by Will Cook
The Chapel Hill spring count on May 7 was a fairly uneventful one, with a low 118 species, well below the 10-year average of 124 species. Observer effort was also well below average at 128.8 party-hours (average 153.1), and so the number of individual birds counted was a low 8856 (average 10994). The number of birds per party-hour was near normal (68.8, average 71.9). The 13-year Periodical Cicadas were out, but not loud enough to affect the bird counting.
The one outstanding rarity of the count this year was King Rail: Ginger Travis and Marty McClelland heard two calling from the rushes at the south end of University Lake, which they covered by kayak. This is only our second for the count, with the first only in 2008, though they have nested at Mason Farm. Will Cook and Catherine Carter found a few good birds at the southwest Durham wastewater plant, including both Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Least Sandpipers, and our only Savannah Sparrows of the count. Other goodies included a Hermit Thrush (Shelley Theye) and 3 lingering Pine Siskins (Robert Meehan). Yellow-crowned Night-Herons used to be rare on the count, but lately they're being found in increasing numbers as more are breeding near impoundments on the outer fringes of Jordan Lake. This year Betty King's party and Chuck Byrd both got 5 at two different heronries and Will Cook had a flyby far from water in suburban Chapel Hill. Northern Bobwhite is still barely clinging on, with this year's count doubling last year's one individual.
We set a few record highs: the total of 11 Yellow-crowned Night-Herons handily beats the old record of 7 set in 2008, Cliff Swallows are thriving at Jordan Lake (39 this year, 26 in 2001), and Song Sparrows continue to colonize suburban streams (69 this year, 59 in 2007). The totals for Mallard and Green Heron were the highest in 10 years.
There were no big misses, but many low counts. Unusually scare species included Wood Duck (lowest since 1990), Double-crested Cormorant (1995), Bald Eagle (1997), Eastern Kingbird (1974), House Wren (1996), Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (1996), Brown Thrasher (1997), Northern Parula (2000), Yellow-rumped Warbler (2000), Yellow-throated Warbler (2001), Prothonotary Warbler (1999), Ovenbird (1999), Hooded Warbler (1994), Summer Tanager (1999), Eastern Towhee (1999), Common Grackle (1974). The species with the most precipitous decline was Bald Eagle, with 54 in 2009, 37 last year, and just 8 this year.
Team honors: Doug Shadwick and Thierry Besançon, covering the northern reaches of Jordan Lake at New Hope Creek, got the top species count with 81, edging out Will Cook's Mason Farm team with 80. Once again Tom Driscoll and Bo Howes counted the most individual birds, 1262, followed by Pam Timmons and Perry Haaland at Dairyland Road with 1046.
Weather in brief: low 55 F, high 74 F; wind WSW 5 mph; mostly cloudy with no rain.
Thanks to our dedicated crew of 41 field counters and 7 feeder watchers!
Detailed Results (PDF format)
Chapel Hill Bird Club