The 121st Christmas Bird Count in Alabama and Mississippi

Despite COVID most of the region’s counts went forward, although a few were very light on observers. Compilers in Birmingham and Corinth elected not to proceed this year. Eagle Lake once again submitted no data.

Overall, duck numbers were down for the region’s 2020-2021 CBCs. The effect was most pronounced in Alabama, which also showed the largest geographic effect, with many ducks predominantly found in the northernmost portions of the state.  Gulf Shores again had Alabama’s only Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks but had a high number (221), and Vicksburg had all eight of Mississippi’s, the first time they have recorded the species. Fifty-three of Alabama’s 54 Greater White-fronted Geese were at Wheeler N.W.R., and Alabama’s only other one at Auburn; Mississippi counted 5024, in line with historical numbers, with Moon Lake and Arkabutla Lake numbers over 1000, and Sardis Lake, Sidon, and Washington County (south) over 100. Snow Geese were few and far between in Alabama, particularly on southern counts, with five at Gulf Shores, two in Montgomery, one in Eufaula, three at Wheeler Dam but 3800 at Wheeler N.W.R.; far more were in Mississippi where eight counts tallied Snow Geese led by 39,500 at Moon Lake and Arkabutla Lake’s 36,500, but the total number of 82,561 was well below usual historical totals exceeding 100,000. Wheeler N.W.R. had Alabama’s only five Ross’s Geese and the region’s sole Tundra Swan; Mississippi had 137 Ross’s Geese from five counts led by Moon Lake with 58 and Arkabutla with 55. In Alabama Gadwalls were not found south of Montgomery and Eufaula N.W.R., and 26,019 of the 26,380 recorded were at Wheeler. Even in Waterloo there were only 11, a historic low. Alabama’s overall total was the highest ever except for the year before, when Wheeler N.W.R. recorded 38,219. In Mississippi, 13 counts recorded Gadwall, including some in the far south, but the overall total was well below the numbers recorded from counts 91 to 110. Alabama’s American Wigeon were also concentrated at Wheeler N.W.R., which had 5520; Waterloo had two and Eufaula N.W.R. 94; Mississippi had wigeons on five counts, but far fewer than historically with only at total of 67, 50 of which were at Sidon, and historic lows at both Sardis Lake and Noxubee. The only American Black Ducks were at 88 at Wheeler N.W.R. and two at Wheler Dam. A total of 3147 Mallards were distributed over ten Alabama counts, but most (2899) were at Wheeler N.W.R., and four different counts recorded historically low numbers (Eufaula, Guntersville, Tuscaloosa, and Waterloo); although represented on 15 counts, Mississippi had a total of only 1524 Mallards, far below historical numbers. Alabama’s only two Mottled Ducks were on Dauphin Island, and Mississippi’s only two were in Jackson County. Eighteen Blue-winged Teal were at Eufaula N.W.R. and three at Gulf Shores, which also had Alabama’s first-ever CBC Cinnamon Teal. Two Northern Shovelers were south at Gulf Shores, but the only other counts with the species were Wheeler N.W.R. (1277), Eufaula N.W.R. (127), and Guntersville (28); Mississippi’s shovelers were more widespread, with no counts at historic highs or lows. Wheeler N.W.R. also had all of Alabama’s 852 Northern Pintails; Mississippi had pintails on five counts but three had historic low numbers (Sidon, Washington County (south) and Moon Lake), and the overall total was only 17. Of Alabama’s 1447 Green-winged Teal, 1349 were at Wheeler N.W.R., eight were at Wheeler Dam, 35 at Waterloo, two at Guntersville and the southernmost 53 at Eufaula N.W.R.; Mississippi had far fewer overall, but no historic lows. 

Alabama’s 503 Canvasbacks were almost all up north, with 410 at Wheeler N.W.R. (high for the circle), 77 at Guntersville, 14 at Eufaula, and two at Wheeler N.W.R.; Mississippi had fewer, led by 178 at Jackson and a high tally of 90 for Grenada. The distribution for Redheads was similar, with 84 at Wheeler N.W.R. (high again for the circle), 34 at Guntersville, and five each at Wheeler am and Eufaula N.W.R.; no Mississippi count recorded as many as 20, and two in Southern Hancock County was notably low. Alabama recorded 7025 Ring-necked Ducks, including 5802 at Wheeler N.W.R., 988 at Eufaula N.W.R., but only 131 down in Gulf Shores; Mississippi had only about a third as many, but had high counts in Sidon and Washington County (south). Only twenty Greater Scaup were recorded, but they were mainly south with 11 at Fort Morgan, one at Gulf Shores, and four each at Guntersville and Wheeler Dam. 1204 Lesser Scaup were divided between Auburn, Eufaula N.W.R., Gulf Shores, Guntersville, Wheeler Dam, and Wheeler N.W.R., with all those counts between 100 and 300. Wheeler Dam had seven Surf Scoters, Gulf Shores three, Grenada four, and Southern Hancock one. Dauphin Island recorded 13 Black Scoters and Wheeler N.W.R. two. The 1091 Bufflehead recorded in Alabama were spread over ten counts, but 673 were at Wheeler N.W.R. and 103 at Auburn. All 230 Common Goldeneyes were all up north with 152 at Wheeler Dam, 58 at Guntersville, 12 at Wheeler N.W.R., and eight at Waterloo. Ten Alabama and 16 Mississippi circles recorded Hooded Mergansers; four Mississippi counts exceeded 100 led by a high 437 for Hatttiesburg, but the only Alabama count with more than 100 was Wheeler N.W.R. with 1108.

Wild Turkeys are difficult to find on CBCs. This year, 77 of Alabama’s 93 were at Waterloo (high for the count) with eight each at Auburn and Wheeler Dam. Hattiesburg led Mississippi with three, three counts had one each, and another circle had count week Wild Turkeys. In recent years, Northern Bobwhites have been even harder to find. In Mississippi, Noxubee N.W.R. tallied 19, and Brooklyn - Camp Shelby ten. This year Alabama CBCs did not record any. Waterloo had the Region’s only rare loon, a lone Pacific Loon. No rare grebes were tallied on any count day in the Region. Wheeler N.W.R. recorded one Red-necked Grebe, but only during count week. Eufaula N.W.R. is a good spot for Anhingas in winter; there were 15 on its count day. The only other one on an Alabama CBC was a rarity at Wheeler N.W.R., although Montgomery had one count week. Eight Mississippi circles found Anhingas, led by Natchez with 61. Jackson County, MS led all circles with 57 Snowy Egrets, Southern Hancock had 17, and Natchez had the only six non-coastal Snowy Egrets, a high count for the circle. Dauphin Island had all 37 of Alabama’s Snowy Egrets. Only one circle in each state recorded Tricolored Herons: two on Dauphin Island and 12 at Jackson County, MS. Dauphin Island recorded the Region’s only eight Reddish Egrets. No Cattle Egrets made it on an Alabama CBC, but Wheeler N.W.R. had one unusually far north during count week. Natchez, Vicksburg, and Washington County (south) all found Cattle Egrets. Hattiesburg, Eufaula N.W.R., and Gulf Shores each had one Green Heron. Five Mississippi circles recorded White Ibis, led by Jackson County and Washington County (south) with more than 50 each, but Alabama’s only six were found at Eufaula. 

One of the major rarities for this year was a Golden Eagle at Wheeler Dam. 

Virginia Rails were spread between Eufaula, Fort Morgan, Gulf Shores, Guntersville, and Wheeler Dam in Alabama, and Jackson County and Washington County (south) had Mississippi’s. Auburn, Eufaula, Gulf Shores, and Wheeler Dam recorded Soras in Alabama; Jackson County, Washington County (south), and Southern Hancock found them in Mississippi. In Alabama, only Eufaula N.W.R. counted any Common Gallinules – and it had 23; five Mississippi counts had Common Gallinules, led by 39 in Washington County (south) and including six in Natchez, where they are unusual. For shorebirds, only Jackson County, MS (22), Southern Hancock County (2), and Dauphin Island (1) found American Oystercatchers. The same three circles were the only ones with Semipalmated Plovers. The Region’s only five Piping Plovers, only two Marbled Godwits, and only two Red Knots. Dauphin County and Southern Hancock County found the only Short-billed Dowitchers. Washington County (south) tallied the only four Long-billed Dowitchers, although Wheeler N.W.R. turned up one during count week. Wheeler Dam recorded the only Franklin’s Gull. Dauphin Island had the only Great Black-backed Gull. Sardis Lake recorded the only Lesser Black-backed Gull, but one was found during count week on Dauphin Island. The only Black Skimmers were 224 in Southern Hancock County and two at Dauphin Island.

The only Alabama Inca Dove was found at a regular site in Gulf Shores, while Natchez and Southern Hancock Counties also tallied them. Mississippi had a high number of White-winged Doves at Southern Hancock County (39) and two at Natchez, where unusual.  One each Black-chinned Hummingbirds were recorded in Gulf Shores and Montgomery. Single Rufous Hummingbirds turned up in Hattiesburg, Auburn, and Montgomery, and three were in Gulf Shores. The only Calliope Hummingbird was in Jackson County. A rare Say’s Phoebe was in a field at Eufaula N.W.R., the first for Alabama on a count, though not the Region’s first; one was found on the Jackson, Mississippi 1959 count, and they have been recorded on the 2015, 2017, and 2019 Sidon counts. Gulf Shores and Jackson County found lone Vermilion Flycatchers, and one was in Vicksburg for count week. The only Western Kingbird was at Gulf Shores, although one was in Jackson County count week. Fort Morgan did not find any White-eyed Vireos, but five sites each in Alabama and Mississippi did: Dauphin Island, Eufaula (5), Gulf Shores (6), Montgomery (2), and Tuscaloosa (3-high), and Jackson County, Southern Hancock County, Noxubee N.W.R. (where unusual), Hattiesburg, and Jackson (unusual). Four Alabama counts recorded Horned Larks: Eufaula, Gulf Shores, Wheeler Dam, and Wheeler N.W.R.; more were found at five counts in Mississippi led by 277 at Dahomey Great River Road but there were historically low counts for Washington County (south), Moon Lake, and Sidon. Red-breasted Nuthatches were much less common than last winter, but Fort Morgan had three, Guntersville ten, Waterloo 20, Wheeler Dam three, and Wheeler N.W.R. 12; Dauphin Island had one during count week; in Mississippi, seven circles recorded the nuthatches, with Strawberry Plains having the most (7) and Sidon having one, where they have been unusual. 

Two other winter birds were unusually widespread across Alabama, with only Fort Morgan failing to record a Winter Wren, and only Gulf Shores missing Golden-crowned Kinglet. In Mississippi nine circles recorded Winter Wrens, led by Noxubee N.W.R. with 27 and historically high numbers in Moon Lake and Lauderdale County, an unusual occurrence in Hattiesburg and a count week bird in Natchez. Twelve Mississippi circles found Golden-crowned Kinglets, including Jackson County on the coast. In addition to the expected Gray Catbirds at Dauphin Island, Eufaula N.W.R. (five was a low count), Fort Morgan, Gulf Shores, Jackson County, and Southern Hancock County, there were historically high counts of ten in Hattiesburg and four at Natchez, two at Brooklyn - Camp Shelby, and singles at Auburn, Guntersville, Wheeler N.W.R., and Lauderdale County. In Mississippi, 41 Lapland Longspurs were found at Lake Arkabutla and one at Grendada. Montgomery found Alabama’s only Lapland Longspur. Gulf Shores tallied three Black-and-white Warblers, and Eufaula N.W.R. an amazing eight. Every Alabama circle and 12 Mississippi circles had at least one Orange-crowned Warbler, led by historically highs of 33 in Eufaula and 27 in Jackson County and with historic highs also in Auburn and Fort Morgan. Fort Morgan recorded a Yellow-throated Warbler, and Gulf Shores two; Eufaula N.W.R. located two Prairie Warblers. They also recorded a Bachman’s Sparrow.  Brooklyn - Camp Shelby recorded Mississippi’s only five Grasshopper Sparrows, and Gulf Shores found Alabama’s only one. Gulf Shores also tallied the only Henslow’s Sparrow. Washington County (south) recorded a historically high four LeConte’s Sparrows, while Jackson County and Southern Hancock County each had one. Both Alabama LeConte’s Sparrows were at Wheeler Dam, Only the Jackson County count recorded Seaside Sparrow, though Dauphin Island had one during count week. Both Mississippi coastal counts had Nelson’s Sparrow, but in Alabama there was only a count week record for Dauphin Island. A lone Clay-colored Sparrow was at Gulf Shores. A single Lark Sparrow was far north at Wheeler. Southern Hancock County, Eufaula N.W.R., Fort Morgan, and Gulf Shores each tallied a single Lincoln’s Sparrow. Gulf Shores found the only count-day Indigo and Painted buntings, where both are unusual, but Montgomery had a count week Painted. Single rare Bullock’s Orioles were in Noxubee N.W.R. and Gulf Shores, with one coming to a feeder in Gulf Shores. The only Baltimore Oriole on count day was far north at Wheeler Dam, and another was in Montgomery during count week. As expected during an irruption year, Purple Finches and Pine Siskins were widespread; Pine Siskins were found on every Alabama count and ten Mississippi counts, with historically high counts in Sidon (600), Vicksburg (155), Grenada (104), Noxubee N.W.R. (73), and Lauderdale County (65). Purple Finches on all the Alabama counts but Fort Morgan and on 13 in Mississippi, including a historically high ten in Sidon. Scaly-breasted Munias are not (yet) on the official Alabama list; Gulf Shores tallied 32.


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