The 86th Chapel Hill Christmas Bird Count on Sunday, 20 December 2015, was remarkable for two things: the warm, windy weather, and the huge flocks of waxwings. After the stellar count last year, this year's count results were about as unexceptional as you can get, with 84 species and 14045 individual birds, a little below the 10-year averages of 88.5 and 15576. The spring-like weather was quite bizarre for a Christmas Bird Count, with a low of 66 F rising to a high of 75 F, though not as warm as the count 2 years before! Though the counting was pleasant, the 8-18 mph winds kept the birds quiet, and recent heavy rains had flooded out many of our best count areas at Jordan Lake, as well as blocked entry to Mason Farm. On a birds per party-hour basis it was a below average count, with 105 a bit lower than the average 112. Level of participation was also a little below normal, with 40 participants and 133.9 (averages 44.5 and 137).
Unusually, there were no boldface rarities on this count. The rarest bird was a male Northern Pintail at University Lake, spotted by Jan Hansen. Jan had been seeing the pintail for the month leading up to the count, always in the company of a small flock of Mallards. Other goodies on the count included 2 American Black Ducks (one each seen by Hansen and Brian Bockhahn), a Bufflehead (Margaret Pennybacker), 3 Common Ravens (1 seen by Derb Carter, 2 by Andrew Thornton), 3 White-crowned Sparrows (Carter), and a Baltimore Oriole (spotted by Susan Stone in her yard).
Cedar Waxwings were incredibly abundant this year, with a record high count of 2170. This blasted past the old record of 1918 set in 1980; on an average count we tally 522. Haven and Minna Wiley carefully counted 610 in their area alone! Waxwings were very well distributed, too, with 19 of 21 field parties recording at least a few. We did set one other record high: 15 Wild Turkey beats the previous record of 13 in 2004 (average 2.3). Also in abundance: 66 Pine Warblers (highest since 2000) and 1408 Red-winged Blackbirds (highest since 1988).
We had no big misses, but a few common species were found in remarkably low numbers: 614 White-throated Sparrows (average 1108, lowest since 1990), 659 Dark-eyed Juncos (average 1012, lowest since 1994), and 1 lonely Eastern Meadowlark (average 18, ties lowest since 1929).
Top honors this year go to new counters Jan Hansen and his wife Susan Blackford. Covering the University Lake area and some nearby areas, including their home, they racked up 62 species and 1340 individual birds, besting Derb Carter's 58 species and Haven and Minna Wiley's 1159 individuals.
Weather: Temperature 66-75 F, wind from the southwest at 8-18 mph, mostly cloudy, a little light drizzle in the morning, water open. Effort: 40 observers in 21 field parties, 133.9 party hours (111.9 by foot, 22 by car) and 280 party miles (83.4 by foot, 196.6 by car), 7 hours and 14 miles owling, 3 people and 16.5 hours watching feeders.
Thanks to all the participants for your help!
-- Will Cook, compiler
Full results in PDF format
Chapel Hill Bird Club