The 116th CBC in Georgia

Georgia had 28 counts again this year, with a slightly better than average state total of 222 accepted species (three count week only). The last ten years have averaged 218. Birders again put forth great effort, with the 716 field participants logging 7626 miles total counting all modes of transportation. Weather was very good for most counts, with only four counts reporting light rain for part or much of the day (Harris Neck- HN, Piedmont/Rum Creek- PR, Roswell- RO, and Sapelo Island- SI). The only count that lost large portions of the day to heavy rain was Lake Blackshear (BL). This was once again a mild winter leading up to CBC season, and that affected a number of species. The winter movements of many species are influenced by mild winters, primarily in two ways: northern species that winter in the south may not move until cold weather spurs them south, and species that winter just south of here will linger until weather spurs them to move further south also. This may have contributed to the really large numbers of many wader species wintering on the northern edges of their winter ranges. For the third year since their inception, two new counts in the metro Atlanta area added to certain species totals: Intown Atlanta (IA) and Roswell (RO). Many urban bird species thus enjoyed very high totals, since both of these counts continue to be well coordinated by enthusiastic compilers.

I will also make reference to the last few years of many species for context or trend information, so the last 10 year rolling average for a species may be listed as 10 ya (year average, or 15 ya, or whatever seems more relevant to understand recent population trends). This will allow readers some perspective with which to judge new high or low totals since much older count results are based on fewer counts in the state. In comparing counts, please note that this year’s count was the 116th CBC, run in December 2015 and January 2016. Comparing numbers to older counts will refer to the count number, which coincidentally and luckily for us is the same as the ending year of each season.

Canada Goose numbers have been high for several years, and this year’s total of 4144 was the 5th highest ever. All those high counts were in the last eight years. The Wood Duck total of 469 was the lowest in six years, the 2nd lowest in 15 years (15 ya 847) and was the 3rd low total in a row. Conversely the Gadwall total of 1181 was the 2nd highest ever and continues a string of seven strong years in a row. The 10 ya is 1035, and the 15 ya 897. PR led the way with 417 and Savannah (SV) had the next highest total with 308. The American Wigeon total of 154 was the lowest in 18 years, less surprising in a mild winter scenario (10 ya 294). The totals of resident (and introduced) Mottled Ducks have been slowly increasing, mostly at SV, with this year’s 42 being the 5th highest ever (all in the last 12 years) and all at SV. Northern Shovelers also showed up in force with the 5th highest count ever, 2314 this year compared to the 15 ya of 1937, and all those record high counts were in the last 15 years. High count was SV with 1224, and Glynn County (GC) had 676. The Green-winged Teal total of 1180 was the 2nd lowest in 18 years, and the 15 ya is 2168. A new record was set for Redhead with 193, slightly topping 188 on the 111th and 180 on the 114th counts. Carter’s Lake (CL) had a great total of 125, and Floyd County (FC) had 31. On the coast St. Catherines (SC) had 18. All the scoters are variable yearly, and by any measure this year was a very low year. Both Surf and White-winged were one each, at SV and SI respectively. The Black Scoter total of 205 was the lowest in 19 years (15 ya 2383). The old record of 1422 Red-breasted Mergansers from 113 was crushed this year with 2941: 10 ya is 981 and 15 ya is 1122. SI had the high count with 2554 and HN had 214. Ruddy Duck had the lowest total in 10 years with 743 (10 ya is 2064).

Bucking the recent trend, the total of 199 Wild Turkeys was the lowest in 14 years (10 ya is 381). The Red-throated Loon total of 202 is the highest ever, well above the old record of 122 (102nd count). SC had most of them with 182, beating the old record all by itself. Both loons are variable in numbers year to year, and this year’s total of 62 Common Loons was half the 10 ya of 124. The 714 Pied-billed Grebes was also low, 2nd lowest in 10 years against a 10 ya of 927. Conversely Horned Grebe numbers were good with 301 counted, the 3rd highest ever (352 last year is the record). All the higher counts were coastal: 79 at HN, 62 at GC, and 48 at SV. The 10 ya is 211 and the 15 ya is 171. There were no Eared Grebes found this year, not surprising since the last six years have produced only seven total. The nine previous years averaged 21, and much of both the rise and the subsequent fall can be explained by habitat changes in their favored location on the PR count. The Wood Stork total of 664 is a new record, easily besting the 547 on the 110th count. The 10 ya is only 386 for this species. GC had the highest total with 274, and their breeding hotspot at HN held 170. Northern Gannets also showed well with 829, the 3rd highest total ever (10 ya is 451). SI had 331, and Cumberland Island (CI) had 229. American White Pelican is another species that has been recently increasing in GA, and this year’s 514 was also a record count. The old record was 394 on the 107th count, and the 10 ya is 275. GC had the high count with 214, SC had 129, and SV had 92 (they were seen on all 6 coastal CBCs, for the first time ever).

The Great Blue Heron total of 597 was the lowest in 14 years (10 ya is 700). On the other side of the coin many other waders had huge counts, starting with the record total of 1744 Great Egrets (the old record was 1466 last year, and the 10 ya is 1225). HN had 476 and SV had 465. Snowy Egrets also set a new record with a mind-boggling count of 6209, compared to the old record of 2896 on the 113th count. Clearly increasing, the 10 ya is 2255 and the 15 ya is 1925. Steve Calver’s counts at SV and HN led the way again, with 2806 and 2070 respectively. Yet another record high wader count was the 1011 Little Blue Herons (old record 689 on 110th count), more than doubling the 10 ya of 435. HN had by far the highest count with 714. Still another record wader count was 1859 Tricolored Herons, almost doubling the previous record of 986 on the 110th count (10 ya is 785). HN had 1037, and CI had 583. Reddish Egret also had a record count with five, and SI had four of those. Not even annual, the 10 ya is 0.9. Yellow-crowned Night-Herons were also found in good numbers, and the total of 82 was the 2nd highest ever (record is 109 on 110th count). Of the total, 69 were at GC, and the 10 ya is 51. Glossy Ibis also set a new record with 247 (old record 170 last year). Most were at SV with a total of 216. This species’ increase can be seen in the 10 ya of 84, and the 15 ya of 64. Last but not least is the new record of 123 Roseate Spoonbills, destroying the old record of 25 from the 107th count. GC had 59, and HN had 48… not bad for a species that has only been wintering in GA for 10 years and only bred here last year for the first time.

The Turkey Vulture total of 4027 was the 3rd highest ever, below only 4196 on the 112th and 4097 on the 109th counts. The 10 ya is 3527. Osprey also showed up well with 70, the 2nd highest count ever (record is 72 on 114th, and 10 ya is 58). The larger counts were on the coast of course, but this species was also found on five inland counts (none above the Fall Line). Both expected Accipiters did well, with the count of 65 Sharp-shins being 3rd highest (71 on 104th and 66 on 106th) and the count of 126 Cooper’s setting a new record (old record 115 on 114th). The 10 ya for Cooper’s is 96. Once again we have a new record for Bald Eagle with 161 (old record was 149 on 114th), and once again there were some really high totals on several coastal counts. As has been mentioned the last couple years, 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. The Red-shouldered Hawk count of 428 was the 2nd highest ever, with a 10 ya of 341. The record is 471 from last year. The Virginia Rail count of 66 was also a new record, beating the old record of 44 from last year. SV had an amazing 50. The 10 ya and 15 ya are both 30. Once again the American Coot total of 5772 seems dismal, part of a run of three very low years: 3 ya 5847, 10 ya of 11982, and 15 ya of 9825. Part of this is a struggle to get enough coverage on the Bainbridge count (BL), which includes Lake Seminole: probably this species’ largest concentration in the state. FC led the way with 1801, and BL came in with 1119 (formerly this count averaged about 3-4000 per year). It was a good migration period for Sandhill Cranes, and 4565 of them were tallied on CBCs as they transited GA. This is the 2nd highest count ever, second only to 6243 from the 106th count, and CL led with a whopping 3179. Next best was Atlanta (AL) with 1040.

Wilson’s Plovers lingered to the tune of 43 birds found, 30 at SC. This is the 3rd highest count ever, and the 10 ya is 26. Semipalmated Plovers were also present in large numbers, with a 2nd highest total of 9390 (record is still 9607 from last year). The 10 ya is 5590, and the 15 ya is 4402. CI had 3467 and SI had 2582. The 63 Piping Plovers was the 2nd highest total in 40 years, against a 10 ya of 41. SC edged CI with 24 and 22 respectively. Another new record was the 68 Spotted Sandpipers, besting 61 from the 99th count. The 10 ya is 49, and top count was 17 at CI. Once again there was a high count of Lesser Yellowlegs, and once again most were at SV (347). The state total was 376, 3rd highest ever, compared to the 10 ya of 204. The 164 Marbled Godwits was the 4th highest ever, with 128 at SC. The 10 ya is 112. Red Knot numbers in the south in winter are highly variable, mostly a result of prey density fluctuations, and this year was near mean with 187. Several really large years have raised the 10 ya to 457, counts like 2711 on the 112th count and 2687 on the 105th count. CI had the highest count with 101. Reflecting the good habitat at SV, the state total of 46 Stilt Sandpipers was the highest in 16 years, against a 10 ya of 16. As usual all were at SV. The record Wilson’s Snipe total of 672 is mind-boggling, especially considering 505 were at CL!! Including all the years when this species was lumped with Common Snipe here, this more than doubles the old record of 332 (108th count). There is a total in the historical records of 1009 on the 42nd CBC in GA, but in a year of gas rationing with few counts held, and previous and following year totals of 56 and 26, this seems to be an obvious error. The 10 ya is 274. The related American Woodcock also had a banner year with a record total of 74 (old record 70 way back on the 76th count). CL alone had 52, and the 10 ya is 46. Bonaparte’s Gull had the lowest count in 12 years with 150, compared to the 10 ya of 341. The 2nd ever GA CBC Black-headed Gull was on the CI count, same place as the 1st record last year (that’s a 2 ya of 1). Both Ring-billed and Herring gulls were observed in low numbers: 5035 Ring-billed, lowest in 15 years, 10 ya 9338; and 226 Herring, 4th low count in a row, 10 ya 710. The always fluctuating Black Skimmer was in GA at above average numbers, this year was 1659 but the 10 ya is 1135.

The enigmatic Eurasian Collared-Dove is also all over the map, this year’s total of 308 was the lowest in 14 years; the 10 ya is 449. Common Ground-Doves are also pretty variable from year to year, this year’s 42 is the 2nd low year in a row and is the lowest in 15 years. The 10 ya is 74. After seven straight years of one or more, there were no Whip-poor-wills found in GA this year. The four Ruby-throated Hummingbirds tied the high count, with two at SV, one at GC, and one at PR. Two of the “almost expected” Black-chinned Hummingbird were found, one each in Macon (MA) and SV. Georgia’s 3rd CBC Calliope Hummingbird was coming to a feeder on the AL count. Including the two Rufous Hummingbirds, that’s four species of hummingbird for GA this year. Several woodpecker species also had high counts this year. The Red-headed total of 456 is a new record, topping the 395 two years ago (10 ya is 292). The Downy total of 920 is the 4th highest ever, all in the last four years (10 ya is 854). The total of 112 Hairy Woodpeckers is the 2nd highest, below the record of 126 last year (10 ya 90). The new metro Atlanta counts have bolstered the totals of all three species. Conversely, the 40 Red-cockaded Woodpeckers counted is the lowest total in six years, and right on the 10 ya of 40. Pileated Woodpecker numbers were also low, with 407 counted. That’s the lowest in eight years, and well below the 10 ya of 480. The American Kestrel total of 235 was the 6th highest ever, and just above the 10 ya of 219.

Eastern Phoebe set a new record with 1355, just barely topping the last two year totals of 1326 and 1342. The 10 ya is 1127. Western Kingbird also set a new record with 10, smoking the 10 ya of three. SV had eight of them. Fish Crow CBC numbers also fluctuate greatly, but I have not yet found any pattern. They clearly took a hit from West Nile virus a few years ago, and perhaps fall movements of large numbers into or out of CBC circles may play a part as well. This year 1780 were counted, somewhat below the 10 ya of 2167. SV accounted for 1290 of them. Horned Lark numbers are never high here, the 10 ya is 20. However this year’s six and last year’s three stand out as really low. Lake Oconee (LO) had five and CL had one. The two resident nuthatch species had new record counts, both topping records set last year: White-breasted was 846 (old record 797, 10 ya 493) and Brown-headed was 1580 (old record was 1573 and 10 ya 1313). These are also improved by the new counts. The 155 Winter Wrens are the 3rd highest count (10 ya of 123), as was the 2909 Carolina Wrens (all in the last 3 years, 10 ya 2429). Blue-gray Gnatcatcher set a new record with 146, topping the 144 on the 106th count. The 10 ya is 86. A whopping 43 were counted at SV, and other notable totals included 12 at Augusta (AU) and five at RO. The Golden-crowned Kinglet is considered a semi-irruptive species as numbers vary greatly year to year, but the last three seasons have all been strong: 1237, 1224, and 1212 this year. This is surely due to the new Atlanta area counts, and is trending the 10 ya of 981 ever upward. Also benefitting from those counts, Eastern Bluebird once again set a new record with 3615, besting the 3528 on the 112th count. The 10 ya is 3108. The two large thrushes did not do as well: the Hermit Thrush total of 514 was the lowest in seven years (10 ya 575), and the American Robin total of 8356 was the lowest in 14 years, well below the 10 ya of 13,822. The Brown Thrasher total of 437 was the third high count in a row and the 3rd highest ever (behind the two previous years). However, the Northern Mockingbird total of 1681 was below the 10 ya of 1702, even though it should also have benefitted from the Atlanta counts. No one is complaining, but the European Starling total of 8702 was the lowest in 8 years (10 ya 14,602). The American Pipit total of 761 was the lowest in 12 years, and barely more than half the 10 ya of 1389. Lapland Longspurs have been found in GA in six of the last nine years, after a 40-year absence from our CBCs; and one was found this year at CL. Annual for just the last 15 years, the only Northern Waterthrush this year was a CW from SV. Northern Parulas have also been more frequent in recent times, with one or more in 12 of the last 17 years. SC had one, and MA the other for the 2nd Fall Line CBC record. Palm Warblers were scarce, this year’s total of 359 is the lowest in 15 years (10 ya is 597). The 56 Yellow-throated Warblers seen is a new record, topping last year’s 49 (10 ya is 37). The now expected Prairie Warbler was found on three counts: GC, and two fairly surprising finds at the well upstate CL and FC counts. The lone Wilson’s Warbler found was at MA. Both Nelson’s and Saltmarsh Sparrows were well below their 10 ya: 18 vs 43 for Nelson’s, and 24 vs 36 for Saltmarsh. Seaside was also low with 71, the lowest in six years and way below the 10 ya of 263. White-crowned and White-throated sparrows were both the lowest totals in seven years: 98 White-crowned compared to 10 ya of 139, and 2733 White-throated compared to 10 ya of 3452. CL did have a good count of 43 White-crowned. The 1170 Swamp Sparrows was the lowest in five years and the 10 ya is 1424. Prior to this year Northern Cardinal had two huge counts with 5872 and 5923, so it’s puzzling that this year’s total was 4808, back near the 10 ya of 4673. The 5th GA CBC record of Indigo Bunting was at CL, and the four Painted Buntings found equals the previous high count. At 1412 the Eastern Meadowlark had its lowest total in 15 years, the 15 ya is 1658. The total of 944 Rusty Blackbirds was well below the 10 ya of 1223 and the 15 ya of 1113, but two good counts were 305 at Albany (AB) and 296 at MA. The Brewer’s Blackbird total of 158 is the highest in eight years, and more than double the 10 ya of 74. Good totals were 100 at MA and 58 at Dublin (DU), also the only totals. The Boat-tailed Grackle totals also fluctuate quite a bit, this year’s total of 1698 was well below the 10 ya of 2639. Unfortunately, the 5604 Brown-headed Cowbirds counted is the highest in seven years, and well above the 10 ya of 3502. The Baltimore Oriole total of 34 was the 3rd highest ever, behind only 41 on the 113th and 36 on the 111st counts (10 ya is 25). The best counts were 19 at SV and 10 at DU.

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