The 83rd Chapel Hill Christmas Bird Count on Sunday, 23 December 2012, was well above average, with the total number of species, 92, and number of individual birds, 16985, above the 10-year average numbers (88.5 and 14930). Party-hours were only slightly higher than normal, so on a birds per party-hour basis it was a great count, with 121 much higher than the average 109.
The best bird was a Virginia Rail, new to the count, which Jacob Socolar and Scott Winton heard grunting at the Little Creek waterfowl impoundment on NC 54. Not completely unexpected, since they're found most years at Lake Wheeler on the Raleigh CBC, they may be here every winter, but go undetected probably because most people don't get out and beat the marshes like Jacob and Scott did. Jacob and Scott also had a flyover calling flock of crossbills, which, after much study, they decided were Red Crossbills, only our fourth record and the first since 1973.
Several other outstanding rarites were found: 3 Tundra Swans were seen high over Jordan Lake by Reed Bowman, an avian ecologist visiting from Florida. These are only our third for the count and a record high. A Common Loon, our first since 1995, was heard calling at Jordan Lake at sunrise by Reed and his teammates Rouse Wilson and Phil Warren. An immature Broad-winged Hawk, only our third record, first since 1972, was seen by the team of Pam Timmons, Perry Haaland, and Chris Hitt. Derb Carter found a Merlin at Maple View Farm, only our fourth and first since 1999. The day before the count Derb found two Fish Crows in downtown Chapel Hill; Pam Timmons followed up on the report on count day and heard one, only our second. A possible Rose-breasted Grosbeak was reported, but the observer wasn't sure enough for what would be a first count record.
Other nice finds on count day included Least Sandpiper (Brian Bockhahn and Kyle Kittelberger), good numbers of Wilson's Snipe (4 parties), an adult male Baltimore Oriole (at Julia Shields's feeder), and a count week Evening Grosbeak.
We set a couple of dramatic record highs this year: Bonaparte's Gull, with 357 tripling the old high of 120 set in 2001, and Red-shouldered Hawk, with the 57 reported blowing away the old high of 38 set just last year. Other highs include Great Horned Owl (11, 9 in 2009), Pileated Woodpecker (27, 24 in 2006), Winter Wren (57, 45 in 2005), Rusty Blackbird (1085, 816 in 2007), and Pine Siskin (558, 357 in 2010). We found a good number of Red-breasted Nuthatches (48 is our second highest, behind 81 in 1980). Several other species were not records, but more than doubled their average counts: Wilson's Snipe, American Woodcock, Eastern Screech-Owl, Barred Owl, Red-headed Woodpecker, Swamp Sparrow, Red-winged Blackbird, Purple Finch.
We set no record lows and there were no big misses, but a few common species were recorded at less than half of their average numbers: Mallard, Double-crested Cormorant (they were just a little further south this year, inside the Jordan Lake count circle, where they set a high), Rock Pigeon, and Common Grackle. Pine Warblers rebounded from their odd scarcity last winter and were found in good numbers (3.5 times as many this year as last).
Team honors: Once again Derb Carter, covering the Dairyland Road area, had the highest species count, with 68 species (1223 individuals). Thanks in part to a big flock of Rusty Blackbirds at Mason Farm, Will Cook and Katherine Gura tallied the most individual birds, with 2505 (57 species).
Weather: Temperature 24-55 F, wind from the southwest at 0-10 mph, partly cloudy, no precipitation, water open. Effort: 47 observers in 21 field parties, 140 party hours (122 by foot, 18 by car) and 306 party miles (79.2 by foot, 226.8 by car), 3.25 hours and 7.25 miles owling, 6 people and 14.5 hours watching feeders.
Thanks to all the participants for another great count!
-- Will Cook, compiler
Full results in PDF format
Chapel Hill Bird Club