2016 Chapel Hill (NC) Christmas Bird Count Summary

Northern Parula on the 2016 Chapel Hill CBC!

Northern Parula on 2016 Chapel Hill CBC
This Northern Parula was discovered and beautifully photographed by David and Judy Smith on the count at UNC's Coker Arboretum near downtown Chapel Hill. Click for larger size image.

The Chapel Hill Christmas Bird Count on Monday, 26 December 2016, was one for the record books, with our second highest species total in the 87 year history of the count! We ended up with 95 species, second only to the 1983 count, when extreme cold brought 15 species of ducks (6 duck species this year, typical for a Chapel Hill count). The overcast and moderate weather helped with the count, even though many teams reported that the morning seemed slow. The species count was only 1 higher than the 2007 and 2014 counts, but well above our 10-year average of 87.6. The 18,757 individual birds recorded was also well above the average of 15217, thanks to some large flocks of gulls and blackbirds. On a birds per party-hour basis it was an above average count, with 126 a bit higher than the average 110. Level of effort was great, with 56 participants and 148.5 party hours (averages 44.4 and 136).

One boldface rarity of this count was a Northern Parula seen and well photographed by David and Judy Smith in the Coker Arboretum at UNC. This is only the second for the count, the other one was in 2005. Our other boldface rarity was Lincoln's Sparrow, also a second for the count - Derb Carter had one at a roadside stream at the old Lemola Dairy on Dairyland Road. Other rarities: a Fish Crow, only our 4th for the count, heard calling at Mason Farm (Will Cook's party), a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (5th count record) in the game lands just east of Mason Farm (Will Cook), Black-and-white Warbler (Karyn Hede, our 6th), Orange-crowned Warbler (Jeff Pippen's party, 7th), 3 Common Ravens (1 seen by Jan Hansen and Susan Blackford, 2 by Pam Timmons and Perry Haaland, 7th), and a group of 12 Horned Grebes in the Morgan Creek arm of Jordan Lake (Haven Wiley, 10th). Other less rare but still very nice birds included our first American Wigeon in 10 years (Brian Bockhahn), 2 Wilson's Snipe (Jill Froning and Shelley Theye), 2 Blue-headed Vireos (Norm Budnitz and Jim Capel), 2 Gray Catbirds at Mason Farm (Cook party), a Common Yellowthroat (Wiley), 3 White-crowned Sparrows (Carter), and 2 Baltimore Orioles in the wild (that is, not at someone's feeder) (Pippen party and Bockhahn). I also received word (fide Tom Driscoll) that there's a Selashphorus hummingbird wintering in the count circle, seen by the homeowners every day except count day (if a Rufous, it would have been our 9th).

We set three record highs: 44 Ruddy Ducks (average 13.5, old record 33 in 2008), 5227 Ring-billed Gulls (avg 574, old record 1150 in 2006), 38 Brown Creeper (20.6, 34 in 1975). Also in good numbers: Eastern Screech-Owl (highest since 1981) and Red-winged Blackbird (highest since 1988).

There were no big misses, but two species were remarkably scarce this year: Common Grackle (3 vs. average count of 1032) and Cedar Waxwing (87 is our lowest since 1996 vs. average 640). The Cedar Waxwing count is even more remarkable because they were incredibly abundant last year, with a record high count of 2170. Boom and bust!

Top honor for species this year goes to Derb Carter. Covering the Dairyland Road area Derb racked up 63 species and 1297 individual birds, besting Jan Hansen and Susan Blackford's 61 species. The team of Jill Froning and Shelley Theye tallied the greatest number of individual birds, with 5922, thanks to a record-setting (for Chapel Hill) flock of Ring-billed Gulls departing Jordan Lake and a huge flock of Red-winged Blackbirds. The Jordan Lake CBC gets much larger gull flocks, which roost in the middle of Jordan Lake.

Weather: Temperature 47-59 F, wind from the southwest at 0-5 mph, mostly cloudy, water open. Effort: 56 observers in 25 field parties, 148.5 party hours (128 by foot, 20.5 by car) and 277.8 party miles (91.8 by foot, 186 by car), 5.5 hours and 19.1 miles owling, 7 people and 35.5 hours watching feeders.

Thanks to all the participants for your help!

-- Will Cook, compiler

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Chapel Hill Bird Club