This year Georgia again had 29 counts, including the second year for Little St. Simons Island (GALS). The state total of 209 species was well below average, and the lowest state total since I have been editor (18 years). The last ten years have averaged 216. We did not miss many expected species, but we had very few rarities. As always our birders again put forth great effort, with participants logging 6657 miles total counting all modes of transportation. Weather was good for many counts, but five counts reported heavy rain for at least part of the day. Only Lake Blackshear (GALB) and Roswell (GARO) had heavy 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 two averages: the last 5-year rolling average, and the last 15-year average, always in that order. This will be listed as 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 older count results are based on 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 an example from last year, American Wigeon numbers are slowly decreasing, and the rolling averages look like this: 219/288. The last five years averaged 219, 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 119th CBC, run in December 2018 and January 2019. 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 GASV, or just SV.
The fall of 2018 was yet again warmer than historical average winter temperatures, resulting in two effects we have seen before, including last year. First, semi-hardy species which can withstand slightly cool temperatures will winter further north than they normally would without real cold 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.
Once again Carter’s Lake (GACL) with a single count week Ross’s Goose had the only one in Georgia, this was the state’s 8th CBC record. A pair of Trumpeter Swans was found last year on the Piedmont-Rum Creek count (GAPR), a first for both Georgia CBCs and the state. This year four were seen on the same lake in the PR count, presumably the same two plus two more. The GOS Checklist and Records Committee has not yet voted on these records. This year’s Wood Duck total of 229 was the lowest in 32 years, and follows a disturbing trend: the Rolling Averages (RAs) are 468 for five years and 755 for 15 years (468/755). Gadwall numbers were also down with a total of 658, the lowest count in 15 years, and the RAs are 1267/1056. American Wigeon numbers were also down with a total of 128, compared to RAs 194 and 269. The last two years have been historically low in this species, lower than any of the previous 30 years. Both Mallard and American Black Duck numbers are falling: Mallards 781 this year, lowest count in 19 years and RAs 1391/1388; and zero Black Ducks this year against RAs 19/17. Meanwhile their close relative the Mottled Duck continues to thrive in the south with a highest ever count of 134 (previous record was 97 on the 109th count). Savannah (GASV) had 117 and LS had the other 17. These ducks, likely descendants of birds originally released in South Carolina, have RAs of 61 and 52 indicating their increasing status. There are a number of species clusters like this where the northern relatives are decreasing here while the southern relatives are increasing, and in a few years there are likely to be many more. Two other dabblers have negative recent trends: the Blue-winged Teal total of 399 is the lowest in 14 years, RAs 569/697; and Northern Shoveler total of 1312 is the lowest in nine years, with RAs of 1704 and 1856. Hard to say what’s going on with Northern Pintail because we get so few of them here, but this year’s count of 31 is quite low compared to the RAs of 70/93. Conversely, the more northerly-wintering Green-winged Teal was counted in the highest GA count ever: 4434. The old record was 4303 on the 118th count. This is a great total, compared to RAs 2845 and 2251. Redheads again had a new record count with 238: recent high counts include 187 on the 118th count, 193 on the 116th, and 188 on the 111st. RAs are 157/104. Yet again they were found on many inland counts (9 counts total), and the highest counts were Floyd County (GAFC) with 98, Peachtree City (GAPC) and Augusta (GAAU) each with 47, SV with 25, and locally high 10 on Blue Ridge (GABR). Ring-necked Ducks had another low year, much lower than last year’s anemic 3442; this year was only 2699, the lowest in 17 years. RAs are 6117/7930 but it should be noted the numbers of this species are highly variable winter to winter. Three out of the last five years there were dismal numbers of Lesser Scaup, and this year’s 487 is one of the three: RAs are 1021 and 2453. A Common Eider off Cumberland Island (GACI) was the state’s 3rd CBC record. This year’s total of 1239 Hooded Mergansers was the lowest in 18 years (RAs 1824/2099).
Northern Bobwhite numbers are always a concern, and this year’s 29 is the lowest total in five years. RAs are 50/54, all well below historical totals. There have been no CBC sightings of Plain Chachalaca on Sapelo Island (GASI) for seven years now. Both of Georgia’s expected loons had really low counts, and for both species the lowest totals in 15 years (these species often mirror each other’s highs and lows here in winter). Red-throated Loon total was two, with RAs 75/56 (these numbers artificially high due to a huge year on the 116th count); and Common Loon total was 32, with RAs 64/106. Grebes also had low totals, including no Eared Grebes. The Pied-billed Grebe total of 474 was the lowest in 15 years (RAs both 832 [not a typo]) and the Horned Grebe total of 103 was the lowest in nine years (RAs 241/193). While Wood Stork numbers have been pretty good lately, this year’s 259 was the lowest in five years (RAs 241/193). The Northern Gannet total was abysmal, with only 79 being counted even though we now have seven coastal counts: this is the lowest state total in 24 years. RAs are 402/395. Double-crested Cormorant numbers have been historically high lately, but this year’s total of 4174 was the lowest in 15 years. RAs are 6996/6807. The Anhinga total of 129 was also the lowest in 15 years, RAs are 205/195. American White Pelican numbers are going up as more of these birds come to the East Coast to winter; this year’s total of 585 was the third-highest ever (after the last two years with 993 and 896). The RAS for this species are 638/357. The count of 987 Great Egrets was the lowest in seven years, RAs are 1498 and 1224. Snowy Egrets also fell off this year, with a count of 1316. This is the lowest in five years, RAs are 2820 and 2112. All of Georgia’s wintering Roseate Spoonbill records have come in the last 13 years in a row, and this year’s count of 85 was the second-highest ever behind the record high count of 123 in 116. The RAs are 50 and 22.
The Bald Eagle count was again high at 196, barely topping 117’s total of 194. RAs are 172/124, and the addition of LS upped the number of counts finding this species to 23, highest ever. This species is clearly increasing, which is great, but I’m still not sure the accuracy of these totals due to the sheer number of birds moving around during the day while counts are being conducted. A surprise low count was the 426 Red-tailed Hawks, the lowest total in 18 years. RAs are 496/508. A Krider’s Red-tailed Hawk at SV was the state’s first CBC record. Numbers of Virginia Rails were again low, with only 17 counted (RAs 36/28). Sora numbers were also low with 20, this is the lowest total in eight years and RAs are 39/90. The 15 year RA is a bit misleading as there was one great set of marshes on the AU count previously that held large numbers of this species, but that bonanza ended on the 108th count. After a huge year in 117 (14,494) American Coot numbers have been really low the last two years. The totals are 3985 in 118 and 3001 this year, this is the lowest total in 15 years. Coverage on the Bainbridge count (GABL), which includes Lake Seminole, plays at least a part in this low total. State RAs are 6658/10,230. A single Whooping Crane found on the LB count was the state’s first CBC record! This banded bird is from the Eastern reintroduction effort.
The highest number of American Avocets ever was this year’s 741, which just barely topped the 739 on the 107th count. The RAs are 609 and 485. The largest group by far was 573 at SV, and two other counts reported them also: 99 at Glynn County (GAGC) and 67 at LS. Georgia also had the highest count ever of American Oystercatchers with 325, topping the 299 tallied in the 115th count. RAs are 274/201, and the highest count was at LS with 155. Without this new count the state total would have been 170, lowest in nine years. I suspect we have relatively similar numbers year to year but they move from island to island, making a state count difficult unless every single beach or roosting area is counted as on the MWS (Midwinter Shorebird Survey). Wilson’s Plovers have been increasing as a wintering species, consistent with other semi-hardy species: RAs are 51 and 32. This year’s total of 103 is a new record, doubling the previous record of 51 on the 108th count. The highest single count was Cumberland Island (GACI) with an impressive 48, almost equaling the previous state record all by itself. Conversely, the total of 2802 Semipalmated Plovers was the lowest in eight years (RAs 6391/4962). This species is highly variable in numbers in winter here, with no clear trends. Swinging back the other direction there were 82 Piping Plovers counted, the third highest GA CBC total, better than the RAs of 66 and 50. Marbled Godwits were also present in record numbers, with a state total of 248. The RAs are 138/125, and the previous record was 202 on the 106th count. Top counts were LS with 122 and SV with 116. A good count of 724 Ruddy Turnstones was the third highest in the last 15 counts (RAs 554/564). After last year’s really low count of 16, the number of Red Knots counted this year was 216, the highest in six years. As previously mentioned, wintering Red Knot numbers fluctuate greatly with the numbers of their prey available, so large number swings aren’t uncommon (RAs 143/507). The Stilt Sandpiper total of 73 was the second highest ever, next to 131 on the 101st count. As usual they were all at SV. Lowest count in eight years, the Dunlin total of 11,666 was well off the RAs of 18,576 and 16,004. Least S