114th CBC New Jersey/Pennsylvania Regional Summary

By William J. Boyle, Jr.

The weather during the 114th CBC season fluctuated wildly, with heavy snowfall or rain on several days, including some near blizzard conditions, to balmy shirtsleeve weather, then back again to cold and more precipitation. A few counts had to be rescheduled, but all the usual ones were completed. The highlight of the season was the massive invasion of Snowy Owls, some of which were seen on numerous counts or during the count week. There were a few rarities and late-lingering species, but winter finches were almost nonexistent.

New Jersey’s 30 CBCs recorded a respectable total of 205 species, just four short of last season’s record. Perennial leader Cape May counted 161 species, with numerous rarities, and eight count week birds. Barnegat recovered from the problems caused by Hurricane Sandy the previous year to post 135 species, followed by Cumberland (121) and Oceanville (116). Heavily urban Lower Hudson, which includes Manhattan Island, jumped to 6th with 113 species. No new species were added to the overall list this year, but NW Hunterdon County (101) broke 100 for the first time and Trenton Marsh reached a new high at 94 species.

The 37 species of waterfowl reported included Greater White-fronted Geese at Lakehurst and Moorestown, and a Ross’s Goose among the thousands of Snow Geese in Salem. Sixteen Cackling Geese were at eight scattered locations, while Barnegat had the only Eurasian Wigeon (4). Three Blue-winged Teal were a surprise on the chilly Sussex County CBC. Cape May (3) and Barnegat had the only King Eiders and also the only Common Eiders (10 and 59) as the numbers of the latter species continue to drop from the record high counts of 2009 and 2010.

Walnut Valley again reported the only two Ruffed Grouse, and the lone Northern Bobwhite on the NW Gloucester County CBC could have been of wild origin. Long Branch was fortunate to find the wintering Pacific Loon on count day, but no details were provided for a Western Grebe reported from Moorestown.  Seven Red-necked Grebes on four counts was the highest total since 2001, but was only a portent of things to come later in the winter. Single American Bitterns were found on four CBCs, all from the coast, while Barnegat had one each of Snowy Egret, Little Blue Heron, and Tricolored Heron. Cape May added the only other Tricolored.

The state’s only Osprey of the season was the highlight of the NW Gloucester count, but the total of four Rough-legged Hawks was far below average. Walnut Valley added the only Golden Eagle. Last year’s record tally of 22 Sandhill Cranes was topped this season with 23 in five different circles. For the second year in a row, Cape May produced a well-documented Spotted Sandpiper and Belleplain added a second, the first time that more than one has been recorded since 1973. Otherwise, shorebirds were scarce, with only 16 species reported. Nine species of gulls did not include anything unusual other than four Black-legged Kittiwakes on three counts, all seen from shore, but Cape May’s 64 Forster’s Terns was the highest total in ten years (Barnegat added two more). It was not an alcid year, with the only species noted being Razorbill, just seven compared to 96 last year.

The resident pair of Eurasian Collared-Doves at Cape May again provided the only sighting in the state. Eight counts tallied a total of 27 Snowy Owls and three other circles had count week birds. This is by far the highest number ever recorded on a New Jersey CBC, surpassing the five seen on the 102nd and 87th CBCs; Barnegat (8) and Oceanville (7) had the greatest numbers.  Five Rufous Hummingbirds on four counts (Cape May had 2) was another record high for a species that was first reported on a state CBC in 2000, but has occurred in five of the past nine years. Cape May added a Ruby-throated Hummingbird and an unidentified Archilochus (Ruby-throated or Black-chinned) hummingbird.

It was a great year for woodpeckers. The statewide influx of Red-headed Woodpecker noted in the fall resulted in a record 101 being record on the CBCs (versus 7 last year), almost doubling the previous high set on the 105th CBC. Likewise, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Hairy Woodpecker, and Pileated Woodpecker all reached new maxima on the 114th CBC. Thirty-four Eastern Phoebes on 16 counts was just one shy of the 2006 record, while a Western Kingbird on the Cape May CBC was joined by a second the following day. Only two Northern Shrikes were recorded, but Cape May had a White-eyed Vireo for the second year in a row and the only Tree Swallows (119) found in the state. A Sedge Wren in Cape May was the only one located, while the Red-breasted Nuthatch tally of 34 is indicative a non-irruption year.

A handsome male Varied Thrush in lower Manhattan on the Lower Hudson count was present for some time and well-photographed. The nine species of warbler found on count days included a near-record 19 Orange-crowned Warblers, Black-and-white Warbler in Cape May, Ovenbird at Lower Hudson, Wilson’s Warbler in NW Gloucester, and Yellow-breasted Chat in Princeton. Clay-colored Sparrow was a highlight of the NW Hunterdon County CBC, and both Cape May and Sussex County had a Lark Sparrow.  Cape May’s long list of rarities included a Blue Grosbeak, only the second state CBC record, and an Indigo Bunting. Other than a few Purple Finch and even fewer Pine Siskins, winter finches were nowhere to be found.

A record 76 Christmas Counts were submitted from Pennsylvania with the addition of new counts at Duck Harbor and South Butler County. The weather severely impacted several of the counts and most tallies were well below their long-term average. A total of 155 species was accepted, down 15 from last and well below the 20-year average 0f 161 species. Southern Lancaster County recorded 101 species, down sharply from 115 last year, but still good enough to top the list of Pennsylvania CBCs. Southern Bucks County (98), Western Chester County (98), and Harrisburg (95) rounded out the top four. Bucking the statewide trend, Audubon set a new count high with 92 species, 12 better than the previous record and good enough for fifth place.  Butler County, on the other hand, which set a count record of 99 species last year, could manage only 50 on a mild, but rainy day.


An excellent total of 34 species of waterfowl included Greater White-fronted Geese at Bethlehem and Upper Bucks County, four Ross’s Geese at Bethlehem and another at Wyncote, and 27 Cackling Geese. Warren had the only Trumpeter Swan; this species has now been found on six of the last seven CBCs as the breeding population in Ontario and upstate New York continues to grow. Lehigh Valley added another to make the new state record 20. Erie had all three scoter species and 31 Long-tailed Ducks; with Harrisburg (17), Johnstown (15), and Tunkhannock (4) adding the total, the Long-tailed Duck count of 67 was the highest in seven years and the third highest ever.

Ruffed Grouse dropped again to just 51 individuals, the smallest number recorded since the early 1960s when there were far fewer counts and observers. Wild Turkey on the other hand, rebounded from their recent decline with a 33% jump to almost 4000 birds, but Northern Bobwhite went missing for the fourth year in a row. Red-throated Loon was missed, although Erie had count week bird, and there were only 11 Common Loons. Johnstown and Lake Raystown each had a Red-necked Grebe, while Lehigh Valley had the only Great Egret.    

Although Black Vultures were down slightly from last year’s record, probably due to weather conditions, for the first time exactly half (38 of 76) the CBCs in the state recorded the species. Bald Eagles again set a record with 464 on 60 counts, topped this time by Southern Lancaster with 53 birds. Thirty-three Rough-legged Hawks on 18 counts was an improvement from last year, while the ever-increasing Merlin total reached a record 54 birds seen on 22 different CBCs. As recently as the 1980s, one or two Merlins a year was the expected tally. Newville missed the Prairie Falcon this year, although it was present during the winter.

Linesville’s Sandhill Crane count reached 68 this year, a local high and just below last year’s statewide record of 73.  Only three species of shorebird could be located, the expected Killdeer and Wilson’s Snipe, plus a well-described Least Sandpiper at Linesville. There were some pretty good collections of gulls, mainly at Southern Bucks County which recorded a mind-boggling 79,577 Herring Gulls (not a count record), the state’s only Thayer’s Gull, 26 Iceland Gulls (Bethlehem added two more for a state record 28), and 10 Glaucous Gulls (Elverson and Erie each added one for another state record 12). The seven Snowy Owls tallied on six counts (Erie had two) is easily the highest number ever recorded on a Pennsylvania CBC and another five counts had count week birds.

Rufous Hummingbirds, all long-staying visitors, showed up on five different CBCs, equaling the total from two years ago. As in New Jersey, woodpeckers were well-represented. Fourteen counts in the eastern half of the state had a total of 47 Red-headed Woodpeckers, just four short of last year’s record tally, and the 4702 Red-bellied Woodpeckers surpassed the 2008 record by 119 birds. Clarion had four of the seven Northern Shrikes in what was otherwise and average year for the species, while Pennypack Valley’s mystery flock of wintering Northern Rough-winged Swallows numbered 50.

At the request of the Chambersburg compiler, the National Audubon Christmas Count Editor has created a new category for chickadees – Black-capped Chickadee/Carolina Chickadee. As the zone of overlap of these two species is steadily moving north, many compilers and birders in Pennsylvania and New Jersey recognize that distinguishing between the two in the field can be difficult or impossible and is complicated by the presence of some hybrids. Rather than refer to them as simply chickadee, sp., it is preferable to differentiate them from other possible chickadees. The zone of overlap includes many of the count circles in the southeastern quadrant of Pennsylvania and several in central and western New Jersey.

The tally of Red-breasted Nuthatches dropped by 90% from the major irruption of the 113th CBC. A near record 5671 Carolina Wrens were counted statewide; it will be interesting to see what impact the severe winter has on this species. Chambersburg and Pittsburgh South Hills had the only House Wrens of the period. A Blue-gray Gnatcatcher was the star of the Pennypack Valley count. Brown Thrashers totaled 19, the highest count in more than 40 years and just shy of the record 22 found in 1970. Six species of wood warblers were located, a bit below average, but included a Black-and-white Warbler at Bernville and a Yellow-throated Warbler at Western Chester County, only the 4th for a Pennsylvania CBC. Audubon and Delaware County each had a Vesper sparrow, while Curtin had the only Lincoln’s Sparrow.

A pair of Brewer’s Blackbirds was a highlight of the Johnstown CBC and Audubon had the only Baltimore Oriole. As noted in the opening paragraph, it was not a year for winter finches. There were no crossbills, and only Johnstown could offer a meager five Common Redpolls. Finally, Pine Siskins fell by 92% from last year’s modest irruption to just 61 birds. Once again, I thank Nick Bolgiano for sharing some of his insights into the Pennsylvania CBCs in advance of publication.