The Chapel Hill Christmas Bird Count on Sunday, 23 December 2007, produced 94 species (10-year average 89), tying for our second highest species count. The mid-afternoon rain and wind slowed things down a bit, but the large flocks of blackbirds boosted our individual bird count to the second highest ever in the 80-year history of the Chapel Hill count. The count of 24,890 individual birds is 60% higher than the 10-year average of 15,547. The only higher count was in 1974, when 554,500 unidentified blackbirds were counted, the only time a huge blackbird roost has been found on the Chapel Hill Count. Part of the reason we found so many birds this year is because of the outstanding effort -- we had 68 participants, 52 in field parties with an additional 16 feeder-watchers, and a record high 164 party-hours (average 142.5). Even so, the 151.8 birds per party-hour is 39% higher than average (109.5).
For such a great count, we had remarkably few rarities. Two species are second count records: a pair of Common Ravens flying over Old Greensboro Road (Jane Brinkley) and a pair of Mute Swans at a pond on Weaver Dairy Road (Tom Driscoll's party). Both of these made their first appearance last year and both probably are the same individuals as on last year's count. We had great numbers of shorebirds, thanks to the drought, which produced mudflats at Jordan Lake in the southern portion of the count circle. The only rarity, however, was Least Sandpiper, our fifth count record. Derb Carter found a Western Sandpiper the day before the count, which would have been a first.
Other goodies include two Gadwall (Brian Bockhahn), 3 Red-breasted Mergansers (Alan Johnston and Edith Tatum), 6 Northern Bobwhites (Bockhahn), 1 Blue-headed Vireo (Ginger Travis), 1 Palm Warbler (Bockhahn), 1 White-crowned Sparrow (Derb Carter), and an adult male Baltimore Oriole (Will Cook, at Julia Shields's feeder).
Record highs: Kent Fiala discovered an amazing flock of about 800 Rusty Blackbirds at Sandy Creek park in Durham, and the count total of 816 Rusties far surpasses the previous high of 158 in 1978. The count of Northern Shovelers at Jordan Lake and Maple View Pond (totalling 42) more than quadruples our previous high (9 in 2005). Other records include: 81 Hooded Mergansers (48 in 1997), 45 Least Sandpipers (37 in 1998), 9 Great Horned Owls (ties 1985), 35 Hairy Woodpeckers (31 in 2001), 691 Northern Cardinals (656 in 1980), and 7575 Common Grackles (3926 in 1995). Other species near record highs: 11 Wild Turkeys (13 in 2004), 145 Great Blue Herons (156 in 1991), 14 Bald Eagles (17 last year), 59 Wilson's Snipes (85 in 1991), 95 Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers (98 in 2003), 607 American Crows (618 in 1999), 541 Carolina Chickadees (562 in 2003), and 80 Fox Sparrows (86 in 1976). The showing of 25 Red-breasted Nuthatches is our best since 1981.
Misses: A surprising miss was Barred Owl, especially considering the record number of Great Horned Owls. The only other big miss was House Wren, the first miss since 1995.
Teams honors: Brian Bockhahn, covering the New Hope Creek area and poaching a tiny bit at Jordan Lake, had 65 species (2102 birds), beating the usual champ Derb Carter by 2 to claim the upset win. Will Cook tallied the highest number of individuals, with 4575 birds (58 species), thanks to several large flocks of grackles (totalling 3500) flying over Mason Farm near dusk. Next highest was the team of Alan Johnston and Edith Tatum with 2281 (52 species), including 1500 grackles.
Most abundant birds: Common Grackle (7575), Dark-eyed Junco (1120), European Starling (1075), White-throated Sparrow (1026), and Red-winged Blackbird (1020).
Weather: Temperature 50-65 F, wind from the south 5-20 mph, overcast, rain in pm, water open. Effort: 52 observers in 24 field parties, 164 party hours (141.75 by foot, 19 by car, 3.25 by bicycle) and 319 party-miles (90 by foot, 220 by car, 9 by bicycle), 7.75 hours and 23.5 miles owling, 16 people and 30.5 hours watching feeders.
Thanks to the participants for helping make this a memorable count!
-- Will Cook, compiler, 1/20/08
Full results in PDF format
Chapel Hill Bird Club