Like last season there were 27 counts conducted in South Carolina during the 2017-18 Christmas Bird Count period. Seventy-four percent of counts did some owling while 44% had feeder watchers. Participant levels varied widely: Hilton Head had an amazing 213 participants and 79 feeder watchers and Sun City-Okatie had 211 participants; The Lowcountry Count had 84 participants. Four counts had 30-42 participants; six had 20+, seven had participant numbers in the teens and six had less than ten counters. A critical issue for the Savannah River site is finding enough participants with the proper clearances to replace individuals who have retired. Like Hurricane Matthew the year before, Hurricane Irma, although downgraded to a Tropical Storm when it hit South Carolina 11 September, caused widespread flooding and damage especially to rice field dikes. At Bear Island W.M.A., the 200-acre field's dikes were breached resulting in salt water intursion and the death of most vegetation that resulted in a total lack of birds on this field during the ACE Basin CBC (fide W. D. Chamberlain ).
Coastal freezing rain on 29 December kept some participants including myself from participating in a count and other participants were delayed for hours from getting to their territories, thus reducing the numbers and species on effected counts. Even more disastrous was the heavy coastal snow storm on 3 January, where again some participants including myself were prevented from participating in various counts. Other counts like the Sea Island Count were posponed to a later date and even then participant ability to travel was greatly impaired.
This count did well anyway mainly because of increased participation in feeder watches. Irruptive species were almost nonexist this season: Purple Finch and Pine Siskin were noted on 15% of counts and Red-breasted Nuthatch on only 7%. Besides the usual declining species like Northern Bobwhite and Loggerhead Shrike, there seems to be decreasing numbers for Sharp-shinned Hawk, Eurasian Collared-Dove (predation by Cooper's Hawk? ), Brown Thrasher, and House Sparrow. Also Dark-eyed Junco seemed scarce this winter. Meanwhile Black-bellied Whistling-Duck continues to expand in the coastal region being found on four counts this season. McClellanville had the highest coastal count with 169 species. The highest Coastal Plains-Sandhills count was Santee N.W.R. with 133, while the top Piedmont-Mountain Count was Clemson with a remarkable 102 species. This is the first Piedmont-Mountain region with a count over 100 speceis.
This year there were nine coastal counts. The ACE Basin (152) CBC had a remarkable Great Kiskadee which was probablly the bird last seen during spring 2017! A total of 14 Red-cockaded Woodpeckers demonstrated the success of the recent re-introduction program. Eighteen Roseate Spoonbills was noteworthy as were 12 Northern Bobwhites. There were seven new lows including only one Common Ground Dove, and there was no Loggerhead Shrike tallied. Charleston's (133) results were influenced by cold poor weather, still water was frozen and none of the five boat parties were able to get out of their boats. This resulted in low numbers (15 new lows) and in general waterfowl numbers were low. There were two new highs: Snow Goose (25) and Orange-crowned Warbler (15). New for Hilton Head Island (138) was Black-bellied Whistling-Duck. Notable finds were: two flocks of Sandhill Cranes, a non-countable exotic Black Swan, and a returning male Summer Tanager. A count of 61 Bald Eagles was encouraging. In general waterfowl numbers were low and there were 12 new lows. Litchfield-Pawleys Island (158) experienced freezing rain in the morning preventing some territories from being covered and delayed coverage of others resulting in lower species and individual counts. A count week Iceland Gull was new as was a well described American Redstart. There were six new highs including Snow Goose and 15 new lows including Wood Stork, American Oystercatcher, and Short-billed Dowitcher. New for the Lowcountry (119) CBC was a female Western Tanager.
There were 17 new highs including Wood Stork and Northern Harrier, and 17 new lows including Sharp-shinned, Cooper's and Red-shouldered hawks, Northern Gannet, and Eurasian Collared-Dove. Black-bellied Whistling-Duck was new for the McClellanville (169) count. Encouraging were high counts for Wood Stork and Roseate Spoonbill and two other species, but discouraging were the 17 new lows. Aaron Given related that a rare winter storm on 3 January brought snow and ice to Charleston practically shutting down the area for three days; the 7th annual Sea Island CBC scheduled for 4 January was postponed one day; but road conditions did not improve and most roads were still covered with ice causing dangerous driving conditions. There were only 16 field partipants in nine parties, but there was an increase in feeder watchers to 16. Considering the adverse conditions, Sea Island did well with 144 species. Notable was a wintering Western Kingbird which was new for the count. Other new species included Least Bittern and American Black Duck. Also notable was an “Ipswich” race Savannah Sparrow. Sun City-Okatie (106) CBC species count was 21 below last year. A total of 37 Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks was notable. Sun City also had new highs for Mallard and Ruddy Turnstone but 12 new lows. Winyah Bay (165) had a unique late Bobolink. There were 27 new highs including Black-bellied Whistling-Duck, Roseate Spoonbill, and Loggerhead Shrike (3). Also notable were Northern Bobwhite and Short-eared Owl. There were 16 new lows.
Ten counts were held in the Coastal Plains and Sand Hills region. It got windier as the day progressed on the Aiken (84) count probably supressing numbers and species. There were 10 new lows and one new high, Black-and-white Warbler. A well described Yellow-throated Warbler was new for the count. Four of the re-introduced Red-cockaded Woodpeckers were found. Remarkable were the 13 Loggerhead Shrikes, an encouraging trend for this declining species. The Carolina Sandhills N.W.R. (79) CBC was one of the few counts with Red-breasted Nuthatch and Purple Finch, also three Northern Bobwhite. Blue-winged Teal occurred for the 2nd year. There were seven new lows and eight new highs. Both Sharp-shinned and Cooper's hawks were missing, Columbia (78) had a high count of Wild Turkey and seven new lows including Bald Eagle, Sharp-shinned, and Cooper's hawks. Sharp-shinned Hawk and Orange-crowned Warbler were new lows for the Congaree Swamp (96) CBC, they also had seven record highs including a remarkable 48 Barred Owls and 62 Winter Wrens. The 9th Four Holes Swamp Count had a record 106 species with four new ones: Canvasback, Spotted Sandpiper, Virginia Rail, and Lincoln Sparrow. There were 15 new highs including: 193 Northern Flickers, 166 Carolina Wrens, 19 Brown Thrashers, and 119 Eastern Towhees. There were nine new lows including: Wild Turkey (1), American Crow, and Eastern Meadowlark, and there were no Eastern Screech-Owls or House Sparrow found on this count. Lower Saluda (82) experienced fog in the afternoon. Ruddy Duck, Pied-billed Grebe, Ring-billed Gull, White-eyed Vireo (3), and White-breasted Nuthatch had record highs, while there were 10 new lows incuding Cooper's Hawk and the declining American Kestrel. Pee Dee (90) had nine new highs including six Bald Eagles and a remarkable 20 Baltimore Orioles. There were 10 new lows inluding the declining Northern Bobwhite and Sharp-shinned Hawk. Training activities at the Poinsett Bombing Range prevented count participants from counting blackbirds leaving the roost in the morning which inpacted count numbers of the Pinewood (85) CBC. Likewise the heavy snow in Charleston prevented an experienced observer from participating in the count. This resulted in 23 new lows, for example Hooded Mergansers went from 1230 to four individuals.
One Northern Bobwhite was a new low but at least the species was present. Snow Goose and Sora were new. There were four Purple Finches. For a 2nd time, there were two Common Ground-Doves which is encouraging for the scarce species. Santee N.W.R. (133) had 19 new lows including nine Loggerhead Shrikes and one Pine Siskin. Thee were eight new highs with 70 Sandhill Cranes being the most remarkable. Also of interest were 11 American Kestrels, seven Northern Bobwhite, and a Yellow-brested Chat. The Savannah River Site (105) had a high count of 803 European Starlings; new were a well described Surf Scoter and American White Pelican. A Golden Eagle was a benefit of the ongoing camera and baiting program. Sandhill Crane was notable.
There were eight Piedmont and Mountain counts. Clemson (106) had six record highs including a remarkable 73 Eastern Phoebes and 20 Pileated Woodpeckers. Notable was a Red-throated Loon. In its 6th year, Keowee (80) CBC had low participation because the count day was one on which most people could not attend and thus bird numbers were low. There were two new species: American Wigeon and Canvasback. Seven new highs included: three Common Ravens, two Vesper Sparrows, and 192 Mallards. Low but present was Pine Siskin (3). True to tradition the Lake Wateree (89) count had low temperatures (7-36 F). Still water was frozen and moving water was partially frozen. Ducks were the theme of the count. New were Canvasback, Redhead, and Long-tailed Duck; high were Bufflehead and both Hooded and Red-breasted mergansers; but low were Wood Duck, Green-winged Teal, and Ring-necked Ducks. Lake Wateeree had four Purple Finches and one Pine Siskin. Long Cane (65) also experienced cold weather (19-34 F) with partially frozen water. New were three Greater Scaup; high were Winter Wren, Savannah Sparrow, and Vesper Sparrow (2) for only the 2nd time. There were seven new lows. Notable were three Northern Bobwhite. North Greenville (84) had eight new highs including a remarkable 419 Eastern Bluebirds.
Others were Canada Goose (409), Redhead (23), Bufflehead, Ruddy Duck, Black Vulture, Killdeer, and Rock Pigeon. Among the 11 new lows were the declining Sharp-shinned Hawk, American Kestrel, and Field Sparrow. Rocky River (69) was one of the few counts with Red-breasted Nuthatch (2). Hooded Mergansers and Ring-billed Gulls reached new highs. Along with the declining Loggerhead Shrike, there were six other new lows: Cooper's Hawk, Bonaparte's Gull, Hairy Woodpecker, Blue-headed Vireo, Brown-headed Cowbird (yea!), and American Goldfinch. Spartenburg (82) had a late Kentucky Warbler seen by an experienced observer. Lows included a count week Greater White-fronted Goose, Ring-billed Gull, and Palm Warbler. Highs were Bufflehead, Double-crested Cormorant (2), Killdeer, and Northern Flicker. A male Painted Bunting returned for a 3rd year, There were three Purple Finches and three Pine Siskins. The York-Rock Hill (60) count had an increase in participants (12). There were five new highs including 1200 Bonaparte's Gulls, seven Pileated Woodpeckers, and 560 Red-winged Blackbirds. Three lows were Hooded Merganser, Common Loon and only a single House Sparrow, a species in decline.