The 84rd Chapel Hill Christmas Bird Count on Sunday, 22 December 2013, was exceptional for two things: the warm, almost hot, weather and the number of counters. The count results however were typical, with 87 species and 15791 individual birds very close to the 10-year averages of 88 and 15171. The weather was warm even for a Spring Count and truly exceptional for a Christmas Bird Count, with a low of 70 F rising to a high of 79 F. Though the counting was pleasant, the heat combined with 10-20 mph winds kept the birds quiet. On a birds per party-hour basis it was a below average count, with 97 a bit lower than the average 111. The 67 participants is our highest ever, 72 percent higher than our average 39 and 3.5 times the number three years before on our snowiest count ever. Party-hours were third-highest, 162.25, only 20% higher than usual.
The outstanding rarity of this count was a Dickcissel seen briefly by Brian Bockhahn with a flock of sparrows in the drying bins at the South Durham Water Reclamation Facility. This is a first report for the count! A Fish Crow heard by Chuck Byrd is our third ever; they are increasing locally in the winter. A couple of wintering hummingbirds showed up at their feeders on count day, but since these have not yet been banded, we're not sure what they are. One is a Rufous/Allen's and the other is likely not; Calliope has been discussed as a possibility.
Several other nice birds were found: American Coot is common elsewhere in the Triangle but rare in recent years on the Chapel Hill count. Seen by Mike Schultz at a pond in his neighborhood, this is our first since 2002. An immature White-crowned Sparrow at a feeder was an unexpected find for Harriet Sato and her team, a first for their section of the count circle. We've had Baltimore Oriole every year since 2000, but still it always seems worthy of a mention. This year first-time participants Jim and Mary George spotted an adult male in their yard. Other goodies included Blue-headed Vireo, Common Yellowthroat, and Palm Warbler.
The most dramatic record high set was for Carolina Wren, with the count of 592 far surpassing the previous record of 451 in 2006. We also set record highs for Red-bellied Woodpecker (244, 234 in 1981) and Downy Woodpecker (195, 166 in 2011). The count of 8 Cooper's Hawks ties the high set in 2004. Close to record numbers were noted for Ring-billed Gull, Red-headed Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker, White-breasted Nuthatch, and Brown Creeper.
The biggest miss was Double-crested Cormorant, our first miss since 1993. Bonaparte's Gull was another big miss, especially after setting a record high last year. This is the first miss of Bonaparte's in a decade, though one was seen during count week. In part due to the warm weather, ducks had a poor showing, with 3 species our lowest since 1989. The count of 12 Fox Sparrows was the lowest since 1990. Eastern Meadowlarks were also unusually scarce, continuing their long, slow decline locally.
Team honors: Once again Derb Carter, covering the Dairyland Road area, had the highest species count, with 59 species (849 individuals). Thanks in part to a big flock of Ring-billed Gulls overhead, Brian Bockhahn tallied the most individual birds, with 1273 (51 species).
Weather: Temperature 70-79 F, wind from the southwest at 10-20 mph, mostly cloudy, no precipitation, water open. Effort: 67 observers in 31 field parties, 162.25 party hours (134 by foot, 28.25 by car) and 319 party miles (94 by foot, 225 by car), 8 hours and 8.45 miles owling, 5 people and 14 hours watching feeders.
Thanks to all the participants for a fun count!
-- Will Cook, compiler
Chapel Hill Bird Club