by Will Cook
The Chapel Hill spring count on Saturday May 11 found 120 species, 4 below the 10-year average of 124 species. We were very short-handed this count and observer effort was the lowest in decades, with only 96 party-hours (average 140.8), so taking this into consideration it was actually a pretty good total.
The number of individual birds counted was an extremely low 5643 (average 10276), the lowest since 1974. This was not just due to low number of party-hours, since the number of birds per party-hour was also quite low at 58.8 (average 72.7), the lowest since 1999.
Some great rarities were found: Ginger Travis and Marty McClelland canoed University Lake and found 5 Hooded Mergansers, a pair with 3 young, a nice find of a rare breeder in the area. During count week Ginger heard a King Rail on the upper reaches of Jordan Lake, but she wasn't able to cover this on count day. Kent Fiala had a shocker for the small pond at Sandy Creek, a city park in Durham - a breeding-plumaged Common Loon! Two weeks before in the same small pond he found breeding-plumaged Horned Grebes, but these had moved on. Scott Winton tromped around in the wetlands at the Little Creek impoundment and managed to photograph a Marsh Wren and see a Sedge Wren, as well as document the now annual Yellow-crowned Night-Herons. Some other good finds included 3 American Woodcocks (Doug Shadwick), 2 Chuck-will's-widows (recorded by Gene Kingsley), and a count week Common Nighthawk (Will Cook).
The wintering Pine Siskins were also still hanging around in good numbers, with 72 our highest since 1987 (average 3). Others well above average were Hooded Merganser 5 (average 2) Cooper's Hawk 5 (average 3), Yellow-billed Cuckoo 29 (average 14), and Blackpoll Warbler 14 (average 7).
We set one record low this year, continuing the long term trend for the same species that set a record low last year - Wood Thrush (36, average 89). There were too many other birds seen in remarkably low numbers to list them all, but some of the poorest showings were Mallard (7, average 74, lowest since 1974), Green Heron (2, average 11, lowest since 1972), Killdeer (15, average 35, lowest since 1978), Mourning Dove (131, average 253, lowest since 1974), Chimney Swift (33, average 324, lowest since 1974), Eastern Kingbird (16, average 34, lowest since 1974), White-eyed Vireo (17, average 33, lowest since 1968), Red-eyed Vireo (148, average 261, lowest since 1974), Blue Jay (92, average 175, lowest since 1974), American Crow (152, average 283, lowest since 1975), Carolina Chickadee (143, average 287, lowest since 1975), American Robin (150, average 277, lowest since 1975), Gray Catbird (32, average 96, lowest since 1977), Northern Mockingbird (110, average 187, lowest since 1975), Brown Thrasher (33, average 69, lowest since 1973), European Starling (116, average 217, lowest since 1974), Yellow-throated Warbler (12, average 23, lowest since 1974), Yellow-breasted Chat (26, average 39, lowest since 1974), Eastern Towhee (79, average 247, lowest since 1974), Red-winged Blackbird (39, average 98, lowest since 1972), American Goldfinch (147, average 395, lowest since 1971). The biggest miss was Cliff Swallow.
Team honors: Pam Timmons and Perry Haaland, covering the Dairyland Road area, and Doug Shadwick, covering the upper reaches of Jordan Lake, tied for the top species count with 78, edging out Scott Winton with 77. Pam and Perry counted the most individual birds, 708.
Weather in brief: low 68F, high 80F; wind SW 10-15 mph; mostly cloudy, no rain.
Thanks to all 32 field counters and 2 feeder watchers for your participation!
Detailed Results (PDF format)
Chapel Hill Bird Club