The 123rd Christmas Bird Count in North Carolina

The 123rdCBC in North Carolina consisted of 54 counts, with two (Holly Shelter and Morehead City) not being run. The weather this season was close to average in temperature and precipitation. There were only three counts with highs above 70 (Falls Lake, Wilmington, Southport); and only three with lows below 20 (Chapel Hill, Charlotte, Pilot Mountain). No counts had measurable snow, falling or on the ground. Only three counts had partially frozen waters. Heavy rain was a problem on three counts, with Rockingham County suffering all day. All-day fog was a problem on the Iredell County and Wilmington counts. High winds hampered several counts (Franklin, New River, Yancey County). During this year’s count 803,594 individuals of 218 species, two Count Week birds (Brant and Lapland Longspur), and one form (Ipswich Sparrow) were reported, somewhat lower than last season’s 220. Top Coastal species totals included Wilmington’s 156, Southport’s 151, Bodie-Pea’s 140, Cape Hatteras’ 132, and Kitty Hawk’s 123. Tidewater counts were led by Lake Mattamuskeet’s 131, Pamlico County’s 120, Alligator River’s 116, and New Bern’s 114. Coastal Plain counts were led by Wayne County with 104, Cumberland County with 102, Pettigrew with 101, Greenville with 100, and Rocky Mount with 99. Leading Piedmont counts included totals of 101 at Southern Lake Norman, 99 at Raleigh, 95 at Charlotte and Jordan Lake, and 94 at Greensboro. Mountains counts were led by Henderson County’s 94, Brevard’s 80, Balsam’s 77, and Lake Lure’s 73 – all very respectable totals for that region.

Two Greater White-fronted Geese at Alligator River were good finds. Snow Geese were comparable to last year, but only four Ross’s Geese were found (Mattamuskeet 1, Pettigrew 2, and one at Brevard). Brant numbers were still way down with only count week birds at Hatteras. Numbers of Tundra Swans were up compared to last year. Puddle duck numbers were generally down again, with exceptions being Northern Shoveler and Northern Pintail with notable increases. And Green-winged Teal continued to be found in reduced numbers, running about half to three-quarters of the last 20-year average. Diving duck numbers were stable overall, but down again for Red-breasted Merganser. Only one Common Eider was noted, that being at Bodie-Pea. Good finds were the Long-tailed Duck at Wilmington and a Harlequin Duck at Bodie-Pea. Northern Bobwhite rebounded this year from last year’s total of five, with 44 (30 at Alligator River). Common and Red-throated loon numbers were substantially down this year. Horned Grebe numbers were up this year, while Pied-billed Grebe numbers were relatively stable. Rare grebes included three Red-necked Grebes with two at Kerr Lake and one at Southern Lake Norman, and a Western Grebe also at Southern Lake Norman. Northern Gannet, Double-crested Cormorant, and Brown Pelican numbers were down this season, while the American White Pelican was down slightly with 134 from three counts (130 at Bodie-Pea, 1 at Southport, and 3 at Mattamuskeet). Wintering Anhinga numbers were comparable to last year, with 25 being found on five Counts. Long-legged wader numbers were relatively stable compared to previous seasons. Osprey numbers totaled 36 on eight counts, up slightly from last year. One on the Charlotte count was unusual for that far-inland location. Vulture numbers were relatively stable this year, while hawk and Bald Eagle numbers were up slightly. Rails and coots were found in similar numbers to last year. Sandhill Cranes were noted at Greensboro (11), at Rocky Mount (16), and Balsam (1). Shorebird numbers were noticeably down this count season. Plovers were found in similar numbers to last year; and the best one was the single Wilson’s Plover found on the Camp Lejeune count. The only Spotted Sandpipers reported included two at Wilmington, one at Southport, and the regular wintering one at Kerr Lake. Marbled Godwit numbers were drastically reduced with only 25 at Bodie-Pea and one at Wilmington! The rarest shorebird this year were the two Black-necked Stilts nicely documented on the Bodie-Pea count, providing only the third ever NC CBC record. Jaeger numbers were about the same as last season with 11 Parasitics on three counts. The only Razorbills found were three at Kitty Hawk and one at Cape Hatteras. Laughing Gull numbers were back to normal, compared to last year’s big numbers. Noteworthy were three Iceland Gulls with singles at Kitty Hawk, Bodie-Pea, and Cape Hatteras. Lesser Black-backed Gull numbers were down this year; and the farthest inland were the nine on the Jordan Lake count. Royal and Forster’s terns were found in similar numbers to last year. The Sandwich Tern discovered at Wanchese at Bodie-Pea provided a first CBC record for that count.

Easily the rarest bird of the season was the White-crowned Pigeon photographed at Carolina Beach during the Wilmington count. Obviously a first NC CBC record, as this species has only been recorded a couple of times north of its limited normal south Florida range. Always noteworthy, two Northern Saw-whet Owls were located, with singles at Bodie-Pea and Cape Hatteras. Ruby-throated Hummingbird numbers were about average, with all being found on coastal and tidewater counts as usual. Five Rufous Hummingbirds were counted this year, compared to three last year. All species of woodpeckers had totals close to last year. Compared to last year, falcon numbers saw American Kestrels remaining stable, Merlins increasing, and Peregrines decreasing considerably. A single Ash-throated Flycatcher was again located at Alligator River, the most regular spot in the Carolinas for this species. Of interest is that at least five other Ash-throateds were located at that Refuge during the winter! Crow numbers remained stable while raven numbers decreased. Horned Larks were reported in much reduced numbers from the previous year. Tree Swallow numbers decreased considerably from last year, with very few large flocks being reported. Two Northern Rough-winged Swallows were good finds documented on the Charlotte count. After last year’s very poor showing, Red-breasted Nuthatches were present across the state with 154 being found on 32 counts! For some reason, all species of wren were down this season. Blue-gray Gnatcatchers and both kinglets were present in numbers like last year. Thrush and mimic thrush numbers were comparable to those of last year, except for considerably fewer American Robins. Cedar Waxwing numbers were on a par with last season. This year, a Lapland Longspur (count week bird at Bodie-Pea) and Snow Bunting (Alligator River) were found. Ten species of warbler were found this count season! From a couple to a handful of the less common but regular wintering warblers (Ovenbird, Black-and-white, Yellow-throated, Prairie) were found. The rarest was a Northern Parula found at Wilmington, although this species is becoming almost annual now. Three Yellow-breasted Chats were about average for the season. Sparrow numbers were like previous years with a notable exception being much higher numbers of Dark-eyed Junco. Notable were two Clay-colored Sparrows at Rocky Mount, and one Lincoln’s Sparrow at Falls Lake. A Summer Tanager was a good find on the Pamlico County count (while Wilmington’s returning wintering bird was missed during the count period). The four Painted Buntings at Cape Hatteras were the only ones found this year. Blackbird numbers were comparable to previous years, and wintering Baltimore Oriole numbers were like last year also. Winter finches were present in North Carolina this winter, with 371 Purple Finches from 39 counts representing a huge increase over last year. Siskin numbers however were still quite low with only 56 from 16 counts. Eighteen Red Crossbills from five counts were reported, with three at Chapel Hill, one at Jordan Lake, and four at Hanging Rock being most notable away from the mountains. Evening Grosbeaks were detected again (after a one-year hiatus), with four at Durham and one at Falls Lake.