The 75th Chapel Hill Christmas Bird Count on Monday, 26 December 2005, was a windy one -- while it was sunny and the temperatures were moderate, the winds whipping out of the west at 10-20 mph all day kept the dickie birds down and made birding not as much fun. In addition, because the count was held on a Monday, the counters on the Army Corps land at the northern edges of Jordan Lake had to share their area with deer hunters, which altered their counting strategies. But somehow we managed to pull out an exceptional number of rarities and had a great count.
We ended up with a species total of 93 (well above the 10-year average of 87) and 17633 birds (well above the average 14979). Observer effort was slightly above normal. The sparrows were lying low, and there were no huge blackbird or gull flocks, so how did we end up with an above average number of birds? Robins. Loads and loads of Robins. More on that later.
We found a number of rarities, highlighted by Doug Shadwick's immature female Northern Parula and Tom Driscoll's immature male Ruby-throated Hummingbird, both firsts for the count! The Ruby-throat, which was in Tom's yard, was identified and banded by Susan Campbell on 12/13/05. Jill Froning also saw a hummingbird (which Susan had previously banded) in her yard on the count, this time a female Rufous, our 5th in 7 years! Interestingly, this Rufous is a different individual from the one Jill had last year on the count.
Other goodies included 3 Least Sandpipers in the mud at the edge of a large pond on Bowden Rd. in rural Orange Co. (Jane Brinkley), a female Common Goldeneye in Durham (Bob and Robert Chase), two separate Orange-crowned Warblers at suet feeders - only our fourth count record (Norm Budnitz and Judy Murray), a flock of 11 White-crowned Sparrows (Derb Carter's party), and our third Blue Grosbeak, a female/immature at Big Woods Road near Jordan Lake (Shelley Theye).
Despite the wind, we set a few record highs: Derb Carter's team's 9 Northern Shovelers at the Maple View Farm pond beats last year's count of 7 at the same pond, which beat the count of 6 there the year before. Other highs are Ruddy Duck (13, a tie), Black Vulture (242), Winter Wren (45), and last but not least, American Robin (3934). Our average high for American Robin is 526, less than 1/7th of this. Flocks of Robins seemed to be everywhere, with 11 teams reporting 100 or more, topped by Alan Johnston's team's 907. Other unusually high counts include Hooded Merganser (46, second highest), Gray Catbird (4, highest since 1993), Baltimore Oriole (7, 5 of them at Judy Murray's feeder, highest since 1975), and White-crowned Sparrow (11, highest since 1985).
A bunch of species were found in unusually low numbers, though no record-breakers: Pied-billed Grebe, Double-crested Cormorant, Belted Kingfisher, Northern Mockingbird, Hermit Thrush, Song Sparrow, White-throated Sparrow, and Eastern Meadowlark. Continuing their long decline, the total of 8 E. Meadowlarks is the lowest since 1945. Because of the wind, American Woodcocks were not displaying, so we missed for the first time since 1974!
Teams with highest totals: Derb Carter, Jane Oliver, and Ann Oliver, covering the Dairyland Road area, turned in the highest species count, with 67 (1468 individuals). Not only that, they found 8 species not recorded by any other team. The next closest were the Driscoll and Cook parties, each with 53. For the fourth year in a row, honors for highest individual count go to Jeff Pippen's team. This time he and Toni Rexrode tallied 1496 birds (47 species), with Alan Johnston's and Derb Carter's groups nipping at their heels. On the overall count American Robin was the most abundant bird (3934), followed by Cedar Waxwing (994) and European Starling (917).
Weather: Temperature 42-52F, wind from the west at 10-20 mph, mostly sunny, water open. Effort: 41 observers in 22 field parties, 144.3 party hours (118.2 by foot, 26.1 by car), 335.5 party miles (86.3 by foot, 249.2 by car), 2 hours and 0.5 miles owling, 13 people and 40 hours watching feeders.
Full count results are available at the Christmas Bird Count web site.
Thanks once again to Derb and Anne for hosting the countdown party and thanks to all counters who braved the wind!
-- Will Cook, compiler, 2/25/2006
Full results in PDF format
Chapel Hill Bird Club