The Chapel Hill Christmas Bird Count on Sunday, 24 December 2006, was a near average count with unremarkable weather and below-average participation, but it wasn't at all dull, as we managed to get three species new to the count and set a number of record highs. Totals for this count were 90 species (ten-year average 88) and 15,266 individuals (average 14,966).
The rarities were led by a real mind-blower -- not just a new species, but a new family for the count. Derb Carter, covering the fields of Maple View Farm, saw a swallow over a pond. Going with probabilities, you'd guess Tree Swallow, but no, this small swallow had a brown back and dusky throat -- a Northern Rough-winged Swallow! An unexpected first for the count. Derb also found a more expected first -- a pair of Common Ravens soaring and croaking overhead. Ravens have been seen in the area for several years, but had so far eluded being officially tallied on a Chapel Hill count. Amazingly enough, Jane Brinkley also found a pair of Common Ravens in her home area on Old Greensboro Road. She also has seen them around several times before the count. While it is possible that just one pair of wide-ranging Ravens was seen at these two spots, which are about 5.5 miles apart as the Raven flies, I'm counting them as two pairs. Pairs of Ravens seem to be turning up everywhere in the Triangle lately, with a pair on this year's Falls Lake count and a pair on the 2005 Raleigh Christmas count. Our third new species for the count was another expected one -- Tom Driscoll's party saw the pair of Mute Swans that has been frequenting a pond on Weaver Dairy Road for a couple of months. Numbers in Raleigh have been increasing steadily, and these may be an outpost from that population.
Once again we had a Rufous Hummingbird on the count. Though still rare, we're finding them just about every year, thanks in large part to Susan Campbell's banding efforts. The one that Suzanne Cook and her son Ben Cook saw is our 6th Rufous, all in the last 8 years! Unfortunately the Calliope Hummingbird that Susan had also banded disappeared before the count.
Other goodies included 3 Wild Turkeys (Jeff Pippen and Alan Johnston's parties), 2 Palm Warblers (Jon Bennett and Will Mackin), Common Yellowthroat (Will Cook), and 6 White-crowned Sparrows (Derb Carter). Judy Murray reported our only Baltimore Orioles (3) at her feeder in suburban Chapel Hill.
We set an amazing number of record highs, considering that the number party-hours was below normal: 883 Canada Geese (747 in 2003), 400 Double-crested Cormorants (219 in 2001), 280 Black Vultures (242 in 2005), 17 Bald Eagles (7 in 1998), 9 Sharp-shinned Hawks (ties 1980), 14 American Woodcocks (13 in 1971, missed last year because of wind), 1150 Ring-billed Gulls (1108 in 2004), 22 Herring Gulls (15 in 1985), 146 Downy Woodpeckers (ties 2000), 24 Pileated Woodpeckers (21 in 2003), 146 Brown-headed Nuthatches (124 in 2002), 451 Carolina Wrens (434 in 2002), and 445 E. Bluebirds (424 in 1998).
No record lows, but we did miss Ring-necked Duck for the first time since 1995 and Purple Finch for the first time since 1994. Of course we missed Northern Bobwhite, too, but we haven't had them on the count reliably since the 1980s. Numbers of Mallard were the lowest since 1989, Killdeer since 1990, and Myrtle Warbler since 1995.
Teams with highest totals: As usual, Derb Carter's team, covering the Dairyland Road area, turned in the highest species count, with 68 (1546 individuals), including 7 exclusives (reported by no one else). One of these years he'll break 70. Next closest was Alan Johnston's team with 56. For the fifth year in a row, Jeff Pippen scored the highest individual tally, with 1564 birds (47 species), just barely squeaking past Derb's total.
With no big flocks of Robins or blackbirds around, the sparrows took honors for the top two most abundant birds: 1471 Dark-eyed Juncos and 1251 White-throated Sparrows.
Weather: Temperature 36-60F, wind from the north at 0-8 mph, overcast, water open. Effort: 38 observers in 20 field parties, 134.5 party hours (111 by foot, 23.5 by car), 299.5 party miles (80 by foot, 219.5 by car), 5.75 hours and 7.5 miles owling, 6 people and 12.5 hours watching feeders.
Full count results are available at the Christmas Bird Count web site.
Thanks to all counters for your continued support!
-- Will Cook, compiler, 1/25/07
Full results in PDF format
Chapel Hill Bird Club