Christmas Bird Count

114th CBC Tennessee Regional Summary

By Stephen J. Stedman

Thirty-two counts were conducted in Tennessee during the 114th CBC season, including one “new” count (Murfreesboro―welcome!); this count has been conducted during many past seasons, but its results have not been previously submitted to the Audubon database.  The Cane Creek CBC circle was moved enough to require that its name be changed to Perry County. The total number of counts (32) conducted during the 114th CBC is the most ever reported to the Audubon CBC database for a single season in the state.

The number of species found during count day on this year’s 32 counts is 155, a bit above totals for the past few years; no species was reported as being observed only as a count week species for the entire collection of counts conducted during the 114th CBC. Nineteen species were noted on just one count, while 21 species were noted on all counts.  The latter number is somewhat dependent on the lowest species total attained by single count each year.  This year, as during many past years, high-elevation Roan Mountain achieved the lowest species total (45), nearly half of those being species that were observed on all other counts conducted in the state.

Four counts exceeded the 100-species barrier this season with Reelfoot Lake (114 species) not taking the top spot for the first time in many a year.  That honor went to Duck River (115; congratulations!). Savannah (108) and Knoxville (105) also exceeded the century mark with Chattanooga (99), Hiwassee (97), and Hickory-Priest (96) coming close.

Weather for counting birds this season was generally good across the Volunteer State. Twenty counts experienced conditions that included no form of precipitation.  Ten counts reported light rain for part or all of the day. Only one count (Norris) reported hard rain, that coming down during the all-important morning hours. Roan Mountain was the only circle to experience snow on count day despite the fact that sub-freezing temperatures were noted on more than half the counts conducted this season.  Warren County reported the lowest temperature (12 degrees F on January 3rd) among the 32 counts, while Columbia reported the highest (75 degrees F on December 14th).

Three species―Black-headed Gull (Cross Creeks), Say’s Phoebe (Reelfoot Lake), and Yellow Warbler (Hickory-Priest)―were reported for the first time on a Tennessee CBC, increasing the all-time species total on Tennessee CBCs to about 270. Fifteen species set or tied the all-time highest number counted on a single Tennessee CBC; see the paragraphs below for specifics about these noteworthy species. 

Geese and Swans

Greater White-fronted Geese appeared in six CBC circles this season, with 1901 at Reelfoot Lake being the highest count across the state.  Reelfoot Lake also accounted for this season’s high count (13) of Ross’s Goose, as well as a state record CBC high count of more than 180,000 Snow Geese, more than tripling the previous CBC high count for that species.  Duck River produced a count of 322 Cackling Geese (some videotaped), also a state record CBC high count; Bristol was the only other count to include this goose on its list of species.  Observers at Cross Creeks tallied more than 10,000 Canada Geese, easily the most this season but well below the number needed for a record CBC high count in Tennessee. A single Mute Swan at Crossville has been present continuously for several years, its provenance becoming more open to question each year; the same may hold true for a single Mute at Memphis. Despite questions of provenance, it seems best to continue to include these swans on CBCs and on other counts.

Ducks

Wood Ducks turned up on 19 counts across the state in mostly low numbers. Cross Creeks tabulated a state record CBC high count of 18,450 Gadwalls, by far the highest total among the 28 counts that listed this widespread dabbler. Cross Creeks also accounted for the season’s best count of American Wigeon, putting 2580 into that column, considerably more than any of the other 13 counts that included this species, while Duck River produced the season’s best total (108) of American Black Ducks out of the 19 circles where it was represented. Mallards were tallied on 30 counts with more than 32,000 at Cross Creeks being the season’s high count.  Blue-winged Teal was counted only in the Duck River and Perry County circles.  Twenty CBCs had Northern Shovelers, 465 at Duck River being the most to be found. Northern Pintails were noted on just six counts, more than 4500 at Cross Creeks being the high count for the season. Green-winged Teal made appearances on 20 counts, 413 at Duck River being the most counted.

Canvasbacks were a welcome sight on 12 counts, especially at Nickajack Lake where 300 were noted, the season’s high count. Redheads showed up on 14 counts, 382 at Hiwassee being the most reported. More than 5500 Ring-necked Ducks were counted at Cross Creeks, the most for any of the 21 circles where this diver was noted. Greater Scaup was represented on four counts, 26 at Duck River being the most reported for this diver.  On the other hand, Lesser Scaup made the check-list on 18 counts with nearly 4200 at Reelfoot Lake being the season’s high count. Six Surf Scoters at Knoxville were the only ones reported this season and represented a state record CBC high count of this scoter, seldom reported on Tennessee CBCs. A White-winged Scoter also at Knoxville was the only individual reported this season and was quite possibly the precursor of a large influx of this diver that took place later in the winter of 2013−2014. A single Long-tailed Duck at Nashville and two others in Warren County provided this species’ entire representation in Tennessee this season. Twenty-five circles boasted Buffleheads with a state record CBC high count (394) at Crossville being the best count of the season. Fourteen counts featured Common Goldeneye with 60 at Reelfoot Lake being the high count of the season. Hooded Mergansers showed up on 22 counts with Reelfoot Lake also garnering the season’s high count (864) for this duck.  Common Mergansers were tabulated on five counts, five at Cross Creeks being the high count this season. Red-breasted Mergansers were reported on 15 counts, by far the highest number of counts on which this piscivorous duck has been counted during one season in the history of the CBC in Tennessee. A state record CBC high count of 8515 Ruddy Ducks was produced during the Reelfoot Lake count.

Gallinaceous Species

Northern Bobwhite was reported in low numbers on a meager eight counts with 20 at Bristol representing the season’s high count. Six Ruffed Grouse on the Elizabethton count and two at Great Smoky Mountains accounted for all grouse found this season. Contrastingly, over 1600 Wild Turkeys on 25 counts, including the season’s high count of 172 at Nashville, were reported.

Loons and Grebes

Two Red-throated Loons on the Hickory-Priest CBC tied the state record CBC high count, while another was reported at Savannah; the 114th CBC season in Tennessee was just the ninth CBC season during which this rare loon has been reported.  Of even greater rarity was the sighting of a single Pacific Loon during the Hickory-Priest CBC, becoming the second CBC record for Tennessee and tying the state record CBC high count set during the 113th CBC (inadvertently not reported as the first state CBC record in the report for the 113th CBC; apologies to all; a correction will be requested).  Common Loons were tallied on 13 counts, the season’s high count being represented by over 160 at Hickory-Priest. Pied-billed Grebes were typically widespread, being reported on 28 counts including 314 at Chattanooga, the season’s high count. Hickory-Priest reported 370 Horned Grebes, the season’s high count among 17 circles in which this grebe was detected. A single Eared Grebe at Bristol was the only one reported state-wide this season.

Pelicans, Cormorants, and Herons

American White Pelicans appeared on six counts, all in the western half of the state; 52 at Reelfoot Lake represented the season’s high count. Over 3000 Double-crested Cormorants at Duck River represented the season’s high count, well short of the state record CBC high count (4500 at Reelfoot Lake during the 53rd CBC) but still an impressive number; cormorants were reported on 14 counts. Great Blue Herons were detected on all 32 counts this season, with 125 at Knoxville being the season’s high count, far short of the state record CBC high count (497) but still a fine total for a largely urban circle. Three counts sported Great Egret on their lists, somewhat down from recent seasons’ total counts. Black-crowned Night-Herons on five counts, including the season’s high count of 15 at Hickory-Priest, were a fairly typical number for this nocturnal ardeid.

New Worlds Vultures and Diurnal Raptors

High-elevation Cades Cove and Roan Mountain were the only counts not reporting Black Vulture this season; among the other 30 counts DeKalb County led the way with 342 on its list.  Turkey Vulture was also missed at Roan Mountain but was otherwise ubiquitously present across the state; Bristol garnered the season’s high count (263). Listed on 25 counts, Bald Eagles were noted within more count circles than ever previously on the state’s CBCs; with 56, Reelfoot Lake led the way in number of eagles tallied. Reelfoot Lake also headed the pack with a state record CBC high count of 52 Northern Harriers. Several counts produced a total of four Sharp-shinned Hawks on their lists this season, the highest total reported but well below the state record CBC high count (14) posted as recently as the 98th season; Sharpies have not fared well during the past couple of decades, and this year’s CBC results in Tennessee are another worrisome indicator of problems for this raptor. More positive results were achieved for Cooper’s Hawk, which has seen its population increase considerably over the past two decades; during this CBC season this accipiter was noted on 29 counts with a state record CBC high count of 16 Cooper’s Hawks being found within the Knoxville circle.  Found on 28 counts with a high of 18 (Memphis), Red-shouldered Hawk was surpassed in numbers and ubiquity by the Red-tailed, found on all 32 counts with a high of 61 (Knoxville). The only Harlan’s Hawk report came from Reelfoot Lake, which also reported the only Rough-legged Hawk.  Golden Eagle registrations came from three counts (Crossville, Hiwassee, and Duck River), the latter CBC accounting for three individuals of this fine raptor.

Rails, Coot, and Cranes

Four at Reelfoot Lake, three at Savannah, and two at Chattanooga were all the Virginia Rails produced by the combined CBC efforts in Tennessee this season.  American Coots were tallied on 20 counts with nearly 1600 at Nickajack Lake being the most reported at one site. Three Whooping Cranes—not yet a listable species in Tennessee but certainly one that needs careful watching—at Hiwassee were the only ones reported this season. Sandhill Cranes were listed on 11 counts, mostly in lowish numbers except as usual at Hiwassee where over 13,000 were reported.

Shorebirds

Unreported only at Cades Cove and Roan Mountain, Killdeers were noted on all other counts, Savannah producing the season’s high count (393). Single Spotted Sandpipers were noted at Nickajack Lake and Norris; 77 Dunlins provided evidence of a largish and possibly isolated winter population at Hiwassee, where the species has been noted during many past CBCs there; and Least Sandpipers showed up on six counts, 118 at Memphis being by far the most reported.  Wilson’s Snipes were registered on 20 counts, 71 a Savannah being the most tabulated.  American Woodcocks turned up on eight counts, with eight at Nickajack Lake being the season’s high count.

Gulls

The Black-headed Gull at Cross Creeks became the first to be reported on a Tennessee CBC. The total (nearly 40,000) of Ring-billed Gulls collectively reported on the state’s counts this season was nearly 20 times the total (just over 2000) for Bonaparte’s Gulls, which in turn was over ten times the total (180) for Herring Gulls; the total CBC sites where these three regularly occurring winter gulls were found were 24, 14, and 15, respectively, about what might be expected, so not much new for those species with the notable exception that Cross Creeks reported 114 Herring Gulls, a state record CBC high count.

Doves

Rock Pigeons were absent only on the Cross Creeks CBC and were present in typical numbers for this columbid.  Eurasian Collared-Doves were noted on 17 counts, with Memphis, as usual, hosting the season’s high count (178). Mourning Doves were one of 21 species found on all counts; of note, a state record CBC high count of 1196 Mourning Doves was accumulated during the Chattanooga count.

Owls

Nocturnal effort during the CBCs conducted this season resulted in almost 67 hours of effort, averaging slightly more than two hours of night effort per count. This year top honors for night effort go to Nickajack Lake where 5.75 hours of night effort was expended. Barn Owls were noted on seven counts, Duck River with two being the only circle where more than a single Barn Owl was encountered. Eastern Screech-Owls were recorded on 24 counts including Elizabethton where 11 screech-owls set the bar for this most common (76 counted state-wide) of the nocturnal raptors.  Great Horned Owls (54 state-wide) and Barred Owls (64 state-wide) were noted on 26 counts each. Short-eared Owls were noted only at Savannah (6), Reelfoot Lake (5), Cades Cove (4), and Fayette County (1).

Hummingbird and Kingfisher

The only species of hummingbird recorded during this season was Rufous, found at Chattanooga (1), DeKalb County (1), and Knoxville where a state record-tying CBC high count of four were tallied (all four being banded). Belted Kingfishers were found on all counts except Roan Mountain, with Knoxville also coming up with the season’s high count (28) but not with a state record CBC high count, which stands at a lofty 66.

Woodpeckers

The least abundant and least ubiquitous of the state’s woodpeckers each CBC season is usually the Red-headed, and that was again the case during the 114th CBC, with 210 being found statewide on 21 counts; Buffalo River accounted for the season’s high count (33). Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, and Northern Flicker appeared on all 32 CBC lists this season, while Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (31 counts), Hairy Woodpecker (31), and Pileated Woodpecker (30) were nearly as widespread.

Falcons

American Kestrels were missed on only one count (Murfreesboro) and were tallied in highest numbers at Buffalo River where 63 were present.  Three Merlins at Hickory-Priest tied the state record CBC high count; this total is almost certain to be exceeded in the not-so-distant future as the Merlin’s overall and wintering populations continue to expand. Single Peregrines were found in four circles, but the falcon of the season was a single Prairie at Hiwassee. The total for the latter of these large falcons tied the state record CBC high count.

Flycatchers, Shrikes, and Vireos

Eastern Phoebes had a good season, being recorded on all counts except Roan Mountain; 46 at Knoxville represented the season’s high count.  First ever on a Tennessee CBC was a Say’s Phoebe at Reelfoot Lake. Loggerhead Shrikes were registered on 13 counts, a nice increase from most recent years; 40 were detected at Buffalo River, a fine total, but only 13 turned up at Reelfoot Lake, and all other counts were in low single digits; concern for the welfare of this shrike’s state wintering population, which is now possibly isomorphic with its breeding population, is still warranted. Blue-headed Vireos were located on three counts (DeKalb, Jackson, and Savannah).

Corvids, Larks, and Swallows

Blue Jays and American Crows were noted on all counts in good numbers, while Fish Crow was present on only two counts (Nickajack Lake where one was noted and Reelfoot Lake where a count week registration took place).  Common Ravens were recorded on seven counts, all at the usual fairly high elevations in the far eastern sector of the state.  Horned Larks turned up on 13 counts, mostly in the western division of the state, where the season’s high count (600) was made at Reelfoot Lake, as well as in much lesser numbers in the middle division. The season’s only swallow was a single Northern Rough-winged at Hiwassee, tying the state record CBC high count and making three years running that this species has been found as a single individual during the CBC season in the state.

Chickadees, Nuthatches, and Creeper

Nearly 3000 Carolina Chickadees were counted state-wide this season, with all circles reflecting the presence of this common species.  Only three Black-capped Chickadees were reported, as always from Great Smoky Mountains National Park, but two chickadee sp. at Cades Cove were of interest. Tufted Titmice were detected in every circle and totaled about 2500 state-wide.  Seventeen Red-breasted Nuthatches were collectively counted on nine counts, indicating that no very pronounced irruption took place. About 750 White-breasted Nuthatches got themselves counted, being noted on all counts and represented in highest number (71) at Knoxville. Brown-headed Nuthatches were found on six counts, all where the species has been reported during past seasons. Brown Creeper was missed on six counts, and its state-wide total of 99 individuals was the lowest since the 101st CBC.

Wrens

Five species of wrens were reported this season led by Carolina, which was found in all circles in good numbers (2500+ state-wide).  Winter Wrens were found in all but three circles and were ten times less numerous than the Carolina, totaling 256 individuals, a fairly standard proportion for these two species. House Wrens turned up sparsely on 11 counts, a fairly good representation for the typically small, somewhat erratic, but possibly increasing wintering population of this wren.  Single Sedge and Marsh wrens reported from Fayette County and Savannah, respectively, were the only individuals of these species to be found.

Kinglets, Thrushes, Mimids, Starling, Pipits, and Waxwings

Missed only on the Columbia count, Golden-crowned Kinglets were otherwise present in good numbers (over 1200 state-wide) on the remaining 31 counts conducted this season.  Ruby-crowned Kinglets were present in lesser numbers (just over 500 state-wide) on 28 counts.  Eastern Bluebirds and American Robins showed up on the lists of all counts, while Hermit Thrush was missed only at Murfreesboro.  Each of these thrushes was encountered in stable numbers. Thrashers were missed on six counts, while Northern Mockingbirds were ubiquitously present, as were European Starlings, all also in stable numbers. American Pipits were recorded on slightly fewer (14) than half of the counts, 230 in DeKalb County being the season’s high count. Cedar Waxwings were absent only on two counts (Columbia and Murfreesboro), being present in fairly high numbers across most of the state.

Warblers

Single Orange-crowned Warblers were detected on four counts (Knoxville, Hickory-Priest, Jackson, and Memphis), while the season’s high count (2) emanated from Savannah.  The lone Common Yellowthroat found in the state came from Duck River. The first-ever Yellow Warbler recorded on a Tennessee CBC was found at Hickory-Priest. Palm Warblers were added to the lists of 11 counts, 17 at Knoxville being the season’s high count; slightly more widespread, Pine Warblers showed up on 13 counts with its high count (14) coming from Memphis; and most widespread of all, of course, were Yellow-rumped Warblers, missed only at Roan Mountain.

Sparrows

Eastern Towhees were missed in Cades Cove but were otherwise present in good numbers. Single American Tree Sparrows at Nashville and Warren County were outliers from the expected wintering area in northwestern Tennessee, which includes the Reelfoot Lake circle, where 13 were counted. Chipping Sparrows totaled 969 individuals on 24 counts this year, the lowest total in several years; however, this sparrow was counted in 26 CBC circles, the most ever, thus continuing to solidify its position as an expected winter resident of the state, a position that it did not hold for most of the Twentieth Century. Field Sparrows were absent only at Roan Mountain, with 410 at Buffalo River representing the season’s high count. Vesper Sparrows were noted on eight counts, 31 at Savannah establishing the season’s high count.  Savannah was also the location of the season’s high count (458) of Savannah Sparrow. Le Conte’s Sparrow turned up on three counts in west Tennessee where the species is most likely to be present during winter. Present on all but three counts, Fox Sparrows were well represented this season, the high count (35) being shared by Reelfoot Lake and Savannah. Nearly 5000 Song Sparrows were counted across the length and breadth of the state, a good showing. Only two Lincoln’s Sparrows were turned up. Swamp Sparrow was missed only at Franklin-Coffey County and Murfreesboro.  White-throated Sparrows were everywhere, 8100 being counted across the state including more than 1100 in Memphis. Reelfoot Lake tabulated the most (90) White-crowned Sparrows, missed on only four counts. Nearly 5800 Dark-eyed Juncos were counted with nearly 800 of those coming from Savannah.  Lapland Longspur reports derived mostly from west Tennessee and northern middle Tennessee, so one at Chattanooga was a good find. Northern Cardinals were predictably abundant and ubiquitous.

Blackbirds

Red-winged Blackbirds were widespread, being tallied on 27 counts, but only at Reelfoot Lake was the species present in more than sparse numbers, nearly 150,000 being found there. Eastern Meadowlarks had a good year, being located on 30 counts in fairly good numbers on most of them.  Western Meadowlark was identified only at Reelfoot Lake, where five were present. Rusty Blackbirds were tallied on 17 counts in lowish numbers, the season’s high count (462 at Chattanooga), being less than a stellar showing. Brewer’s Blackbird was represented on three counts, 34 at Buffalo River being the season’s high count. Common Grackle was nowhere present in sufficient numbers to indicate the presence a large roost, the only possible exception being Reelfoot Lake where slightly fewer than 40,000 were counted. Except for about 1500 at Reelfoot Lake, Brown-headed Cowbirds were present everywhere in lowish numbers, 346 in Perry County being the second-highest total turned in.

Finches, Winter Finches, and Weaver Finch

House Finches were present on 30 counts in very good numbers. However, a winter finch year it was not. No echo of last year’s flight of crossbills took place, Red Crossbills being present only on three east Tennessee counts in very low numbers. Purple Finches were present in 19 circles but in very low, mostly single digit numbers (14 at Cross Creeks being the season’s high count), while Pine Siskin presence was completely underwhelming with just a single bird reported, also at Cross Creeks. American Goldfinches and House Sparrows were generally present in normal numbers for those species.

Gratitude is once again due the hundreds of observers and the two dozen compilers who make the CBCs happen. I especially thank the many observers who produce high quality documentation for their more unusual sightings.