Christmas Bird Count

114th CBC North Carolina Regional Summary

By Ricky Davis

The 114th CBC in North Carolina consisted of a record 51 counts, with the addition of new counts at Franklin and Upper Yadkin River Valley. Two long-running traditional counts, Tryon and Wayne County, were not conducted again this year. Apparently they will not be restarted; which is a shame, as these two areas always produced interesting birds. Temperatures were relatively average across the state, and snow was present on only one count, that being Mt. Jefferson. Heavy rain hampered at least seven counts and high winds made counting difficult at Lake Mattamuskeet, Holly Shelter & Lea-Hutaff Islands, and Brevard. During this year’s count 1,113,012 individuals of 225 species and two forms were reported.

Top coastal species totals included Wilmington's 171 (a record for that count), Southport’s 168, Morehead City's 161, and Bodie-Pea's 142. Tidewater counts included 133 at Lake Mattamuskeet, 127 at Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge (ARNWR), 124 at Pamlico County, and 114 at New Bern. Coastal Plain counts were led by Greenville with 108, Rocky Mount with 93, Roanoke Rapids with 91, and Cumberland County with 87. Leading Piedmont counts had totals of 98 at S. Lake Norman, 96 at Durham, 95 at Charlotte, and 94 at Raleigh and Jordan Lake. Mountains counts were led by Henderson County’s 87, Brevard's 78, Buncombe County's 75, and Balsam's 73.

Waterfowl numbers were definitely up, when compared to the previous couple of years. Highlights included a Black-bellied Whistling-Duck at an impoundment on the Morehead City count, providing on the second-ever recorded on a NC CBC. Four Greater White-fronted Geese were noted with three at Lake Lure and one at Ocracoke.   Snow Goose numbers were healthy as ever at the usual Pettigrew, Mattamuskeet, and Bodie-Pea counts, but Ross’s Goose numbers practically doubled the previous count season total.  Singles were at Brevard and Cumberland County, two were at Mattamuskeet, and an astounding 23 were on the Pettigrew count. This undoubtedly provided a new one-day count for this species in the state! Puddle duck numbers were more or less average but two Eurasian Wigeons were found with singles at Lake Mattamuskeet and Pettigrew. Diving ducks were easily more prevalent in the state this count season, highlighted by a record total of 18,894 for Redhead, with Bodie-Pea’s 12,600 and Ocracoke’s 5000 being most impressive. Six Harlequin Ducks, with four at Bodie-Pea and two at Morehead City, tied the previous count-period total. After last season’s dismal showing (only one!), the Long-tailed Duck rebounded very nicely behind the strength of Wilmington’s 37! Common Mergansers were noted on seven counts this season, and the regularly wintering flock on Lake Phelps in the Pettigrew circle had about 390 individuals! These birds have been known to winter at this site, almost always staying out in the middle of the lake, thus making observing and counting them problematic. Northern Bobwhites were very hard to find again, with a total of only 32 count-wide. Four Pacific Loons were noteworthy with two at the usual Wrightsville Beach area on the Wilmington count and two at Caswell Beach on the Southport count.  Grebe highlights included single Red-neckeds at Greensboro, Wilmington, and Southport; and an Eared,also at Southport. A total of 114 American White Pelicans was down from last year, while 23 Anhingas was somewhat above average. Long-legged wader numbers were mostly average across all expected species. Both Black and Turkey vulture numbers were up considerably; leading one to wonder why?! Bird of prey highlights included another Northern Goshawk, this time an adult on the Pamlico County count; and an adult Golden Eagle at Alligator River. Sandhill Cranes were seen on two counts with two at the regular Beaufort area at Morehead City, and two on the Rocky Mount count (easily new for that count). Shorebird highlights included two Wilson's Plovers at Southport, one Avocet at Wilmington and two Avocets at Southport being very unusual for those counts, 11 Spotted Sandpipers across five counts, and a respectable total of 630 Marbled Godwits from five counts. Red Knot numbers were almost two-thirds lower than last season. Gull highlights included a Franklin’s Gull on the Southern Lake Norman count, providing only the third NC CBC record; an adult Little Gull off of the Ft. Fisher overlook at Southport, providing a first for that count; an astounding 681 Lesser Black-backed Gulls (578 at Cape Hatteras alone!) obliterating the previous count total of 199 in 2005; and two Glaucous Gulls, with singles at Cape Hatteras and Ocracoke (same bird?). A Pomarine Jaeger was again at Southport (count week last season), while five Parasitic Jaegers were noted on three counts. Razorbill numbers were back to normal (after last year’s record-shattering flight) with a total of 30 from four counts.

Snowy Owls staged an unprecedented flight into North Carolina this season, starting about two weeks before the count season. Thus the species was noted in at least three count circles with one at Bodie-Pea, two at Ocracoke and one count week at Cape Hatteras. These provided the second CBC records for NC, the first being two on the Bodie-Pea count in 1946!  Hummingbirds continued to be found on the counts with Ruby-throateds predominately along the coast, and Rufous/Selasphorus sp. being found sparingly across the state. An Allen’s Hummingbird at a feeder on the Pamlico County count provided the first count day record for a NC CBC (there was a count week Allen’s in 2012!). A Say's Phoebe was discovered at Pettigrew, causing one to wonder if it was the same bird as last year’s!  Alligator River hosted two Ash-throated Flycatchers this year, thereby solidifying that area’s reputation as being the best location for this species in the state. Single Western Kingbirds were found at Kitty Hawk, Morehead City, and Wilmington (count week). Tree Swallow numbers were up from last year with an impressive total of 12,792 from 13 counts (over 7000 at Mattamuskeet and almost 3000 at Bodie-Pea being the best totals). A Northern Rough-winged Swallow was a complete surprise in the Piedmont on the Greensboro count. This was only the 8th NC CBC record for that species. It is not surprising that after last season’s record flight (829 individuals from 46 counts); Red-breasted Nuthatches were practically non-existent. Only 19 from eight counts were noted this year, reinforcing the irruptive behavior long noted for this species. No Lapland Longspur was found this season; and only one Snow Bunting was noted, that being at Cape Hatteras. Warbler highlights this count season included a Nashville Warbler at Alligator River, three Yellow Warblers with two at New Bern and one on Bald Head Island for the Southport count, and a count week Yellow-breasted Chat at Alligator River. Last year's Summer Tanager at Wilmington returned for the 5th year, but noted count week only this year. Sparrow highlights included a record total of 16 Bachman’s (12 at Camp Lejeune, 2 at Southport, 1 at Wilmington and Southern Pines), five Clay-coloreds (2 at Greenville and 3 at Pettigrew), one Grasshopper at a Piedmont location on the S. Lake Norman count, a Le Conte's at Greenville, and a Lincoln's in the Mountains on the Buncombe County count (quite unexpected that far from the Coastal Plain). Wintering Painted Bunting numbers were down for the third year in a row, with singles at only two counts - Southport and Morehead City. Two Dickcissels were detected with individuals at Chapel Hill and New Bern, providing only the 9th and 10th NC CBC records. Blackbird numbers were down somewhat, and the best Rusty Blackbird count was 604 at Wilmington. Providing only the 7th NC CBC record, a male Yellow-headed Blackbird was a good find on the Southport count. Baltimore Oriole numbers were similar to last year, with the best counts being 19 at Wilmington, 16 at New Bern, and 12 at Greenville. Finch numbers were way down this winter, especially after last year’s huge irruption. Purple Finches (31 on 10 counts) and Pine Siskins (14 on 5 counts) were definitely hard to find. Five Red Crossbills at Highlands Plateau were the only ones noted this season. And finally Evening Grosbeaks returned to their status of not being present on any counts (after last year’s appearance on three counts)!