The Chapel Hill Christmas Bird Count on Sunday, 21 December 2008, produced 86 species, the lowest count in ten years (10-year average 90.6). Weather was a major factor in this count, keeping bird numbers down with heavy rain for an hour at daybreak, followed by moderately strong winds in the afternoon. The count of 13019 individuals (10-year average 16856) is the lowest since 1997, as is the 97.2 birds per party-hour (average 116).
Rarities: Derb Carter found a Horned Grebe at the American Stone quarry pond, where he usually sees nothing, for our first since 1985. Doug Shadwick found a Black-and-white Warbler near Jordan Lake, only our third count record. Pam Timmons also saw another Black-and-white at her feeder a couple of days after the count. Other goodies included a Red-breasted Merganser at Jordan Lake (Phil Warren) and a flock of 11 White-crowned Sparrows near Dairyland Road (Derb Carter), and an adult male Baltimore Oriole (Julia Shields).
Record highs: The count of 33 Ruddy Ducks almost triples the previous high of 13 set in 2005. The rain and wind kept vultures on their roosts for easy counting. We set a record high of 377 Black Vultures (280 in 2006) and almost a record of 405 Turkey Vultures (surpassed only by 407 in 1977). The amazing count of 506 Chipping Sparrows (381 in 2004) is 3.67 times the average count. Field Sparrows were also well above normal (highest since 1995), though not near a record. Pine Siskins made a major push into the area this winter and the count of 154 is the highest since 1980.
No record lows were set, but quite a few species were the lowest in more than a decade: Sharp-shinned Hawk, Rock Pigeon, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, American Crow, White-breasted Nuthatch, American Robin, and House Sparrow. Because of the rainy and windy conditions, we missed all the owls for the first time since 1989.
Teams honors: Derb Carter, covering the Dairyland Road area, had the highest species count, with 57 (1438 birds). Jeff Pippen's party, covering the Orange County landfill area, counted the most birds, 1510 (51 species).
Most abundant birds: White-throated Sparrow (1175), Dark-eyed Junco (961), Ring-billed Gull (814), Northern Cardinal (532), and Canada Goose (511).
Weather: Temperature 42-59 F, wind from the west at 5-20 mph, overcast-partly cloudy, heavy rain in am, water open. Effort: 39 observers in 21 field parties, 134 party hours (99 by foot, 35 by car) and 344.25 party miles (82.25 by foot, 262 by car), 3.3 hours and 2.75 miles owling, 9 people and 12 hours watching feeders.
Full count results are available on the Christmas Bird Count web site.
Thanks to the participants for counting through the miserable weather!
-- Will Cook, compiler, 1/10/09
Full results in PDF format
Chapel Hill Bird Club