The 117th CBC in Georgia

Georgia had 28 counts again this year, with a slightly lower than average state total of 214 accepted species (two count week only). The last ten years have averaged 217. Birders again put forth great effort, with participants logging 7853 miles total counting all modes of transportation. Weather was good for most counts, but ten counts reported light rain for part or much of the day. The only count that lost large portions of the day to heavy rain was Intown Atlanta (IA), which also had fog.

I 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 much fewer counts in the state. In comparing counts, please note that this year’s count was the 117th CBC, run in December 2016 and January 2017. Comparing numbers to older counts will refer to the count number, which coincidentally and luckily for us is the same as the year the counts finish. The first time a count is referenced I will spell it out, all subsequent uses will be just the two letter code, for example Savannah is SV.

A ridiculous total of 305 Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks was seen on the Savannah (SV) count, for only the 7th GA CBC record, but obliterating the previous record total of eight. That was the STATE record not the single count! Another record high total was the nine Ross’s Geese seen on four different counts on count day, plus one more count week. Only the 6th CBC record, the six counted at Lake Oconee (LO) easily beat the previous state high count of two. Canada Goose numbers have been high for several years, and this year’s total of 4698 was the 4th highest ever. All those high counts were in the last nine years. A single Tundra Swan at Callaway Gardens (CG) was the state’s 15th CBC record. The Wood Duck total of 399 was the lowest in 30 years (15 ya 818), and was the 4th low total in a row. Again Gadwall numbers were high, with a new record count of 1993; compare this to the 10 ya of 1135. The previous record was 1938 on the 112th count. Macon (MA) led the way with 1128. The American Black Duck total of 66 was the highest in 27 years, and the 15 ya is 21. Highest count this year was 52 at Carter’s Lake (CL), and this duck was seen on eight different counts. Blue-winged Teal numbers are highly variable year-to-year, this year was quite low with a state total of 437. The 15 ya is 773. Northern Shovelers were also lower than normal with 1347, the lowest total in seven years (the 15 ya is 1865). On the other hand, the total of 3827 Green-winged Teal was the highest in 12 years, the 15 ya is 2311. SV had the highest number with 2942. Redheads have really been doing well in GA the last eight counts. While this year’s 130 total wasn’t near record-setting, they were found on 11 different counts, which is 2nd highest. The 10 ya is 99, reflecting recent increases, and the 15 ya is 78. The highest counts were on the fall line, with 36 at Augusta (AU) and 34 at Piedmont-Rum Creek (PR). This year’s total of 4059 Ring-necked Ducks was the lowest in 14 years; the 15 ya is 8068 and the 10 ya is 8659. Greater Scaup numbers have been low the last five years, but this year’s nine is even below the 5 ya of 33 and is the lowest total in 23 years. The 10 ya is 154 and the 15 ya is 181. Lesser Scaup wasn’t much better with 540, the lowest total in 34 years. The 15 ya is 2694. All the scoters are variable annually, and two of the GA species had another low year: Surf Scoter was only four, and Black Scoter was only 323; both for the 2nd really low total in a row. The 15 ya for Black is 2332. Conversely, we had a record-tying high count of 20 White-winged Scoters, all on Sapelo island (SI). The 15 ya of this northern species is six. The count of 1422 Red-breasted Mergansers was the 2nd highest ever, after last year’s 2941. The 10 ya is 1263. In addition to the six coastal counts, they were found on four inland counts including a robust 116 at PR.  SI had the highest count overall with 1226. Ruddy Duck rebounded from last year’s low total with 2287, but was still only around average (10 ya is 2190).

As usual, the only Ruffed Grouse record was a single from Blue Ridge (BR). After a record year last year, the total of 18 Red-throated Loons was very low, the 15 ya is 54. Common Loon numbers are also variable, and this year’s total of 99 was below the 10 ya of 128 but still the highest in eight years. A couple of super high counts (699 in 102 and 629 in 109) have skewed the averages high, if you take out those two counts the rolling 15 ya is only 67. A Red-necked Grebe at Cumberland Island (CI) was the state’s 6th CBC record.

The Wood Stork total of 414 is very slightly above average, which is great, but a big drop-off from last year’s record of 664. Last year Glynn County (GC) had a whopping 274 but this year was back to near normal 86, so Harris Neck (HN) had the high count with 131. Another species with a large drop-off from last year’s strong count was Northern Gannet, which posted 223 this year (15 ya is 361). This species is highly variable in numbers in Georgia, both from year to year and also day to day based on prevailing winds. The total of 5487 Double-crested Cormorants was the 2nd lowest total in the last 10 years, and well below the 10 ya of 7034. Anhingas seem to be wintering farther north than they historically have, with 287 counted this year (2nd highest count to 354 on the 62nd count). That 62nd count total was the only one over 100 ever in GA until 1997, and on only six counts. Keep in mind that for that 62nd count there were only 12 counts in all of Georgia, and now there are 28! That is such a remarkable number that it looks kind of suspicious, but in the archives is 332 reported from OK, a likely place for a lot of Anhingas. Further solidifying this report is the fact that the compiler was none other than Eugene Cypert, the highly regarded former refuge manager for the Okefenokee N.W.R. … so it looks legitimate. Anhingas were seen on 14 counts this year, the highest ever, and two of the highest counts were up along the fall line, with 57 at AU and 41 at MA. The highest was at SV with 62. American White Pelican is another species that has been recently increasing in GA, and this year’s 993 was the 2nd record count in a row (514 last year), and it was found again on all six coastal counts also for the 2nd year in a row. The 10 ya for this increasing species is 335 and the 15 ya is 260. SV had the high count with 433, and CI had 268. Their first occurrence on a GA CBC was the 73rd count, and the first count over 10 was 28 on the 95th count. For some reason, all the large numbers are in the last 11 years. Brown Pelican numbers vary from year to year, but the recent long term averages are pretty stable: 10 ya is 1369 and 15 ya is 1394. So this year’s 993 is very low, and is the lowest in 25 years (549 in 91). Back on the 91st count there were only four coastal counts, unlike the six there are today in GA, so this is even lower in comparison. Ten American Bitterns were found, tying the 2nd highest count, and half of them were at SV. Great Blue Herons rebounded from last year poor number (597) with 752, slightly above the recent averages. This was true for most waders state-wide, with numbers up 10-20% over the last 10-15 year averages. Exceptions were: Snowy Egret 1620, well below the 10 ya of 2282; Little Blue Heron 708, well above the 10 ya of 412;, and White Ibis 1476, well below the 10 ya of 2184. The count of 23 Green Herons was a new record high, 11 of them were at Okefenokee NWR (OK). And Georgia finally got the first ever CBC White-faced Ibis at HN.

Osprey numbers have been climbing slowly but steadily for the last 20 or so years, and the 89 counted this year is a new record; additionally they were found on 13 counts, also a new record. To show the increase, here is the trend: 20 ya is 53, 15 ya is 59, and 10 ya is 63. The 5 ya is 67. A single Golden Eagle was Georgia’s 17th CBC record, but rather than being in southern GA as most of the previous records were this one was at Lake Oconee (LO). Yet again we have a new record for Bald Eagle with 194 (old record was 161 on 116th), and once again there were some really high totals on several coastal counts: SV had 39 and St. Catherines (SC) had 31. As I have mentioned the last few 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. Amazingly, this species was counted on 24 of the 28 CBCs in the state, another record (22 on 116th count). The first CBC total over 100 was 111 on the 110th count, and to illustrate this meteoric rise consider this: 20 ya is 85, 15 ya is 104, and 10 ya is 124. The state total of 132 Northern Harriers was the 2nd lowest in 16 years, but not too far from the 15 ya of 159. Red-shouldered Hawks numbers have been high the last several years, with the two highest counts both in the last two years, and another record was set this year with 482. This is almost surely a result of the two new urban counts, where this species often thrives. The last four counts have all been over 400, but the 10 ya is 359. Conversely, the Red-tailed Hawk total of 456 was the 2nd lowest in 17 years, and well below the 10 ya of 514. Clapper Rail and Sora numbers were both somewhat down with 381 Clappers (10 ya 458) and 31 Soras (10 ya 48). However, Virginia Rail numbers were somewhat higher with 39 (10 ya 30). SV had the most Virginias with 18. It’s very difficult to have confidence in trends among species like rails on counts like these where the totals are so dependent on observer effort. American Coot numbers completely rebounded from a run of the three most recent and very low years (3 ya 5847) with a state total of 14,494. Much of this is due to a struggle to get enough coverage on the Bainbridge count (BL), which includes Lake Seminole; probably this species’ largest concentration in the state. This year BL tallied 8445 coots, after the last three years of 1119 (116th count), 992 (115), and 556 (114). Other good counts this year were 2856 at Macon (MA) and 1309 at Floyd County (FC). It was another good migration period for Sandhill Cranes, and 5725 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 again scored the most with a very healthy 4118. Next best was Roswell (RO) with 1187. The 10 ya for this species is 2041, and the total is completely a function of which counts along their migration pathway are held on days with good weather for crane flights south.

 

This year’s 239 American Oystercatchers did not equal the last 5 ya of 260, but was over the 10 ya of 201. The two counts with the highest totals were GC with 118 and SC with 108. The 77 Piping Plovers was the highest total in 43 years, and 3rd highest overall (the highest are two amazing counts of 194 on the 74th count and 127 on the 73rd.) The 10 ya of 45. The two counts that usually get the highest numbers of these are CI and SC, and did so again with 45 and 23 respectively. The Killdeer total of 2910 was the 4th highest ever (10 ya 2661). The highest individual counts were Albany (AB) with 310, LO with 298, Dublin (DU) with 289, and LB with 283. For the 2nd year in a row a new record was set with Spotted Sandpipers, besting last year’s 68 with a whopping 104. The 10 ya is 56, and top count was 45 at HN. The state total of 421 Greater Yellowlegs was a new record (old record was 394 in 114). The high count was 164 at GC, and the 10 ya is 262. 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 174. Several really large years have raised the actual 10 ya to 463, specifically the 2711 on the 112th count. Dropping the 2711 gives a 10 ya of the other 10 years of 203, so 174 is close. CI had 84 and Sapelo Island (SI) had 80. The Sanderling total of 1814 was the 4th highest ever and highest in 14 years, the highest count was 866 at HN. The 10 ya is 1126. A record count of 25,724 Dunlin is way above the 10 ya of 17,681, which is already higher than the 15 ya of 14,537. SC alone had 16,274, almost equaling the 10 ya all by itself. There was also one at Dalton (DA), up in north GA. After three poor years in a row, the total of 3310 Western Sandpipers was back up above the 10 ya of 3168. SC had 1995 for the highest count. Short-billed Dowitcher numbers were down, with the total of 999 being the lowest in six years (10 ya is 1635). After last year’s record Wilson’s Snipe total of 672, this year’s 283 was back closer to the 10 ya of 277. Finally, after last year’s record of 74 American Woodcock, this year’s 25 was the lowest in nine years, and well below the 10 ya of 44. Just about all the gulls had very low totals this year. After a very low year last year (150), Bonaparte’s Gull had an even lower 118 this year. That’s the lowest count in 16 years, and well below the 10 ya of 329. Here are this year’s totals compared to the 10 ya for the three most common winter gulls in Georgia: Laughing 2126 (3406), Ring-billed 8032 (9464), and Herring 134 (678). That’s six low years in a row for Ring-billed and the lowest count of Herring Gulls in 47 years. This year was also only the 2nd time in 18 years that there were no Lesser Black-backed Gulls found. The 392 Royal Terns was the lowest total in six years, and is well below the 10 ya of 463. The always fluctuating Black Skimmer was in GA in force this year with 2329, and almost double the 10 ya of 1256.

 

A single White-winged Dove at AB was the state’s 12th CBC record. All three of the common owl species had lower totals this year, but hard to say if that’s an actual drop or observer effort related. The numbers are 91 Eastern Screech-Owls (10 ya 131), 52 Great Horned Owls (81), and 59 Barred Owls (70). The only Short-eared Owl was a single at SV, a species that is not found every year. The seven Ruby-throated Hummingbirds was a new high count, with one at GC, and an amazing six in the SV count circle. One “almost expected” Black-chinned Hummingbird was also at SV. There were three Rufous Hummingbirds, all upstate: one each at Athens (AH), Intown Atlanta (IA), and FC. After several higher than average years, most woodpeckers had about typical numbers. The total of 112 Hairy Woodpeckers tied the 2nd highest, below the record of 126 in 115 (10 ya 94). Red-cockaded Woodpeckers rebounded from last year’s poor total of 40 with 77, a new record high (old record 63 in 111); the 10 ya is 47. Totals were 60 at PR (a new record for a CBC at PR), 13 at OK, and four at the relatively new site at BL. Eighteen Merlins was the highest total in nine years, and above the 10 ya of 15.

 

This was a good year for White-eyed Vireos, with a total of 98, 2nd only to the 103 counted in 109. The 10 ya is 74. Fish Crow CBC numbers fluctuate greatly, but I have not yet found any trend or consistent pattern. As mentioned last year, numbers dropped significantly due to West Nile virus a few years ago, and I think local fall movements may play a part of their varying numbers. This year’s total was 669, way below both the 10 ya of 1673 and the 15 ya of 2860. There were eight Northern Rough-winged Swallows counted this year, collectively constituting the 8th GA CBC record. This is a new high, with four being seen both on the 94th and 113th counts. This year, six were at RO and two at IA. The total of 11,076 Tree Swallows is a new record by far, the previous record was 7989 on the 87th count. There is a really old historical record of exactly 10,000 Tree Swallows from the 42nd count, but I don’t see how that can be accurate since during the war that had few counts, and on the 42nd count there was only one count reporting Tree Swallows. The species was not even recorded every year then. Back to current day, the 10 ya is 4694. Red-breasted Nuthatch is a classic irruptive species, but Georgia often gets a few on the farthest northern (Blue Ridge or Ridge and Valley) counts. The straight 10 ya is 49, but if you remove the last two irruption years of 108 and 133, the 10 ya of non-irruption years is 13, so this year’s total of 38 was quite good for a non-irruption year. Even better, they were found on 12 counts. Three counts had nine each: Amicalola Falls (AF), Chattahoochee National Forest (CH), and SC. For a coastal count, SC always does comparatively well with this species, and I’m not sure why. White-breasted Nuthatch may be the poster bird for the effect of new counts. Of this year’s total of 671 White-breasted Nuthatches, 160 were from RO and 146 from IA. Without those two new counts, the total is only 365, well in line with historical averages. However, including them gets the total a little lower than the 4 ya of 777. Without those new counts from the last four years, the previous 10 ya is 341. The lesson is always try to figure out why there are drastic trends in historical data. There were 70 Brown Creepers this year, the highest count in six years, and well above the 10 ya of 55. RO had 15, and IA had 10. Only 155 House Wrens were counted, well below the 10 ya of 189. The 200 Winter Wrens are the 3rd highest count (217 in 106, and 202 in 115), and the 10 ya is 128. It was a good year for counting Marsh Wrens with a state total of 153 (record is 167 on 115th count). The 10 ya is 113, and SV had the highest count with 56. The Golden-crowned Kinglet is considered a semi-irruptive species as numbers vary greatly year to year, and this year’s 1555 was 2nd only to 1666 on the 91st count. The 10 ya is 1012, and the top counts were 211 in RO and 195 in IA. The Hermit Thrush total of 514 was the lowest in eight years (10 ya 543), but the American Robin total of 21,009 was the highest in 11 years. The 10 ya is 14,554, and the highest counts were 2977 in MA, 2651 in AH, and 2501 in AL. A total of 231 Gray Catbirds was found, 2nd highest ever (244 in 115), and much higher than the 10 ya of 187. Brown Thrasher counts were again high with 442, 3rd highest ever and part of a run of the four highest state counts in the last four years. After being ultra-rare previously, Northern Waterthrushes have been recorded in each of the last 16 years, and the five this year tied the previous high count of five in 107. All five were at SV, as usual. Orange-crowned Warbler counts totaled 106, 2nd highest ever (112 on 115th count). The 10 ya is 78, and SV had the high count with 31. The 10 ya of 167 Common Yellowthroats was easily topped by this year’s 205, and the highest counts were 30 at CI and 25 at SV. The highest inland count was 16 at DU. An American Redstart spotted at AU was the state’s 8th CBC record. The Pine Warbler total of 1160 was the 2nd lowest in 12 years, and well below both the 10 ya of 1520 and the 15 ya of 1468. The total of 8207 Yellow-rumped Warblers was well below the 10 ya of 11,193, and the lowest total in 29 years (7515 in 87). The 57 Yellow-throated Warblers seen is another new record, topping last year’s 56 (10 ya is 40). SC had by far the highest count with 25. Last year I called the Prairie Warbler “now expected,” and this year five were found, for the 2nd highest total (6 in 108). GC had three, PR had one, and FC had one.

 

Sparrow numbers were all across the board this year, with some highs and lots of lows. Non-saltmarsh Ammodramus sparrows are always hard to find but this year had the lowest totals in several years, and the only ones statewide were: one Grasshopper Sparrow at DU, one Henslow’s at SI, and one Le Conte’s count week at SV. Conversely, the saltmarsh Ammodramus all had record or near-record years (the same conditions, i.e. high tides, often produce high counts of all three species in the same year). Nelson’s Sparrow had 133, 2nd highest ever to 165 in 113; Saltmarsh Sparrow had a new record of 122, topping 94 in 113; and Seaside Sparrow had 733, 2nd highest to 1027 in 109. The three species’ 10 ya are 54, 46, and 331. Highest counts for each species were all at SC, which uses boats to survey the extensive marshes there: 94 Nelson’s, 99 Saltmarsh, and 355 Seaside. HN gets honorable mention for 320 Seasides. Both Chipping and Field sparrows were well below average, and both had their lowest counts in 12 years. The Chipping total was 6347 (10 ya 8923) and the Field total was 690 (10 ya 1054). The Fox Sparrow total was slightly below average, 101 compared to the 10 ya of 133, and the lowest in the four years even with the new Atlanta area counts. A paltry 804 was the total for Dark-eyed Junco, lowest in 61 years! The 10 ya is 1531, and the 20 ya is pretty stable at 1538, but lots of variability year to year, with extremes within that 20 year period of 804 (117, this year) and 2602 (108). However, in the 20 years before that, the numbers were much higher: the 10 ya from 87-96 is 2293, and the 10 ya from 77-86 is 3292. White-crowned and White-throated sparrows were both again low: 92 White-crowned compared to 10 ya of 144 (lowest in 9 years), and 2440 White-throated compared to 10 ya of 3212 (lowest in 17 years. CL again had a great count of White-crowned with 49, more than half the state total. Vesper Sparrows, on the other hand, had a good count of 155 (10 ya is 104), the highest in 11 years. Back to a low year, the total of 1415 Savannah Sparrows was the lowest in 12 years, and way below the 10 ya of 2276. Georgia’s 3rd CBC record of Summer Tanager was at GC. The four Painted Buntings found again equals the state high count. At 1423 the Eastern Meadowlark had its 2nd low total in a row, the 10 ya is 1705. The total of 606 Rusty Blackbirds was way below the 10 ya of 1194 and the 15 ya of 1134, and the lowest total in 13 years. At least this is still improving over the abysmal counts of this species in the early 2000s. The best count was 204 at IA. The Brewer’s Blackbird total of three is the lowest in 31 years, and way below the 10 ya of 74. The Baltimore Oriole total of 38 was the 2nd highest ever, behind only 41 on the 113th (10 ya is 28). Highest count, as usual, was 16 at SV. All of the Georgia CBC totals over 10 have been since the 108th count, but whether that is because they are wintering in higher numbers or we are learning how to find them is anybody’s guess. The irruptive Purple Finch had a very strong year with 260, well above the 10 ya of 139, and was found on 16 counts. Highest counts were RO with 53, and both IA and CL with 45. The only Red Crossbills, as usual, were at CH, a flock of eight. Another irruptive species is Pine Siskin, with a state total of 59 this year. That’s about average for a “non-irruption” year, and the highest totals were 20 in RO and 14 in AL (both counts with lots of feeders, which is where this species is often most likely to be found).

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