by Will Cook
The Chapel Hill spring count on May 12 was pretty normal overall, with 122 species, near the 10-year average of 124 species. Observer effort was well below average at 124 party-hours (average 147.5), and so the number of individual birds counted was a low 8997 (average 10747). The number of birds per party-hour, though, was as normal as you can get (72.6, average 72.6).
The outstanding rarity of the count this year was the same species as the outstanding rarity last year: King Rail. Ginger Travis and Marty McClelland heard three calling from the rushes at the Morgan Creek arm of Jordan Lake, which they covered by kayak, and Dave Curtin saw one in flight at the Little Creek impoundment. This is only our third for the count, with the first only in 2008, though they have nested at Mason Farm. Perhaps they're not all that rare, but just have gone unnoticed in past counts. Gray-cheeked Thrushes appeared on the count for the first time in a decade, as seen by Tom Driscoll's party and heard by Ali Iyoob (they have a distinctive nocturnal flight call). Will Cook and company found a few good birds at the southwest Durham wastewater plant, including Lesser Yellowlegs and Least Sandpipers. 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 Scott Winton and Mike Schultz got 10 at the New Hope Creek impoundment on NC 54. Other goodies: Northern Harrier, American Woodcock (flushed at Mason Farm), Eastern Screech-Owl, and a late Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. Some great count week birds: on May 10 Lois Schultz saw a late Dark-eyed Junco and on May 13 Ali Iyoob got Blackburnian, Canada, and Wilson's Warblers at Mason Farm.
We set only a few record highs: the total of 6 Cooper's Hawks edges past the old record of 5 set in 1999, the 4 King Rails beat last year's 2, 29 Least Sandpipers easily surpasses the 20 in 1996, and 10 Great Egrets ties the tallies from 2002 and 2007.
The big miss this year was Yellow-rumped (Myrtle) Warbler, the first miss in the history of the count, which started in 1952. This year's count was a week later than average to avoid a conflict with the Carolina Bird Club's 75th anniversary meeting, but we've had several counts as late or later. We get 89 Myrtles on an average spring count. We set two other record lows: 37 Wood Thrushes and 1 White-throated Sparrow. We average 101 on a spring count, but the last 5 years have all been below average. Many observers have noted the decline of Wood Thrushes in recent years. The lack of White-throated Sparrows is no doubt related to the late date of the count (51 on an average count). Other unusually scare species include Canada Goose (lowest since 1997), Wood Duck (1990), Black-and-white Warbler (2000), Black-throated Blue Warbler (2000), Prairie Warbler (1989), Eastern Towhee (1999), Swamp Sparrow (1996), Scarlet Tanager (1996), Northern Cardinal (1999), and Red-winged Blackbird (1999).
Team honors: Pam Timmons and Perry Haaland, covering the Dairyland Road area, got the top species count with 82, edging out Ali Iyoob at Battle Park with 80 and Will Cook's Mason Farm team with 79. Bob Chase counted the most individual birds, 882.
Weather in brief: low 48F, high 76F; wind SSW 5-10 mph; mostly cloudy with no rain.
Thanks to all 39 field counters and 2 feeder watchers!
Detailed Results (PDF format)
Chapel Hill Bird Club