Georgia had 28 counts this year, with an average state total of 217 accepted species (last ten years have averaged 216). Birders again put forth great effort, as the 570 participants drove 5803 miles in vehicles, rode 176 miles by boat, and walked 628 miles. Participants also ATV’d 15 miles and golf carted another 28. Last, and probably the most fun, was paddling 12 miles. Weather was good for most counts, with several counts reporting light rain for part or much of the day. The only counts losing large portions of the day to heavy rain were Carter’s Lake (CL) and Macon (MA).
Georgia again benefited from the inclusion of two new counts begun last year, both in the metro Atlanta area: Intown Atlanta (GAIA) and Roswell (GARO). Many urban bird species thus enjoyed very high totals, since both of these counts are well staffed by enthusiastic compilers. When reporting new high totals, where I feel these two counts made much of the difference with previous totals I will include the code (IT) to signify in town counts. I will also make reference to the last few years of many species for context or trend information, so the last 15 year rolling average for a species will be listed as 15 ya (or 10 ya, or whatever seems interesting). This will allow readers some perspective with which to judge new high or low totals since older count results are based on fewer circles in the state. In comparing counts, please note that this year’s count was the 115th CBC, run in 2014/2015. Comparing numbers to older counts will refer to the count number, which coincidentally and luckily for us is the same as the year that the count period ends.
With the exception of coastal species, it was a pretty good year for duck species in general. Six Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks at Savannah (SV) were the 6th state CBC record (all in the last seven years). The total of 4912 Canada Geese was the 3rd highest ever (15 ya 3608). After several good years previously, Wood Ducks for the 2nd year in a row had a very low count, only 621, the 3rd lowest total in 15 years. The count of 1155 Gadwall was again high, the 2nd highest ever (10 ya 951). It was again a great year for Canvasback with a state total of 102 (15 ya 30), and Macon (MA) led the way with 78. Ring-necked Ducks had another new high count with 14,262, a new record total by over 1600 birds (10 ya 8836). Both scaup species had again very poor totals. The always variable Greater had only 18 birds, the lowest in 12 years (10 ya 239), and Lesser had a dismal 471, the lowest total in 32 years (10 ya 3170). The low scoter this year was 829 Black Scoters, also variable year to year, and way below the 10 ya of 6384. After a great year last year, the Red-breasted Merganser total of 491 was the 2nd lowest in 22 years and just barely more than half the 10 ya of 896. Interestingly, it was found again on 10 counts indicating birds on several inland counts (all six coastal counts had birds). The 3021 Ruddy Ducks counted was the 2nd highest total for the state ever, and well above the 10 ya of 1952.
The embattled Northern Bobwhite had an uptick this year to 79, the highest in eight years (10 ya 55) but still sadly a speck of counts from decades ago due primarily to habitat loss and changing agricultural practices. Red-throated Loon totals added up to 113, 3rd highest count ever for GA CBCs and crushed the 15 ya of 43. GA had three winners and one loser in the grebe category. Winners: 1221 Pied-billed for the 2nd highest count ever (15 ya 681), 352 Horned for a new high total ever (15 ya 138), and the single Red-necked seen on the SV count was only the state’s 5th CBC record. Unfortunately, Eared numbers have taken a dive in GA, with none seen this year (5 straight low years) compared to many previously good years. The 15 ya is 13. These low numbers are primarily due to loss or change of habitat on one count, Piedmont-Rum Creek (PR), which formerly got almost all of our CBC Eared Grebes. After three high years (3 ya 374 compared to 15 ya 140), American White Pelican numbers fell to a more nearly typical 204. After an abysmal count last year, the Double-crested Cormorant total of 8770 was the third highest ever (15 ya 6140). Another new high count was the 1466 Great Egrets, topping last year’s then-record 1400 and continually raising the 15 ya of 1031. Following last year’s low count of 920, which itself followed nine years over 1300, this year’s total of 2484 Snow Egrets was the 2nd highest ever… and the yo-yo 15 ya is 1622. Little Blue Heron is perhaps the most variable in numbers of all waders in GA, with the 15 ya 323 bouncing between a low of 111 and a high of 689. This year came in below average at 250, but it’s hard to find any trend in this sine wave of a graph. The 711 Tricolored Herons was the 6th highest count ever (15 ya 544). The single Reddish Egret on the Glynn County (GC) count was the first in GA in five years and only the 10th CBC record, all since the 95th count. Twenty Green Herons tied the record high count set last year (15 ya 8). The last five years have been very good for Yellow-crowned Night-Heron totals, with a 5 ya of 56 compared to the previous 10 ya of 19. That leaves the 15 ya at 31, so this year’s 57 was well above the longer-term average but right in the middle of the short term average. The 1074 White Ibis counted was the lowest in 15 years (15 ya 2136). Setting a new high count and crushing last year’s then-record 107 was Glossy Ibis with 170! The15 ya is 38, five ya is 67, and this species is clearly increasing as a wintering bird on these counts. For the 9th year in a row a few Roseate Spoonbills lingered into CBC time, 13 this year (averaging about 10 per year). These are still the only spoonbill records ever on Georgia CBCs. Wood Storks had a decent count with 363, up from last year’s 239 and nicely above the 15 ya of 285.
Bald Eagles had a good total of 126 (15 ya 78, 5 ya 119), continuing the recent successful run of nesting and wintering birds here. Worth repeating from last year, there are so many birds on the coast in winter now it is often difficult to get an accurate total on the island counts with birds ranging widely during the day. A favored prey item for the above species is going the opposite direction, with an American Coot total of 6036 (15 ya of 9456, but at least better than last year’s awful 5734). Two Limpkins found on the Lake Blackshear (LB) CBC were only the 2nd CBC record for GA. Thirty-six Wilson’s Plovers was the 4th highest total (15 ya 20), and the 9607 Semipalmated Plovers set a new high by almost 200 birds. The 15 ya is 3309 so that’s a fantastic total. American Oystercatcher also set a new CBC record with a total of 299, the 3rd new record count in the last four years (15 ya is 157). One Black-necked Stilt at SV was the 5th overall CBC record but the first in four years. The 617 American Avocets was the 4th highest total for GA, against a 15 ya of 323. Greater Yellowlegs totals are also pretty variable, and this year’s total of 150 was well below the 15 ya of 235. The Willet total of 462 was the 2nd lowest in 15 years (15 ya 763). Conversely, the 295 Lesser Yellowlegs counted was the 3rd highest ever (almost double 15 ya 162). The total of 390 Ruddy Turnstones is the 2nd lowest in 17 years (15 ya 627). Red Knots have averaged about 697 for the last 15 years, so this year’s total of 114 was really awful for this beleaguered species. Their favored prey clam densities were very low, so hopefully the birds simply moved to other feeding areas as opposed to actually being that low. Sanderlings had the lowest total in 20 years with 779, 15 ya is 1184. The Least Sandpiper total of 547 was the 2nd lowest in 15 years (15 ya 937). Finding 1676 Short-billed Dowitchers was the 4th highest GA total (15 ya 1103). After a good count last year, the Long-billed Dowitcher “total” of three was the lowest in 12 years, against a 10 ya of 261. The large flock we have grown accustomed to counting at SV was not seen this year. The first GA CBC Black-headed Gull was found on the Cumberland Island (CI) count, which is only the 6th record in the state in any season. Bonaparte’s Gulls were fairly scarce this year, with a total of 176 (10 ya 388). Only eight Great Black-backed Gulls were found, against the 15 ya of 21. That’s the lowest total in 20 years. A couple of Sandwich Terns are found on a GA count every couple of years, and this year there were three on the SV count. Also seen about every other year, this year there was one Pomarine Jaeger on the St Catherines Island (SC) count.
Two doves made the summary for different reasons. The 6256 Mourning Doves was the 2nd highest ever (15 ya 4652) but the 46 Common Ground-Doves was the lowest in 13 years (15 ya 73, last year 91). Possibly reflecting the new counts, or just eager counters, the total of 191 Eastern Screech-Owls was a new record (15 ya 116). For some reason the heavily forested island of St. Catherines sometimes yields some oddly high totals for a coastal island (see 124 Red-breasted Nuthatches in 113, this species, and Pine Siskins below). It may be accessibility of lots of forest, an exceptionally well-run count (led for many years by Emil Urban, who is sorely missed), or something else, but the SC count has produced some remarkable totals. This year’s count of 78 screech owls at SC was far greater than any other count’s total… next was 34 at Harris Neck (HN). The state total of 83 Barred Owls tied the 2nd highest total (15 ya 63). The four Ruby-throated Hummingbirds tied the state high total (15 ya 1.3) and the three Black-chinned Hummingbirds also tied the high total (not seen every year). One Black-chinned was a returning bird well inland at MA. The total of 466 Belted Kingfishers was again a new high besting last year’s then-record 436 (15 ya 360). Five woodpeckers had great totals, and at least the first three and last one are partly due to the new IT counts. Yellow-bellied Sapsucker at 747 was the 2nd highest ever (15 ya 546); Downy Woodpecker at 1000 and Hairy at 126 were new record counts (15 ya of 707 and 71, respectively); and Red-cockaded at 59 was the 2nd highest ever (15 ya 32). For this high conservation priority species, 42 were at PR, 16 were at Okefenokee (OK), and one was at Lake Bainbridge (BL). The last new record woodpecker count was 1154 Northern Flickers (15 ya 823).
The Eastern Phoebe total of 1326 was 2nd only to last year’s 1342, and certainly an IT inflated total (15 ya 911). The state’s 6th CBC Ash-throated Flycatcher was photographed at OK. The six Western Kingbirds were the highest CBC total ever (15 ya 1.3), with three at SV, two at CI, and one at Sapelo Island (SI). Another IT influenced record total was the 3379 Blue Jays (15 ya 2491), again topping last year’s record 3338. The Fish Crow total was a pathetic 824 (15 ya 4494). Last year was 2922, and the previous year (113) was 397. The fluctuations in the numbers of this species have defied my attempts to find trends or reasons … so maybe they just make a lot of random winter movements. The state’s 10th CBC Barn Swallow record was at Augusta (AU). The following six species all had IT influenced record high totals. Carolina Chickadee 3959 (15 ya 2834), Tufted Titmouse (15 ya 2013), White-breasted Nuthatch 797 (15 ya 324), Brown-headed Nuthatch 1573 (15 ya 1114), Carolina Wren 3299 (15 ya 1972), and Winter Wren (actually “only” 2nd highest) 202 (15 ya 112). Another note on Winter Wren, last year’s summary listed an incorrect 15 ya of 30, which should have been 111 (I failed to take into account the species split). Marsh Wren also had a record count (none on IT counts!) of 167 (15 ya 96). Both kinglets had pretty good totals: Golden-crowned was 1224, 3rd highest ever (15 ya 882, but almost an irruptive species really), and Ruby-crowned was 3121, 5th highest ever (15 ya 2588). The total of 3003 Eastern Bluebirds was the 6th highest total (15 ya 2539). Hermit Thrush had the 2nd highest total ever with 778 (15 ya 495). Another species setting a new high record was Gray Catbird with 244, well above the 15 ya of 162. Two more clearly IT species are Northern Mockingbird and Brown Thrasher, both setting the 2nd highest totals ever with 1915 (15 ya 1524) and 478 (15 ya 313). Cedar Waxwing numbers were so high that the total of 12,322 was a new record by almost 2500; the 15 ya is 5919. The new high total of 112 Orange-crowned Warblers was almost double the 15 ya of 60. There were an amazing four Northern Parulas, the 10th CBC with any at all and of course a high count. Almost as amazing was that one was at MA, on the fall line (the other 3 were 2 at HN and 1 at SC). The 49 Yellow-throated Warblers was also a record high (15 ya 29). With an IT boost, the Pine Warbler total of 1788 was the 2nd highest ever, compared to the 15 ya of 1396. Another 2nd highest total was Palm Warbler with 733 (15 ya 515). Black-and-white Warblers have been turning up more in the last seven years (7 ya 62, 15 ya 55) so this year’s 85 was only the 4th highest count. The 14th GA CBC Yellow-breasted Chat was found on the SV count.
Eastern Towhees again set a new record with 2245, with an IT boost, compared to the 15 ya of 1344. Another species getting a boost from the new IT counts was Chipping Sparrow, with the 3rd highest total ever of 8912. This is another cyclical species, with a 15 ya of 7435 but a seven ya of 9206. Several other sparrows set 3rd highest totals: 137 Vesper Sparrows, 177 Fox Sparrows, and 4258 Song Sparrows; compare to their respective 15 ya totals of 83, 95, and 3377. Saltmarsh Sparrow counts were low, often a function of the tide on count day; with a state total of 10, the 2nd lowest in 20 years (15 ya 36). Seaside Sparrow was also low, perhaps for the same reason, with a total of 104 being the 4th lowest in the same 20 years (15 ya 284). Never numerous, the four Lincoln Sparrows tied the state high count. For a 2nd highest total, the 4552 White-throated Sparrow total was almost 50% higher than the 15 ya 3198. Even higher was the new record total of 308 White-crowned Sparrows, more than 50% higher than the previous record of 181 (111 CBC) and crushing the 15 ya of 91. After my glowing comments about Lapland Longspurs last year, GA got none this year.
Northern Cardinal had another record count with 5923 (helped by IT, and well above the 15 ya 3856). Two Painted Buntings provided the 13th CBC record, 10 of which have been in the last 16 years. Another species of concern is Rusty Blackbird; this year’s total of 1180 was well above the 15 ya of 989 but well below the last three ya of 1771. House Finches came in with the 4th highest count ever at 2001, the most since the 95th count and more than double the 15 ya of 931 (IT). Pine Siskins had a remarkable invasion this winter with a state total of 3843, a new record by over 60% (2326 was the old record in 109). The species was recorded on 24 of 28 counts. The two highest counts were up in north GA, as expected: 798 at Blue Ridge (BR) and 747 at Amicalola Falls (AF). The third highest count was the once again surprising SC with a staggering total of 728. Next were Chattahoochee Forest (CF) with 401 and Lake Oconee (LO) with 262. And the 15 ya is 249! Finally, the American Goldfinch total of 4366 was the 2nd highest ever, helped by IT, and strongly ahead of the 15 ya of 2692.