by Will Cook
The Chapel Hill spring count on May 2 was a little dull, below average in both species and total individuals, with 120 species and 9110 individual birds (10-year average 124 species, 11276 birds). Observer effort was low at 127 party-hours (average 160.8) since several regular counters couldn't make it this year, but the number of birds per party-hour was normal (72, average 70).
Despite the slow overall count, a few remarkable birds were found, topped by the Lawrence's Warbler (the rare backcrossed Golden-winged x Blue-winged Warber hybrid) that Carol Williamson found at Finley Golf Course, near Mason Farm. Not only is this hybrid a first report for the count, but it's also a first report for Orange County and one that only a few birders in the state have ever seen. Other rarities included an American Bittern (first since 1980) spotted in flight by Derb Carter and Ricky Davis as they were starting their state big day at the edge of the count circle on Dairyland Road, a couple of Yellow-crowned Night-Herons (Mike Schultz, Betty King's party), a Semipalmated Plover (Brian Bockhahn) at the Farrington Road wastewater plant, a Greater Yellowlegs at the pond at Mason Farm (Will Cook's party), two White-crowned Sparrows (Will Cook and Carol Williamson) seen out of typical habitat in suburban Chapel Hill, and a good number of lingering Pine Siskins (several observers).
We set just two record highs this year: Bald Eagle and Great Crested Flycatcher. The Bald Eagle count is truly remarkable, with our estimated 54 (23 adults, 31 immatures) doubling the previous high count of 27, set two years before. Ginger Travis, covering the Morgan Creek arm of the lake by canoe, reported seeing 10 immatures circling at one time — they must have had a great nesting season last year! The count of 110 Great Cresteds is just slightly higher than the count of 108 in 2006. They're been steadily increasing for the past decade, perhaps because they are taking advantage of suburban bird houses. We also had unusually high numbers of Pine Siskins: 14 is the highest count since 1988.
Low counts were much more numerous. Not unexpectedly, we missed Northern Bobwhite for the fourth year in a row. Before this series of misses, they had been missed only once in the 50+ year history of the count. They definitely seem to be on the way out locally. We set one record low, again not unexpected but continuing a long trend: Field Sparrow (10, previous low 12 in 2004). Other unusually scare species were Mallard (lowest since 1996), Spotted Sandpiper (1973), Whip-poor-will (1996), Hairy Woodpecker (1996), Northern Flicker (1974), Eastern Kingbird (1997), Eastern Bluebird (1997), Northern Mockingbird (1994), Pine Warbler (1996), and Common Grackle (1974). Grackle numbers have been slowly but steadily declining since their peak in the early 1980s.
Team honors: This year Will Cook's party of seven birders, covering Mason Farm Biological Reserve, got the highest species count, with 89, while Tom Driscoll's group of six counted the most individual birds, 1269.
Weather in brief: low 66 F, high 84 F; wind SW 5-15 mph; mostly cloudy with a few sprinkles of rain.
Thanks to all of our 46 field counters and 7 feeder watchers!
Detailed Results (PDF format)
Chapel Hill Bird Club