The weather during the 115th CBC season was more stable than it was during the previous one, with most counts experiencing cloudy but not stormy conditions and temperatures mostly in the thirties. There was a small echo of last season’s Snowy Owl flight and a good variety of rarities and late-lingering species. As in most recent years, winter finches were in short supply and even the big invasion of Pine Siskins in the fall had dwindled to numbers typical of non-invasion years.
New Jersey’s 31 CBCs, with a new count focused on Island Beach State Park, tallied an excellent 208 species, just one short of the record counted on the 113th CBC. These included two species new to the state CBCs and several recorded for only the second time. Cape May, as always, led the state with 160 species, including numerous rarities, and eight additional count week birds. Barnegat, with 136 species, was second again, followed by Oceanville (131) and Cumberland County (122). Hackensack (97) beat its previous record high by four species and Ramsey (99) tied the 2012 record.
The 38 species of waterfowl included the first Pink-footed Goose recorded on a New Jersey CBC, pairs of Greater White-fronted Geese at NW Hunterdon and Somerset counties, two Ross’s Geese at Cape May and singles at Salem and Warren County, and individual Barnacle Geese at Ramsey and Somerset County. Trumpeter Swan was also added to the list of species seen on an NJ CBC as three returning birds at Assunpink were accepted by the New Jersey Bird Records Committee as being of wild provenance. Barnegat had the only King Eider and most of the 600 reported Common Eiders.
Ramsey had the only Ruffed Grouse, making this the 15th year in a row that four or fewer of this species were found. A record 22 Red-necked Grebes were tallied on four counts, with 17 at Barnegat. Most surprising were single Manx Shearwater and Northern Fulmar, each seen from shore on the Long Branch and Island Beach counts, respectively – all previous records of the shearwater have come from pelagic counts. The ten American Bitterns, five at Cape May, provided the highest total in almost a decade. Cape May also had the only two Snowy Egrets and a single Little Blue Heron, while Salem County tallied the only Tricolored Heron.
The state’s only Osprey, at Cape May, hung around through early January, but then apparently departed. Each of the 31 CBCs recorded both Bald Eagle and Cooper’s Hawk, with total reaching a record 522 and 294, respectively, but a single Northern Goshawk at Cape May was the only one of the season. Numbers of American Kestrels held steady at 106, still far below tallies of 30 – 40 years ago, but both Merlin (54) and Peregrine Falcon (85) reached record highs. Cumberland found a pair of Soras and Salem added a Common Gallinule, while a Piping Plover at Barnegat was the first on a state CBC in 11 years. Lakehurst recorded the only two Laughing Gulls, Island Beach the only Little Gull, and both Barnegat and Cape May had single Black-legged Kittiwakes.
NW Gloucester County added a Forster’s Tern to their cumulative list, with Cape May reporting the only others (13). Barnegat had the only Dovekies (7) and 12 of the reported Razorbills. Cape May’s Eurasian Collared-Dove, the only one in the state, eluded observers on count day, but was found during the week. Just six Snowy Owls were located this season, compared to last year’s 27, but still ties 2001 for the second highest statewide total, and a record high 41 Barred Owls were tallied. Belleplain and Great Swamp each had a Rufous Hummingbird. Only eight Red-headed Woodpeckers could be located, but it was otherwise another banner year for woodpeckers, with Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Downy Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, and Pileated Woodpecker all counted in record numbers.
A Western Kingbird was found at Cape May for the second year in a row, but Ramsey reported the only Northern Shrike. White-eyed Vireo was new for NW Gloucester and Cape May located the only Blue-headed Vireo. Tree Swallows (211) showed up on four counts, led by the 158 at Cape May. Among the eight species of warbler found on count days were Cape May’s first Magnolia Warbler, only the third ever on a New Jersey CBC, and a Black-throated Blue Warbler on the New York side of the Lower Hudson Count. A Wilson’s Warbler, the third on a state CBC in four years, was photographed on the Cumberland count. Long Branch contributed both a Clay-colored Sparrow and a Lark Sparrow, while the single Nelson’s Sparrow at Cape May was the only on detected. Winter finches were once again in small numbers, with only Purple Finch and Pine Siskin being widely reported, but a pair of Evening Grosbeaks in NW Hunterdon County was a surprise.
Pennsylvania’s 76 CBCs included a new one at Penn’s Creek, but missed one from Thompson, which failed to report for the first time in ten years. Most counts experienced seasonal temperatures and cloudy conditions, except for the few run on January 3, when freezing rain proved a problem. The 162 species recorded is about average, but included a number of long-staying rarities. Southern Bucks County and Southern Lancaster County tied for the highest total with 101 species, followed by Harrisburg (99) and Upper Bucks County (96). An historic record came to end on February 3, 2015, with the passing of Bob Cook, longtime compiler of the Elverson Christmas Count. Bob became the compiler of that count in 1950 and continued for 65 years, surely a remarkable achievement.
A Greater White-fronted Goose was at Central Bucks Country, while the southeastern part of the state continued to attract staggering numbers of Snow Geese (almost 200,000) and a record high eight Ross’s Geese on five counts. Wild Creek – Little Gap reported two Barnacle Geese, the first on a state CBC since 2006, and 14 counts contributed to a new high total of 44 Cackling Geese. Ducks were also in good supply, with record high numbers of Gadwall, Northern Shoveler, and White-winged Scoter (97 at Erie, 5 at Southern Bucks).
Ninety-four Ruffed Grouse was an increase from last year’s 51, but is still well below historical averages. Erie reported the only Eared Grebe, as well as one of the four Red-necked Grebes; the other three were at Upper Bucks (2) and DuBois. Erie also had a Black-crowned Night-Heron, while Harrisburg and Linesville each had a Great Egret. An Osprey was seen at Pennypack Valley, but the highlight of the raptor count was the record 610 Bald Eagles, up 31% from last year’s record high. Red-shouldered Hawk (171), Merlin (47), and Peregrine Falcon (37) were also tallied in record high numbers.
Pennypack Valley had a pair of Virginia Rails, while Linesville had a new high of 75 Sandhill Cranes to go with singles at Bethlehem-Easton, Indian, and Lehigh Valley. The Greater Yellowlegs at Delaware County was the first on a Pennsylvania CBC since 1992. The Delaware Valley continues to attract North America’s largest concentration of Lesser Black-backed Gulls, with the three Bucks County CBCs combining for a total of 776; Bethlehem-Easton added another 53 and neighboring NW Hunterdon County, NJ, 51. Only Cape Hatteras, NC, and Cocoa, FL, surpassed the 320 at Upper Bucks County. In addition to 260 Lesser Black-backed Gulls, Southern Bucks County also recorded a nationwide high of almost 46,000 Herring Gulls, including a possible “Vega” Herring Gull. A Forster’s Tern was reported from Bedford County.
Upper Bucks had a nationwide high of 163 Eastern Screech-Owls, but the two Snowy Owls at Erie were the only echo of last year’s major influx. Both Long-eared Owl (10) and Short-eared Owl (5) were in short supply, the latter number being the lowest for that species in 30 years. Pittsburgh recorded the only Rufous Hummingbird, making it five years in a row and seven of the last eight for this species on a state CBC. As in New Jersey, woodpeckers were plentiful, with Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker, Pileated Woodpecker, and Northern Flicker all being tallied in record high numbers, although some of the increase may be due to broader coverage in recent years.
Delaware County’s Northern Shrike was the only one found in the state, the lowest number since 1993. Common Ravens continue to spread south and east, with a record high 461 birds tallied on 61 of the 76 state CBCs. Northern Rough-winged Swallows made their now-annual appearance at Pennypack Valley, where the 120 individuals was the third highest count north of Mexico, behind Clewiston, FL, and Phoenix, AZ; Audubon added another two. Red-breasted Nuthatches were widespread, but in small numbers typical of a non-irruption year. Pittsburgh-South Hills (4) and Linesville (3) combined for an unusually high number of Marsh Wrens.
The only unusual warblers among the five species reported were single Black-and-white Warblers at Harrisburg and Ryerson. Less expected were a Lark Sparrow at Newville, only the 4th for a Pennsylvania CBC and the first since 2006, and a long-staying Harris’s Sparrow at Bethlehem-Easton, the 6th for a state CBC. Two Pheucticus sp. grosbeaks at Washington were not identified further as to species (Rose-breasted/Black-headed), but an Indigo Bunting at Lewistown was only the fourth CBC record for the state. Gettysburg had a Yellow-headed Blackbird, Bethlehem-Easton a Brewer’s Blackbird, and Wyncote and York Springs each had a Baltimore Oriole.
There was a modest irruption of Pine Siskins following the major flight in the fall, as 51 counts tallied a total of 1823 birds. Other winter finches were scarce, with only two White-winged Crossbills at Erie, 13 Common Redpolls at 4 sites, and two Evening Grosbeaks at Washington. Once again, I thank Nick Bolgiano for sharing some of his insights into the Pennsylvania CBCs in advance of publication.