by Will Cook
We had a fantastic Chapel Hill spring count this year in terms of total number of species, the second highest in the last 25 years. The weather was very pleasant on Saturday, May 7, 2016, which no doubt helped the count, though the night before was very rainy and several areas were inaccessible because of flooding. The species total of 128 is 7 above the 10-year average of 121, though the total number of birds, 7421, is far below the average of 8829 and the second lowest in the last 20 years. Effort on the count was above average with 139.6 party-hours (average 129.4), but the birds just weren't very active, so we had just 53.2 birds per party hour (average 68.2), the lowest since 1994. Perhaps it wasn't a great count after all.
The bird of the count this year was a Common Gallinule (formerly Common Moorhen) found by Bob Chase at a small pond near Southpoint Mall. This is only the third count record, the first since 1975. Unfortunately it hasn't been seen since. Also good are a King Rail (Ginger Travis and party), which has been regular lately in the upper reaches of the Cub Creek arm of Jordan Lake. Other goodies included American Coot, Caspian, Common, and Forster's Terns (the first time we've ever had all three!), Eastern Screech-Owl (rare in spring), Bank Swallow, Palm Warbler, Rusty Blackbird, and a lingering Pine Siskin. Common and Caspian are our first since 2003.
We set an amazing number of record highs this year, especially astounding considering that the overall count was below average: 11 Hooded Mergansers this year (including several young), besting the old count of 8, 120 Black Vulture (88 in 2003), 30 Osprey (25 in 2005), 40 Bald Eagle (second highest), 9 Cooper's Hawks (6 in 2012), 153 N. Rough-winged Swallow (113 in 1997), 11 Magnolia Warbler (7 in 2006). Also in unusually high numbers: Red-tailed Hawk, Solitary Sandpiper, Least Sandpiper, Tree Swallow (highest since 1986), Bank Swallow, Swainson's Thrush, and Black-and-white Warbler.
There were no big misses but we did set one record low: 13 House Sparrows (previous low 29 in 1973). Quite a few species were remarkably scarce: Canada Goose, Rock Pigeon, Red-headed Woodpecker, Purple Martin, White-breasted Nuthatch, Carolina Wren, Eastern Bluebird (lowest since 1975), Northern Mockingbird, European Starling (lowest since 1974), Yellow-throated Warbler (lowest since 1974), Yellow-breasted Chat (lowest since 1971), Scarlet Tanager, Red-winged Blackbird (lowest since 1958!), and Eastern Meadowlark.
Team honors: Brian Bockhahn, covering the Stagecoach Road area, including a long rail-trail to Jordan Lake and the southwest Durham sewage plant, recorded 90 species and 750 indivudual birds, the highest for both.
Weather in brief: low 51F, high 74F; wind W 5-15 mph; partly cloudy, no rain.
Thanks to the 33 field counters and 5 feeder watchers for your help!
Detailed Results (PDF format)
Chapel Hill Bird Club