The 120th CBC in North Carolina consisted of 52 counts, with Catawba Valley not being run this season. Weather this season continued last year’s above-average temperatures with 26 counts having highs 60F and above (six above 70F)! Only 11 counts had morning lows at or below freezing, and none had temps below 23F! No counts had measurable snow on the ground and only three counts had partially frozen waters. Heavy rain was a problem on a handful of counts (Buncombe County, Iredell County, Ocracoke Island, Roanoke Rapids, Southport, and Wilmington), and fog was an issue at Falls Lake, Holly Shelter, Iredell County, and Roanoke Rapids. High winds hampered only a few counts (Alligator River, Greensboro, Ocracoke Island, Pee Dee N.W.R., Wayne County, and Wilmington). During this year’s count 815,827 individuals of 235 species, and one form (Ipswich Sparrow) were reported, much higher than last season’s 222. Top coastal species totals included Morehead City’s 156, Southport’s 151, Wilmington’s 150, and Bodie-Pea’s 144. Tidewater counts were led by Lake Mattamuskeet’s 142, Pamlico County’s 120, New Bern’s 104, and Alligator River’s (ARNWR) 104. Coastal Plain counts were led by Pettigrew with 106, Rocky Mount with 98, Wayne County with 90, and Cumberland County with 88. Leading Piedmont counts had totals of 100 at Durham, 96 at Raleigh, 95 at Southern Lake Norman, 93 at Durham, and 92 at Gastonia. Mountains counts were led by Henderson County’s 89, Brevard’s 76, Buncombe County’s 68, Balsam’s 64, Franklin’s 61, and Grandfather Mt.’s impressive 61.
Only one Greater White-fronted Goose was noted this year (Raleigh). Numbers of Snow Geese were down considerably from last year and only three Ross’s Geese were found (Mattamuskeet, Pettigrew, Henderson County). Portsmouth had the only Brant (80), and the only Cackling Goose was found at Mattamuskeet. Numbers of Tundra Swans were slightly up from last year’s relatively low numbers. Puddle duck numbers continued to improve slightly from the low numbers a couple of years ago. Biggest increases were provided by Gadwall, American Black Duck, Northern Pintail, and Green-winged Teal. Single Eurasian Wigeon were detected at Bodie-Pea, Pettigrew, and Cape Hatteras (Count Week). Diving duck numbers were down overall, especially scaup and Bufflehead. An exception was Redhead with big flocks at Pea Island, Mattamuskeet, and Portsmouth. Only one Long-tailed Duck was found, that being on the Cape Hatteras Count. Northern Bobwhite continued to be hard to find, with only 26 noted on eight counts. Common Loon numbers were down while Red-throateds were up slightly. Three Pacific Loons were found, with two on the Holly Shelter count, and one at Kerr Lake (no doubt the returning wintering bird for the last handful of years). Also noteworthy was the Red-throated Loon at Kerr Lake, making a very rare loon trifecta for an inland count. Grebe numbers were relatively stable across the state. Kerr Lake also had an impressive day with grebes too (4 species!), with a Red-necked and a Western (only the 5th ever found on a NC CBC). The Manx Shearwater observed from shore on the Bodie-Pea Count was a good find. Northern Gannet and Double-crested Cormorant numbers were down this season while Anhingas and Brown Pelicans were up. Long-legged wader numbers were relatively stable compared to previous seasons. Very rare inland Green Herons were noted at Greensboro and Rocky Mount. Raptor numbers were similar to last year, with the exception of Osprey which rebounded to a more normal 39 on eight coastal counts. One Golden Eagle was noted, that being at Lake Mattamuskeet. A well-described immature Northern Goshawk was seen in flight on the Alligator River Count by an experienced observer. Two Rough-legged Hawks were noted this season, with singles at Lake Mattamuskeet near the coast and at New River in the mountains! Three Yellow Rails on the Bodie-Pea Count (two by one party, one by another) provided rare detections of this extremely secretive species. Other rail numbers were steady compared to last year, however American Coot numbers rebounded nicely from the previous low point. Sandhill Cranes increased with seven at Pettigrew, four at Rocky Mount, and three at Morehead City. This species seems to have established regular wintering locations for the last handful of years at these three sites. Shorebird numbers were mixed compared to last year. While plovers were up, Greater Yellowlegs, Willet, Red Knot, and Dunlin were down. The number (3) of Parasitic Jaegers seen from shore was about average for a CBC season. Razorbills were way down with only six at Cape Hatteras and one at Bodie-Pea. Gull numbers were uneventful. Rare were a Black-headed Gull at Carolina Beach lake on the Wilmington Count, an Iceland Gull inland on the Jordan Lake Count, and a Glaucous Gull at Ocracoke. The best Lesser Black-backed Gull reports involved one far inland at Falls Lake and a good inland count of 18 at Greenville. One Caspian Tern on the Southport Count was about normal for a count season.
Eurasian Collared-Dove numbers were similar to the previous year. The only Short-eared Owl was at Pettigrew, and no Northern Saw-whet Owls were detected. A Chuck-will’s-widow found on the Cape Hatteras Count provided only the third or fourth Outer Banks Christmas Counts report. Wintering hummingbird reports of note included single Rufous at Henderson County and Charlotte, and a Ruby-throated far inland at Durham. Falcon numbers were somewhat down again this year. Flycatcher rarities included single Ash-throated Flycatchers at Pettigrew and Pea Island, a Myiarchus sp. at Cape Hatteras, and a Western Kingbird at Bodie-Pea. Ash-throateds produced an impressive late-fall early-winter migration to the East Coast this season, and there is no telling how many were in eastern North Carolina. Tree Swallow numbers were way down, which is surprising considering how warm the weather was this year. Red-breasted Nuthatches were way down this season (only 27 on 10 Counts). While wren numbers were relatively stable, Ruby-crowned Kinglets were way up compared to last year. Cedar Waxwing numbers rebounded nicely from last season. No Lapland Longspurs or Snow Buntings were found, no doubt due to the warm weather keeping these species farther north and west. Warbler highlights this count season included 52 Black-and-white Warblers (13 Counts with 13 at Cape Hatteras!), a Nashville Warbler and American Redstart at Lake Mattamuskeet, a Cape May Warbler at Wilmington (last year’s returning individual), two Northern Parulas at Cape Hatteras, and a Yellow Warbler on the Wilmington Count. Sparrow highlights included single Grasshopper Sparrow (Greenville), Henslow’s Sparrow (Camp Lejeune), LeConte’s Sparrow (Rocky Mount), Clay-colored Sparrow (Pettigrew), and three Lark Sparrows (two at Pee Dee, one at Wilmington). The Wilmington Summer Tanager returned for the 11th winter, while one Western Tanager was on the Alamance County Count. A well-described Rose-breasted Grosbeak lingering at a feeder was a good bird for the Henderson County Count. Always a good find on a Christmas Count, a Dickcissel was located at Mattamuskeet. Providing only the 3rd Christmas Count record ever, a Bobolink was truly a surprise on the Gastonia Count. And this one was described impeccably by a very experienced observer! Rusty Blackbird totals were up somewhat compared to last year. Only one Brewer’s Blackbirds was found, that being at Pamlico County. Wintering Baltimore Oriole numbers were only slightly less than last year. Purple Finch and Pine Siskin numbers were way down when compared to last year, which was an irruption year. Red Crossbill reports included three at Grandfather Mt., one Count Week at Balsam, and one outside of the mountains at Pilot Mt. Evening Grosbeaks were once again no-shows during the count season.