by Will Cook
The 2005 Chapel Hill spring count on May 1 was an extraordinary count, one of the best of the past 20 years. We happened to pick a great migration day and found 132 species, well above the 10-year average of 122, and our best count since 1986. We counted 11755 birds, well above the average of 10340, and the number of birds per party-hour, 72, was a little above the average 67. The observer effort was a great 163.7 party hours (average 156), though we had fewer counters than average - 42 counters in 23 parties, average 49 counters in 23 parties.
Goodies abounded. One of the best was a beautiful breeding-plumaged male Ruddy Duck at Legion Pond in Chapel Hill, found by the team of Betty King, Barbara Roth, and Judy Teague. This team found a Ruddy Duck on the count last year at a pond a couple of miles away - could it be the same bird? This is only our third Ruddy on a spring count. Betty's party had an all-around great day, finding Little Blue Heron (our first since 1982), 7 Great Egrets, and the stake-out Yellow-crowned Night-Heron at the New Hope Creek Waterfowl Impoundment on NC 54. Another great find was a group of 7 Hooded Mergansers at Jordan Lake, found independently by Judy Murray (who also found them here last year) and by the team of Doug Shadwick and Bob Rybczynski - only our fourth, as well as a record high. Judy saw 1 male and 5 females, while Doug and Bob saw 6 adult females and 1 young! This is the first evidence of local breeding that I'm aware of. For the first time ever we had Nashville, Tennessee - both warblers on the same count! John Frederick found our 4th Nashville (first since 1984) and Bob Rybczynski found our 5th Tennessee (first since 1989). Though abundant in winter, Dark-eyed Junco is rare in May - Kate Finlayson & Chris Canfield found our first one since 1989. Shelley Theye found four Pine Siskins at a feeder - our first since 1994. Other rarities included 3 Blue-winged Teal (Norm Budnitz), American Coot (Ginger Travis), 8 Lesser Yellowlegs (Brian Bockhahn), and Bay-breasted Warbler (Alan Kneidel). The warbler show was outstanding - 27 species ties our second best ever, behind the 28 we had in 1986. The count of 1389 individual warblers was also our second best (1489 in 1984). The best count week bird was a Common Raven seen by Doug Shadwick on May 2 as it flew over Dairyland Road near Mapleview Farm. Two Common Ravens have been seen in the area for the last couple of years, but so far they've evaded being counted on count day.
We set or tied record highs for an amazing 15 species: 8 Hooded Mergansers (doubling the previous high of 4 set last year), 179 Turkey Vultures (173 in 2002), 25 Osprey (12 in 1984), 50 Red-shouldered Hawks (43 in 2002), 158 Rock Pigeons (132 in 1982), 80 Great Crested Flycatchers (77 in 2003), 512 Carolina Wrens (495 in 2004), 45 House Wrens (38 in 1992), 43 Ruby-crowned Kinglets (27 in 1984), 112 Gray Catbirds (ties 1993), 82 Black-and-white Warblers (73 in 1983), 52 Prothonotary Warblers (47 in 2002), 11 Worm-eating Warblers (7 in 1984), 178 Ovenbirds (153 in 2003), 204 Brown-headed Cowbirds (200 in 2003). The Ruby-crowned Kinglet count was no doubt due to the early count date (May 8 is average) and the late spring.
Also remarkably high, but not record-setting: Bald Eagle, Broad-winged Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk, Ring-billed Gull, Belted Kingfisher, Yellow-throated Vireo, Fish Crow, Swainson's Thrush, Black-throated Blue Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Palm Warbler, and Swamp Sparrow.
We set just one record low - a much expected one - counting only 3 Eastern Meadowlarks. This is one fourth of the next lowest count (12), which we had both last year and the year before. Also notably low: Eastern Wood-Pewee, American Robin, Kentucky Warbler (lowest since 1975), and Yellow-breasted Chat (lowest since 1975). My team covering Mason Farm missed the expected Kentucky Warbler, but found 11 Chats - a third of the total count of 33 (average 51).
Top honors this year go to the team of Shelley Theye and Lee Van Malssen, who found 80 species covering Shelley's neighborhood and adjacent areas in northern Chatham County. Incredibly, eleven other teams cracked the 70 species mark. Honors for highest individual count go to the Carolina Meadows team, organized by Maury Graves. This year, their team of 6 regular counters plus 8 feeder-watchers counted a fantastic 929 birds (77 species), including 108 American Goldfinches.
As I mentioned last year, we're thinking of changing 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 a count on Mother's Day. Stay tuned.
Weather in brief: low 54, high 69; rain in early morning (mostly before count started); wind NW 5-10 mph; overcast in morning, clear in the afternoon.
It was a great one - thanks counters!
Detailed Results (PDF format)
Chapel Hill Bird Club