The 1999 Chapel Hill Christmas Bird Count, held on December 26, was the highest count in years, even though many observers thought that "birds seemed scarce" that day and it started off cold and windy. This is the 69th Chapel Hill CBC -- the first one was in 1924 and it's been held annually since 1929.
This year's total of 88 species is the highest since 1990 and well above the average (for the past 10 years) of 81. The only higher counts were in 1979-1984, when Jordan Lake was being created and filled (the northern end of Jordan Lake is in the Chapel Hill circle). New to the count was Tom & Barbara Driscoll's immature male Rufous Hummingbird, identified and banded by Susan Campbell. The other boldface bird was our third Merlin, seen at the Chapel Hill dump by Les Todd's party. We had two species of ducks almost worthy of boldfacing -- 2 Northern Shovelers seen by Angelo Capparella and Betty King (3rd count record) and 4 Northern Pintail seen by Doug Shadwick (first since 1983). Other goodies on the count include 3 Ruddy Ducks (rare here), 18 Northern Bobwhite (often missed; highest count since 1984), 1 Herring Gull (first since 1994). Two other species were reported, but didn't have enough details for what would be first count records.
We had a fair showing of winter irruptives, including 6 Red-breasted Nuthatches, 1 Pine Siskin, 2 Evening Grosbeaks, and an excellent 59 Purple Finches (the highest since 1988).
The total of 17563 birds is well above the average count of 11906. We set record highs with 90 White-breasted Nuthatches and 39 Winter Wrens and tied records with 28 Hairy Woodpeckers and 618 American Crows. Other species well above average -- 103 Black Vulture (highest since 1977), 204 Turkey Vulture, 126 Ring-necked Duck, 176 Red-bellied Woodpecker (2nd highest), 80 Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (2nd), 93 Downy Woodpecker, 1944 Eur. Starling (highest since 1981), 793 Cedar Waxwing, 56 Fox Sparrow, 1262 Red-winged Blackbird, 115 Rusty Blackbird, and 1669 Common Grackle.
The only species much lower than normal was Golden-crowned Kinglet -- the 98 we found is less than half the average of 258.
Teams with highest totals: The team of Les Todd, Leto Copeley, and Bert Fisher had a great day, with the highest species total at 56 (with 1319 birds), including the only Merlin, E. Meadowlark, Brown-headed Cowbirds, Pine Siskin, and Evening Grosbeaks of the count. They counted in the Homestead Road - Eubanks Road area in the northwestern part of town. The Team of Will Cook and Randy Emmitt at Mason Farm had the highest number of birds, a total of 2517 (in 50 species), including 1230 Red-winged Blackbirds and more sparrows than you can shake a stick at.
Weather/Effort: 51 counters in 25 parties; 153 hours (104 foot, 49 car), 534.5 miles (86.5 foot, 448 car); 25 feeder-hours; 1.5 hours and 2 miles owling. (All above average.) Temperature 19-50 F; wind SW 10-15 mph; no snow; still water partly frozen, moving water open; clear; no precipitation.
You can find full count results on the Christmas Bird Count web site.
-- Will Cook, compiler, 1/9/2000
Full results in PDF format
Chapel Hill Bird Club