This year Georgia had 29 counts, with a new CBC for Little St. Simons Island (GALS). The state total of 216 species was about average. The last ten years have averaged 217. As always our birders again put forth great effort, with participants logging 6785 miles total counting all modes of transportation. Weather was good for most counts, but six counts reported light rain for part or much of the day. Only Bainbridge-Lake Seminole (BL) had rain in both morning and afternoon.
I will again make reference to the last few years of many species for context or trend information, using three averages: the last 5-year rolling average, the last 10-year, and the last 15-year, in that order. This will be listed as xx/xx/xx, so most recent to most distant, allowing readers to follow which species are increasing or decreasing over the long haul. This will allow readers some perspective with which to judge new high or low totals since much older count results are based on many fewer counts in the state. I will still list high and low counts for the year, but looking at longer-term averages often gives a more accurate perspective. For example, American Wigeon numbers are slowly decreasing, and the averages look like this: 219/240/288. The last five years averaged 219, the last 10 years averaged 240, and the last 15 averaged 288, clearly indicating a consistent trend toward lower counts. I will list these as RAs for Rolling Averages. In comparing counts, please note that this year’s count was the 118th CBC, run in December 2017 and January 2018. 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.
The fall of 2017 was again warmer than historical temperatures, resulting in two effects we have seen before. First, semi-hardy species which can withstand slightly cool temperatures will winter further north than they normally would without real cold temperatures to chase them south. Secondly, hardier more northerly species like gulls and some waterfowl will not get pushed this far south at all and will simply winter farther north. These “abnormally” warm falls are becoming more normal as the temperatures slowly but consistently climb from year to year, which why we are seeing more and more species lingering later and in larger numbers.
Down from last year’s super high count of Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks, four were seen on the Savannah (SV) count, for the 8th GA CBC record. Georgia reported 20 Snow Geese on four counts, the highest total in 14 years. The Rolling Averages (RAs) are 11/10/15. A single count week Ross’s Goose at Carter’s Lake (CL) was the state’s 7th CBC record. Canada Goose numbers have been getting higher for several years, and this year’s total of 6212 was the highest ever, with RAs of 5045/4540/4324. All the highest counts were in the last 10 years. A pair of Trumpeter Swans was found on the Piedmont-Rum Creek (PR), which will be a first for both Georgia CBCs and for the state period, if accepted by the GOS Checklist and Records Committee. The ID is not in question, just the provenance. As previously mentioned, American Wigeon numbers have been slowly diminishing for years, with RAs of 219/240/288. This year’s count of 93 was the lowest in 15 years. After last year’s high count, the American Black Duck total of five was the second lowest in 15 years, and the RAs are 24/18/18. Mottled Duck numbers are generally increasing, and this year’s 59 is the 4th highest GA total. RAs are 39/40/43. Blue-winged Teal numbers are highly variable year-to-year, and this year was again low with a state total of 539; at least that’s an improvement from last year’s 437. RAs are 853/699/753. Northern Shovelers were also lower than normal with 1439, the second-lowest total in seven years (RAs 1932/1860/1841). Again Green-winged Teal numbers went the other way, with the second-highest ever total of 4364. Compare that total to RAs of 2321/1917/2077.
Redheads continue doing well in GA the last nine counts, with the 3rd highest total of 187 (higher counts were 193 in 116 (116th count) and 188 in 111). The RAs are 146/119/89, which clearly shows the recent upticks. Once again they were found on many inland counts (11 counts total, we have 7 coastal counts now). SV had the highest count with 83 and Floyd County (FC) was second with 35. This year’s total of 3442 Ring-necked Ducks was the lowest in 16 years; the RAs are 7408/8235/8036. Greater Scaup finally showed up in decent numbers with 297, the highest count in seven years. The RAs are 82/139/200. Lesser Scaup numbers were also up with 1778, the highest in five years, but still below average overall (RAs 1138/2097/2616). All the scoters are variable annually, but White-winged Scoter had 22 for a new high (RAs 12/9/7), while Black Scoter was only 749 for a slight recent improvement but down from historical totals (RAs 678/1350/2346). The count of 1976 Red-breasted Mergansers was the 2nd highest ever, after 2941 in 116. RAs are 1657/1296/1106, showing recent increases in this species. In addition to the seven coastal counts, they were found on four inland counts; but the big numbers were all coastal (as one would expect): Sapelo Island (SI) had 871, Cumberland Island (CI) had 709, and St. Catherines Island (SC) had 309. Ruddy Duck was well below average with 813, RAs are 1666/1683/1809.
Northern Bobwhite numbers remain a concern, with the lowest total in four years being 34. RAs are 50/44/59, all well below historical totals. There have been no CBC sightings of Plain Chachalaca on SI for six years now. The first Eared Grebes in four years were the two at SV. The Wood Stork total of 590 was well above average; compare to RAs 454/411/351. The high counts were 136 at Little St. Simons (LS) with 136 and Harris Neck (HN) with 133. The Double-crested Cormorant total of 9487 was 2nd highest ever to 10,032 on 108; the RAs are 6802/6679/6844. The high count was SC with 2828; that compiler makes a valiant effort to accurately count flocks flying up and down the coast all day. The highest inland count was 1075 at Augusta (AU). The total of 205 Anhingas is about average, but the total of 65 from AU is noteworthy and the highest Fall Line total to date. American White Pelican continues to increase in GA with a total of 896, 2nd only to last year’s 993, and the 7th year in a row every coastal count reported this species (now 7 counts). The highest total was 236 at SI; the RAs are 595/406/319. Great Blue Herons again rebounded with 743, the 5th highest count, slightly above the recent averages (RAs 711/709/694). Several waders had good counts: Great Egret 2nd highest ever with 1700 (RAs 1581/1313/1210); Little Blue Heron also 2nd highest with 863 (RAs 606/530/454); Green Heron 4th highest count with 19, all in the last five years (RAs 18/12/10); Black-crowned Night-Heron with the highest ever 753 (RAs 403/363/342); and Yellow-crowned Night-Heron 2nd highest with 104 (RAs 80/64/50). The only wader with a really down count was Glossy Ibis, one of the fussiest waders in terms of preferred habitat, and the lowest count in 11 years with 13 (RAs 118/84/65). Notable was the solo inland at AU. The increasing numbers of wintering Roseate Spoonbills came in with 22, 3rd highest ever (RAs 35/21/16). A super high count of 123 in 116 has made all the RAs skew high.
The Bald Eagle count was again high at 182, this time 2nd highest to last year’s 194. RAs are 162/135/114, nicely illustrating the meteoric rise of this ESA success story. Only 16 Virginia Rails were counted, the lowest total in seven years (RAs 42/28/30). The 7th CBC Purple Gallinule was at BL, but the numbers of Common Gallinules have been falling. This year’s total of 291 was the lowest in seven years, compare to RAs 342/387/373. After a huge year last year (14,494) American Coot numbers completely fell back to the lowest count in 14 years with 3985; at least partly due to a struggle to get enough coverage on the Bainbridge count (BL), which includes Lake Seminole. State RAs are 7204/10014/10381. It was another good migration period for Sandhill Cranes, with a total of 3236. This is the 5th highest count on record but not much above the recent RAs: 2970/2290/2330. A Snowy Plover on CI was the state’s 2nd CBC record. The 47 Wilson’s Plovers found was the 2nd highest total behind 51 in 108, and the best count came from LS with 24. RAs for this semi-hardy species are 31/23/25. The total of 3412 Semipalmated Plovers was the lowest in eight years, and only about half the recent RAs of 6536/5847/4837. Conversely the total of 63 Piping Plovers was the 5th highest, with RAs of 58/46/49. The best totals were 31 at SC and 25 at CI. A count week Long-billed Curlew at LS was only the 3rd record in the last 12 CBCs. Wintering Red Knot numbers fluctuate greatly with the numbers of their prey available, but this year’s total of 16 was the lowest in 32 years, and way below all the RAs of 134/421/560. The 43 Stilt Sandpipers noted at SV comprise the 3rd highest total, RAs are 27/19/18. This is about the only CBC that gets them, and just about all of them have been in the last 20 years. The record count of Least Sandpipers is 2635 from the 105th count, and was nearly equaled by the 2550 found this year (RAs 1148/1026/1062). The highest count was SV with 1762, but AU had a very good inland total of 623. Following three poor years and one decent one, this year’s total of 1091 Western Sandpipers was the lowest in 26 years, and way below the RAs of 2536/2893/3067. Long-billed Dowitcher numbers were way up, with the total of 875 more than doubling the previous record of 404 in 116. Like Stilt Sandpipers, virtually all of this species are seen on the SV count, including this year. This year’s count of 80 American Woodcock was another new record high, topping the 74 in 116. RAs are 52/49/45. An astonishing 55 were on the CL count.
All of the normal gull species were found in about average to slightly below average numbers, with the exception of Bonaparte’s Gull which again had a very low total of 82, the lowest in 18 years. RAs are 161/261/308, and this year was about half or less of all of those. Lake Oconee (LO) had 43 of them and was by far the high count. The Royal Tern total of 664 was the 2nd highest in 18 years, with RAs of 511/496/429. Large doves had a very poor year: the Eurasian Collared-Dove total of 240 was the lowest in 16 years (RAs 330/423/436), and the Mourning Dove total of 3835 was also the lowest in 16 years (RAs 4804/4976/4909). Conversely, the Common Ground-Dove count of 102 was the highest in 14 years (RAs 70/79/72). Two of Georgia’s Picoides woodpeckers had good years: Downy set a new record with 1038 (RAs 970/897/831) and Hairy had the 2nd highest ever with 116 (RAs 109/98/89).
The Merlin count of 19 was the 2nd highest ever (27 in 108), but just above the RAs of 16/14/15. Fewer Peregrine Falcons winter in GA, and the seven seen this year tied the 2nd highest number. The record was nine in 114, and the RAs are 6/4/4. Eastern Phoebe numbers continue to increase, and this year’s 1619 was another new record by almost 300 (previous record was 1342 in 114). The increase can also be seen in the RAs of 1359/1200/1101. A new record high count was also made in Say’s Phoebe… with two. These are the 4th and 5th CBC records for GA, and were both found on the Lake Blackshear (LB) count. An Ash-throated Flycatcher found on the SV count was the state’s 7th CBC record. Loggerhead Shrikes were very hard to find, and the total of 101 was the lowest in 17 years (RAs 131/136/137).
Blue-headed Vireos were found in record numbers with a new high count of 228, topping the 195 in 106. RAs for this species are 173/146/154. All our corvids fared poorly this year: 2638 Blue Jays was the lowest in seven years (RAs 3124/2858/2782); 4312 American Crows was the lowest in 18 years (RAs 6598/7023/6554); and 315 Fish crows was the lowest in 32 years (RAs 1302/1542/2842). I am at a loss to explain these dreadful counts.
Northern Rough-winged Swallows are clearly wintering in greater numbers in Georgia, and this year there were 12 total on three different counts, which collectively constitute the 9th 10th and 11th CBC records. Again this year Roswell (RO) led the way with eight, Macon (MA) had three, and LO had one. These are all at or above the Fall Line! This is also a new high count. The Tufted Titmouse total of 2606 was the 2nd highest ever (RAs 2520/2397/2252). Both House Wrens and Winter Wrens set new records: 291 House (RAs 209/194/205) and 245 Winter (RAs 189/128/85). SV alone had 60 House Wrens, but the Winter Wrens were all over the state, seen on 24 of 29 counts. Another semi-hardy species, the Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, also set a new record with 161 (old record was 146 in 116). The majority were near the coast, and the top counts were SV with 48, CI with 26, and HN with 23. RAs are 116/99/95. The Ruby-crowned Kinglet total of 3411 was the 3rd highest ever, with RAs of 2965/2714/2788. The lowest total of American Robins in 16 years was 7074, measure against the RAs of 14138/14022/14460… about half of typical counts. After a few good years, the total of 3377 Cedar Waxwings was the lowest in 14 years, and less than half the RAs of 8228/7771/7007.
The count of 109 Orange-crowned Warblers was the 2nd highest ever, RAs 97/83/76. SV accounted for 28 and the highest inland count was Intown Atlanta (IA) with 14. Also at IA was Georgia’s 6th CBC Nashville Warbler. The count of 296 Common Yellowthroats was a new high, besting the 260 in 106. RAs are 198/180/187, and the highest total was 88 at Glynn County (GC). Honorable mention goes to Albany (AB) for a good inland count of 43. Yellow-throated Warbler counts have been very high the last three years, and this year’s 64 set another new record. RAs are 51/43/40. Not long ago any Prairie Warbler on any count was a big deal, but now they are expected somewhere. This year there were four, on three counts (CI and HN each had one, and SV had two). The only Wilson’s Warbler was on the IA count.
While still a fairly small number, the seven Bachman’s Sparrows counted were the 3rd highest count (RAs 6/4/4). For the first time in 20 years, no Henslow’s Sparrows were found (to be fair it’s usually just a couple). All of the salt marsh sparrow numbers were low, and all about half their recent RAs: 28 Nelson’s (RAs 60/54/44); 22 Saltmarsh (RAs 45/44/38); and 102 Seaside (RAs 254/323/257). Field Sparrow had a bad year also, with 647 being the lowest in 18 years (RAs 853/905/992). Almost as bad was Fox Sparrow with 87, lowest in nine years, and RAs of 129/121/118. Dark-eyed Juncos also failed to come south in very good numbers, this year’s total of 765 was the lowest in 62 years, following an almost as bad 804 last year. RAs are 1359/1347/1506. Only 57 White-crowned Sparrows were found, lowest in 12 years, with RAs of 131/142/117. Also low was the White-throated Sparrow count, lowest in 18 years with 2403. The RAs here are 3105/3038/3182. The other very low sparrow was the Savannah, with a count of 1358, lowest in 14 years. These RAs are 1872/2049/2061. Georgia’s 6th CBC Blue Grosbeak was at CL. Painted Buntings were found for the 9th year in a row, the 16th overall CBC records, with a total of five (also a new high count). All were along the coast, with four at SV and one at GC. The 1271 Eastern Meadowlarks counted was the lowest total in 17 years, with RAs of 1477/1633/1663. Rusty Blackbird numbers have been decent recently, with RAs of 1078/1181/1097, so this year’s 674 was disappointing for this troubled species. For the 2nd year in a row there were almost no Brewer’s Blackbirds: three at Blue Ridge (BR) of all places, which tied last year for lowest in 32 years. The RAs aren’t bad, comparatively: 57/73/69. Finally, another low count: Common Grackles at 7771, well below the recent RAs of 25135/94023/79332. The 10 and 15 year RAs are very high due to a short-lived wetland habitat in the AU count, but even the 5-year average of 25,135 is triple this year’s low number.