2003 Chapel Hill Spring Bird Count - Compiler's Comments

by Will Cook

The 2003 Chapel Hill spring count on May 4 was blessed with pleasant weather and a great showing of migrant passerines. We ended up with 126 species on count day, our highest in nine years, and 15153 birds, our highest ever. Our level of participation was well above average, but neither party hours nor party miles were near a record. The 84 birds per party hour is a record high, far above the average of 64. It was a good day.

The most outstanding find of the count was our first Common Tern, spotted by Doug Shadwick at Jordan Lake. For the first time ever we had two species of merganser - Judy Murray found a Hooded near Jordan Lake and Tom Driscoll found a Common at Eastwood Lake in Chapel Hill. Both are second records for the spring count. The only other near-rarities were the 2 Caspian Terns seen by Ginger Travis from her kayak - our sixth in 46 spring counts, but seen for the third count in a row.

We set a large number of record highs this year. Several of them were truly astounding, blowing the old record highs right out of the water. The 700 Double-crested Cormorants at Jordan Lake demolishes the old record of 399 set in 1986! Another blowout is the 88 Black Vultures (53 in 2001). Rob Gluck observed an estimated 1900 Chimney Swifts swarming aroung the post office chimney in downtown Chapel Hill at dusk, obliterating the old record of 343. We had exceptional record highs for several warblers - 180 Northern Parula (110 in 1983), 114 Black-throated Blue (64 in 1983), and 13 Black-throated Green (6 in 1997). Nesting Song Sparrows continue to rapidly colonize urban and suburban Chapel Hill - we had 53 this year (29 in 2002, just 1 in 1996).

We set several more run-of-the-mill record highs - 25 Bald Eagle (21 in 2001), 11 Wild Turkey (10 in 2002), 64 Ruby-throated Hummingbird (61 in 2002), 296 Red-bellied Woodpecker (240 in 2002), 25 Hairy Woodpecker (20 in 1967), 77 Great Crested Flycatcher (76 in 2002), 97 White-breasted Nuthatch (75 in 2002), 4 Hermit Thrush (3 in 1985), 153 Ovenbird (138 in 2002), 95 Scarlet Tanager (94 in 1979), 26 Rose-breasted Grosbeak (24 in 1979), and 200 Brown-headed Cowbird (161 in 2002).

We did set one record low - not unexpected, but continuing a long gradual decline, we found only 12 Eastern Meadowlarks (old low 15 in 1997). From the 1960's through the 1980's we used to top 100 meadowlarks regularly. There's a nearly identical trend for Northern Bobwhite - our 4 this year isn't a record low (we missed them entirely in 1997), but pales in comparison to the 80+ counts of the 1960's through the mid 1980's. Wild Turkey is now the more common of the two; before 2000 it was a great rarity on the count.

This year honors for highest species count goes to Doug Shadwick with 83; he covers the peninsula at Jordan Lake between New Hope Creek and Morgan Creek. Top individual bird count, not surprisingly, goes to Rob Gluck, with 2395 birds (1900 of them Chimney Swifts!) in and around downtown Chapel Hill.

Weather in brief: low 55, high 69; no precipitation; wind NE 0-5 mph; cloudy-partly cloudy.

Thanks to all who helped count - it was a fun one!

Detailed Results (PDF format)

Chapel Hill Bird Club