hill Christmas Bird Count, held on December 26, with an above-average 90 species (10-year average 85) and 15,800 individual birds (average 14,550). Observer effort was near normal. The weather was frigid, with a cold north wind, but fortunately this didn't seem to hinder the birding much. The count circle received almost complete coverage, missing only the NC Botanical Garden area (the counters couldn't make it because of snow in Raleigh) and sections of the downtown area (it's hard to find someone to count Starlings and Pigeons).
The rarest bird was a small tern seen at Jordan Lake by Edith Tatum. She thought it looked more like a Common Tern than the expected Forster's Tern, but we'd probably need good photographs to be able to count it as a Common, since that would be unprecedented at this time of year. So, it's going down on the count as Sterna sp., still a first for the Chapel Hill count. The other major rarity was the hatch-year female Rufous Hummingbird at Jill Froning's feeder, which was identified and banded by Susan Campbell a couple of months earlier. Jill was out of town on count day, but she thoughtfully arranged for her neighbor Maggie Jackson to count her yard birds. Other goodies: Northern Shoveler (Derb Carter), Wild Turkey (Carter), Northern Harrier (Sam O'Kane), Common Yellowthroat (Will Cook), Baltimore Oriole (4 parties had one!), and Evening Grosbeak (Cynthia Fox, at her feeder). Jill's White-crowned Sparrow was a great bird for the count week.
We set several record highs: Derb's 7 Northern Shovelers at the Maple View Farm pond beats lasts year's count of 6 at the same pond. And his nice flock of 13 Wild Turkeys handily beats the old record of 5. Five parties counted 8 Cooper's Hawks, doubling the previous high! We counted 1108 Ring-billed Gulls, mostly as they were flying by in large flocks, besting the previous high by 30%. We never get large flocks of gulls sitting on the water in the northern reaches of Jordan Lake, unlike slightly further south in the Jordan Lake count circle. We had an amazing count of 381 Chipping Sparrows, more than twice the previous high of 181 set just last year. What's going on with them? Other unusually high counts: Wood Duck (highest since 1986), Red-breasted Nuthatch (h.s. 1985), Golden-crowned Kinglet (h.s. 1993), Northern Mockingbird (h.s. 1980), Dark-eyed Junco (h.s. 1983), Northern Cardinal (h.s. 1980), Baltimore Oriole (h.s. 1976), and Pine Siskin (h.s. 1987).
Only two species had unusually low totals: Eastern Phoebe (lowest since 1992) and House Finch (lowest since 1984).
Teams with highest totals: I had a great day at Mason Farm (plus a couple of minor uncovered spots), with 62 species (1570 individuals). Helping my totals were 7 species of water birds on the Mason Farm pond, which is often devoid of waterfowl. Once again Jeff Pippen's team - this time Jeff was assisted by Jacob Socolar - had the highest count of individuals with 1717 (52 species), with large numbers of birds hanging out at the Orange County landfill. Their most abundant bird was Dark-eyed Junco (315); on the overall count, Junco also came out on top (2089), followed by White-throated Sparrow (1394), then Ring-billed Gull.
Weather was much colder than average: Low 25 F, high 38 F, wind from the north at 5-10 mph, cloudy to clear, no precipitation, still water partly frozen. Effort: 38 observers in 22 field parties, 141.7 party hours (106 by foot, 35.7 by car), 373 party miles (84 by foot, 289 by car), 7.25 hours and 24 miles owling, 9 people and 16 hours watching feeders.
Full count results are available at the Christmas Bird Count web site.
Special thanks to Derb and Anne Carter for hosting the countdown party to end a great day of birding. And thanks to all counters - your efforts are appreciated!
-- Will Cook, compiler, 2/15/2005
Full results in PDF format
Chapel Hill Bird Club