by Will Cook
The Chapel Hill spring count on Saturday, May 10, 2014 found a paltry 116 species, 7 below the 10-year average of 123 species and the lowest for the count since 1974. The number of individual birds counted was a little low (8157, average 9326), but matched the below-average observer effort of 114.85 party-hours (average 132.1). We were hindered by strong southwesterly winds all day, which kept the birds down and made it hard to hear distant songs. And we especially missed the participation of Doug Shadwick on this count. Doug, who often turned in the highest species totals of all our counters, was ill and unfortunately passed away the next month. The number of birds per party-hour was 71.0, very close to the average of 70.3.
Sora was the bird of the count, heard by Scott Winton in the wetlands at the Little Creek impoundment, only the third on a Chapel Hill count. Ginger Travis and Marty McClelland canoed the upper reaches of Jordan Lake to find a record-setting five King Rails, our fourth count record! These rails were in the Cub Creek section of the lake, in two areas where they had not been found before. American Coot was another rarity, only the third in thirty years, found by Pam Timmons and Perry Haaland at a farm pond off Dairyland Road. The five Chuck-will's-widows heard by two parties was the second best showing ever for this locally uncommon species. Other good birds included a Hooded Merganser (with young seen later), 2 Yellow-crowned Night-Herons, 2 Gray-cheeked Thrushes, our first Bay-breasted Warbler in a decade. The best count week bird was a Black-billed Cuckoo photographed at Mason Farm.
We set two record highs this year: 5 King Rails (4 in 2013, average 0.7) and an astounding 32 Swainson's Thrushes (23 in 1980, average 9.7). Other unusually abundant species included 4 Broad-winged Hawks (average 2), 58 Eastern Wood-Pewees (29), 10 Blue-headed Vireos (4.7), 96 Brown-headed Nuthatches (68, second highest), 15 Northern Waterthrushes (7), and 6 Magnolia Warblers (1.5).
We didn't have any big misses or set any record lows, but the count of 30 House Sparrows is remarkable: it's the lowest since 1973 and well below the 10-year average of 62. Other notably low counts included 23 Double-crested Cormorants (average 137, lowest since 1982), 4 Osprey (13), 3 Eastern Whip-poor-wills (8.5), and 23 Hooded Warblers (45, lowest since 1989).
Team honors: Pam Timmons and Perry Haaland, covering the Dairyland Road area, turned in the top species count with 79, edging out four other teams in the mid-70s. The team of Tom & Barbara Driscoll and Donald McCormick counted the most individual birds, 1054.
Weather in brief: low 66F, high 86F; wind SW 10-20 mph; mostly cloudy-partly cloudy, no rain.
Thanks to the 38 counters for your help!
Detailed Results (PDF format)
Chapel Hill Bird Club