by Will Cook
The 2004 Chapel Hill spring count on May 9 was a fairly average count, bringing us back to ground after a great one last year. We found 121 species (near the 10-year average of 122) and 9529 birds (slightly below the average of 10067). The number of birds per party-hour, however, was a very high 76.8, well above the average 67. This is the second highest in recent history, behind last year's 82.6. The reason this year's count was only average was the relatively low level of participation, the lowest since 1996. This year's 37 counters in 17 parties is well below the average 49 counters in 23 parties, and we had only 124 party-hours (average 156).
As usual, we did have a few goodies. The best bird was the beautiful breeding-plumaged male Ruddy Duck at Clark Lake in Chapel Hill, found by the team of Betty King, Barbara Roth, and Judy Teague. He was still present the next day when I went to look, but disappeared later in the week. This is only our second Ruddy on a spring count, our first since 1958! Another great find was a group of 4 Hooded Mergansers seen by Doug Shadwick at Jordan Lake - only our third, as well as a record high. Kent Fiala also had an outstanding day, hearing a Greater Yellowlegs at the former sewage plant off Sandy Creek Road in Durham (our first since 1988) and flushing an American Woodcock near Hollow Rock, New Hope Creek (our first since 1990). Another party reported 3 Anhingas in flight, but the details were not convincing enough to include in the final report.
Record highs were very few. In fact, the only one we set, apart from the Hooded Mergs mentioned above, was for Carolina Wren. The astounding total of 495 smashes the previous record of 447 in 2002. This is even more astounding considering this year's low number of party-hours. That works out to 4.0 Carolina Wrens per party hour; the next nearest total is just 2.4. Why were there so many Carolina Wrens this spring? Also high, but not record counts, were Least Sandpiper (18, average 5) and Acadian Flycatcher (78, average 49).
We did set a record low, thought not an unexpected one. Continuing a long decline, this year's paltry showing of 12 Field Sparrows (average 38) beats the low of 15 we had in 1960. I couldn't find even one at Mason Farm. We also counted just 12 Eastern Meadowlarks (average 31), matching the record low set last year. We also had remarkably low numbers for Red-shouldered Hawk (19, average 29), Red-tailed Hawk (11, average 32), and European Starling (227, average 406).
Honors this year for highest species count goes once again to Doug Shadwick with 80, who covers the excellent Old Hope Valley Farm Road area nestled between the New Hope Creek and Morgan Creek arms of Jordan Lake. Top individual count goes to Bob Chase with 781 birds, barely nudging out three other parties who were within 10 birds.
Next year we may change the count day to the first Saturday of May, to keep the count on a fixed schedule (instead of alternating weekends with the Jordan Lake count) and to avoid having the count on Mother's Day, which may help with the participation level. Stay tuned.
Weather in brief: low 63, high 85; no precipitation; wind SW 5-15 mph; cloudy in morning, sunny in the afternoon.
Detailed Results (PDF format)
Chapel Hill Bird Club