by Will Cook
The Chapel Hill spring count on May 1 was a fairly uneventful one, with 121 species (10-year average 124 species). Observer effort was the lowest in 14 years at 114.75 party-hours (average 158.1), and so the number of individual birds counted was a low 8227 (average 11296), but the number of birds per party-hour was about as normal as you can get (71.7, average 71.5). Birders across the region noted a slow migration this spring and our results fall right into line with those reports.
The best bird of the count week was an adult Swallow-tailed Kite seen by Doug Shadwick on May 4 gliding over Maple View Farm on Dairyland Road. This would have been a first for the count if it had flown by 3 days earlier. We didn't find any outstanding rarities on the actual count day this year, but there were a few noteworthy birds, topped by 10 Rusty Blackbirds that Chuck Byrd saw in a swampy area off NC 54, the first in 12 years. Other goodies included 1 Hooded Merganser at Jordan Lake (Brian Bockhahn), 6 Yellow-crowned Night-Herons (Chuck Byrd found a new heronry of 5 near a lake in a suburban neighborhood off Garrett Road in Durham, Betty King's party found one at the NC 54 impoundments), Semipalmated Sandpiper at the Farrington Road wastewater plant (Bockhahn), Bank Swallow (Bockhahn), Blue-winged Warbler at Mason Farm (Will Cook's party), and 2 Cape May Warblers (Loren Hintz and Amalie Tuffin). In previous decades this would be a low count, but we were quite pleased to have a total of one Northern Bobwhite this year -- the first in the last 5 counts!
Because of the low number of counters this year, we didn't set any record highs. We had good counts for Bald Eagle (37, second only to last year's 54), Purple Martin (97 is the highest since 1988), Veery (10, highest since 1979), and Worm-eating Warbler (9, average 2).
Low counts were numerous. No big misses, but we set one record low, continuing a long trend: Field Sparrow (4, previous low 10 last year) and tied a low for Belted Kingfisher (1 ties 1952 and 1966). Other unusually scare species were Blue Jay (lowest since 1996), Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (1999), Wood Thrush (1996), American Robin (1987), Cedar Waxwing (2000), Common Yellowthroat (1971), Yellow-breasted Chat (1974), Indigo Bunting (1984), Common Grackle (1974), House Finch (1998), American Goldfinch (1985), and House Sparrow (1973). Common Grackle is especially noteworthy in its decline: numbers have been slowly but steadily declining since their peak in the early 1980s and now are a quarter what they were then and a third what they were a decade ago. What's going on with the grackles?
Team honors: This year Brian Bockhahn, covering some of the game lands near Jordan Lake, got the highest species count, with 89, followed by Will Cook's party of 5 at Mason Farm with 85. Tom Driscoll's group of six counted the most individual birds, 1556, far ahead of the runner-up, Will Cook's party, with 816.
Weather in brief: low 61 F, high 89 F; wind SW 10-15 mph; mostly cloudy with no rain.
Thanks to all of our 37 field counters and 9 feeder watchers!
Detailed Results (PDF format)
Chapel Hill Bird Club