The 120th CBC in Georgia

This year Georgia had 27 counts, including the third year for the new Little St. Simons Island (GALS) count. Unfortunately neither the Cumberland Island (GACI) nor the Okefenokee Swamp (GAOK) counts were held, which represented a huge loss of data and overall numbers.

The state total of 210 species was well below average (the last ten years have averaged 217). We did not miss many expected species, but again we had very few rarities. Birders logged 6548 miles total counting all modes of transportation. Weather was good for some counts, but a whopping seven counts reported heavy rain for at least part of the day. Only Lake Blackshear (GALB) and Peachtree City (GAPC) had heavy rain in both morning and afternoon. This is the second year in a row that LB had heavy rain all day. Over half the counts (14) had rain at least part of the day, which likely contributed to the low state total.

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, 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 much older count results are based on much 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, Black-bellied Whistling-Duck numbers are increasing, and the rolling averages look like this: 70/25. The last five years averaged 70, and the last 15 averaged 25, clearly indicating a consistent trend toward higher counts. I will list these as RAs for Rolling Averages. In comparing counts, please note that this year’s count was the 120th CBC, run in December 2019 and January 2020. 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 2019 was once again warmer than historical average fall and winter temperatures, resulting in two effects we have seen before (including the last couple of years). First, semi-hardy species which can withstand slightly cool temperatures will winter farther 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.

As noted above, numbers of Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks are going up, with this year’s total of 36 being the 2nd highest ever behind 117th’s absurd 305. All were at SV. The first ever Georgia CBC Cackling Goose was a single bird found on the Lake Oconee (GALO) count. After two years of Trumpeter Swans being seen on the Piedmont-Rum Creek count (GAPR), firsts for the state, three were seen this year on the Floyd County (GAFC) CBC. Last year there were four at PR, so possibly this is three out of those same birds? The American Wigeon numbers continue their tumble, with this year’s state total of 23 being the lowest in 58 years. RAs are 120/249. Another fairly low total was the 972 Mallards, second low year in a row (RAs 1259/1370). The total of 4609 Northern Shovelers was the highest ever, eclipsing the 3261 on the 113th count. Two coastal counts had by far the highest numbers: 3349 at SV and 1035 at Glynn County (GAGC). After four high count years, the total of 33 Redheads was the lowest in 13 years (RAs 156/104). Ring-necked Ducks seem to be in a general down-swing, at least by Georgia results: this year’s count of 3870 is below the 5-year RA of 4038, and well below the 15-year RA of 7606. Both scaup had abysmal totals this year: Greater was count week only (RAs 79/147) and Lesser was only 129 (lowest total in 49 years; RAs 953/1902). Other divers also fared poorly this year. The Bufflehead total of 528 was well below the RAs of 764/849, and the Hooded Merganser total of 1076 was also well below its RAs of 1580/2087 (second really low year in a row). The more cyclical Red-breasted Merganser was also low, the 1022 this year was the lowest total in five years (RAs 1868/1216).

The Red-throated Loon total was two for the second year in a row, with RAs 53/49 (these numbers are still artificially high due to a huge year on the 116th count). One each was found at Sapelo Island (GASI) and St. Catherines Island (GASC). Horned Grebe totals also seem to be trending downward. With RAs of 182/194, this year’s count of 56 was the lowest in 18 years (tie). Oddly, the two largest totals were at opposite ends of the state: 21 at Blue Ridge (GABR) and 18 at SV. The single Eared Grebe counted was at SV. In the good news category the 612 Wood Storks tallied was the 2nd highest ever (664 on the 116th count). The highest numbers were 205 at GC, 121 at SC, and 106 at Harris Neck (GAHN). This species at least is trending up, with RAs of 509/399. After four record years, this year’s total of 384 American White Pelicans was well below the 5-year RA of 674 but about on par with the 15-year RA of 376. The state total of 1304 Tricolored Herons was the 2nd highest ever behind the 1859 in 116; RAs are 1073/819. As usual SV had by far the highest count at 865. Roseate Spoonbill numbers have been setting records recently but this year’s 16 is well below the RAs of 51/23. Half of them were at SV. Another species that seems to be increasing every year until now is Bald Eagle: this year’s 178 is the lowest in three years (RAs of 183/131). This may be a result of the state editor constantly harping on compilers about coastal count numbers, but even with a slightly lower total and the two missing counts, there were Bald Eagles counted on 25 of 27 state counts!! This is the most ever, and only Athens (GAAH) and Albany (GAAB) did not find one on count day. American Coot numbers have been really low the last three years now, with a total of only 4089 this year (RAs 6268/10284). The third GA CBC Limpkin was found at LB, same place as the previous two.

The count of 823 American Avocets this year was the 2nd highest ever (863 on the 108th count). The RAs are 650 and 520. Once again SV had the high count with 671. Note: In last year’s summary I erroneously listed the state record count as that year’s 741, I missed the total on the 108th count. The Wilson’s Plover count of 84 was also the 2nd highest ever (103 on 119th count). One can only guess how many might have been at CI that did not get counted. This is a species whose wintering numbers will only increase long term, note the RAs of 60/36. Also high was the total of 8556 Semipalmated Plovers, 3rd highest ever (9607 in 115 and 9390 in 116), and this after a really low count last year. RAs are 6181 and 5346. The Killdeer total of 3619 was a new record, topping the 3230 on the 114th count. The single highest total was 694 at Carter’s Lake (GACL). The state total of 71 Lesser Yellowlegs was the lowest in nine years (RAs 282/210). A good count of 184 Marbled Godwits was the state’s 3rd highest total, with the single highest count on SC at 123. RAs are 153/128. Only a single Stilt Sandpiper was found this year, at SV as usual (RAs 34/19). After the last two years of record counts of Least Sandpipers, this year’s 601 was the lowest in five years and really low compared to the RAs of 1454 and 1023. Conversely, the total of 4868 Western Sandpipers was the highest in seven years (RAs 2514/3064). SV led the way with 2704. Wilson’s Snipe numbers were low for the second year in a row, only 114 were counted. The RAs for this species are 281/246.

As mentioned last year, it is becoming annual to bemoan the low total of Bonaparte’s Gulls, but at least this year Georgia ticked up to 60. The last three years have averaged only 58, but the RAS are 88 and 290! LO had 39 of them and was the highest count. The Laughing Gull total of 651 was the lowest in six years and well below average, RAs are 2358/2985. Ring-billed Gulls did not come south in typical numbers, this year’s very low total of 3177 was the lowest in 39 years. RAs are 5918/8506. For the second year in a row Herring Gulls did not come down in typical numbers either, this year’s seriously low total of 110 was the lowest in 55 years (back when there were only four coastal counts as opposed to the seven we have now). RAs are 177/555. This is partly due to the loss of the CI numbers for all these gulls, but that’s only a part. The Forster’s Tern total of 930 was the lowest in nine years, lower than last year, with RAs of 1251/1467. I don’t know why we are not picking up more of these at the southern tier of inland lakes, such as LB and Bainbridge-Lake Seminole (GABL). Black Skimmer numbers are highly variable, and this year’s anemic total of 994 is the lowest in five years. RAs for this species are 1713/1264.

Most of the Georgia owl numbers this year were around average, perhaps indicating a typical amount of owling effort. However, the total of only 71 Eastern Screech-Owls is the lowest in 18 years, and well below the RAs of 98/124. As winter hummingbird records slowly creep up, this year’s total of seven Ruby-throated Hummingbirds tied the GA record set on the 116th count. All were coastal, with four at GC and three at SV. After several years of trending higher, especially with newly added counts, this year’s total of 540 Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers was the lowest in nine years (RAs 639/647). Hairy Woodpecker, on the other hand, set a new record with 147, besting the 126 on the 115th count. RAs here are 122/98, with this species also benefiting from more counts. The Red-cockaded Woodpecker total of 27 is the lowest in 11 years, but is directly attributable to not having the OK count run. All 27 this year were from the PR count, and are about average for that count. The American Kestrel count of 165 was even lower than last year’s 180, with this year the lowest in 19 years. RAs are 201 and 213. The larger falcons did much better: Merlin total was 22, 2nd highest ever (RAs 18/16); and the Peregrine Falcon total was 10, a new high count and found on six counts (RAs 7/5) Three were tallied at SC, the highest coastal count; and inland two were found in Intown Atlanta (GAIA) and one was at CL.

The 6th GA CBC Say’s Phoebe was at LB, as was the 8th GA CBC Ash-throated Flycatcher. After two low years, the Loggerhead Shrike count was up to about average with 127 (RAs 124/136). Two vireos had the lowest total in seven years: White-eyed with 62 (RAs 83/76) and Blue-headed with 115 (RAs 163/150). Fewer than normal Blue Jays were also recorded with 2201, lowest in eight years, compared to RAs 2805/2754. Both crows have been down in recent years, and this winter both were slightly increasing but still well below average: American 4010 (RAs 5409/6442) and Fish 405 (RAs 703/2071). A single Northern Rough-winged Swallow on the IA count was Georgia’s 12th CBC record. Both marsh wrens had very low counts this year: Sedge was 26, lowest in 16 years (RAs 44/49) and Marsh was 82, lowest in nine years (RAs 112/109). These totals were not for lack of effort, as evidenced by the marsh sparrow counts below. The semi-irruptive Golden-crowned Kinglet count was also low at 667, lowest in 12 years (RAs 1096/1012). After last year’s dismal count, this year Eastern Bluebirds rebounded to 3662, a new record for GA. I am at a loss to explain last year’s total of 2738, as this species has been generally increasing with the new urban counts (RAs 3252/3076).   

A low total which makes no one sad was the 7561 European Starlings, lowest count in 13 years. This species has been in a downward trend, shown in the RAs of 10,410/13,202. American Pipit totals were also low for the second year in a row at 492 (last year 396, both lowest in 22 years). These totals are less than half the 5-year RA of 742, and even worse compared to the 15-year RA of 1213. Cedar Waxwings rebounded from two awful years with 6433 (RAs 5776/6979). The only Ovenbird was a count week bird seen in the GC count area. In the last 15 years Northern Waterthrushes have gone from being unheard of to expected on the coast, so the two seen on the SV count were no surprise. But the single bird found on the Roswell (GARO) count was the first inland CBC record for GA, fortunately well-photographed. The Black-and-white Warbler total of 55 was the lowest in eight years, but last year CI and OK combined for nine, and that would have brought the total up to about average (RAs 69/68). Orange-crowned Warblers seemed to be everywhere, with a new record count of 167. Not only did this crush the old record of 112 on the 115th count, but we lost the usual 10 or so from the CI and OK counts. A whopping 45 were at SV, and 15 at GC, both very good counts; but the 14 tallied on the IA count is really surprising. The Common Yellowthroat total of 142 was the lowest in six years, and looks really low compared to the RAs of 207/184… until you factor in the absent-this-year 40 or so usually counted in CI and OK. The Pine Warbler total of 2098 was a new record, and way above the RAs of 1574/1555. Conversely, the number of wintering Yellow-rumped Warblers was only 5405, lowest in 42 years and the second really low total in a row. This is well below the RAS of 8512/10828. Once again the loss of the southeasternmost counts in GA hurt this total too as CI/OK usually count almost 2000 of this species, but last year’s 7066 was still the lowest in 35 years so something is going on with this species. Both of the saltmarsh sparrows had great totals this year, a product not only of strong observer effort and compiler interest but of really high tides at the right time (count days): the Nelson’s Sparrow total was 204, highest ever (RAs 86/58); and the Saltmarsh Sparrow total of 151 was also the highest ever (RAs 69/47). We have now had three low years in a row for White-crowned Sparrows with an average over those three years of 58; this year’s total was 52. Compare this to the 308 seen on the 115th count, and the RAs of 73/115. As usual for recent years, CL led the way with 20. The Swamp Sparrow total of 847 was the lowest in 20 years, and the second low year in a row (RAs are 1065/1373). The Painted Bunting total of 10 was the 2nd highest ever (11 last year on the 119th count). The Red-winged Blackbird total of 143,325 was a massive jump from the last few years, mostly thanks to a resurgence of the huge roost on the Augusta (GAAU) count: that count alone recorded 120,853. RAs are 65,080 for five years and back when this roost was still extant 612,279 for the 15-year. This year’s total of 12,636 Common Grackles was quite low though, with the highest count being 6566 on the IA count. RAs are 25,278/77,153. Also low was the 1263 Boat-tailed Grackles, lowest in 31 years (RAs are 1727/2488). Last but not least, and also in the “too bad” category is the total of 1134 Brown-headed Cowbirds, lowest total in eight years (RAs 3206/3247).



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