The 121st Christmas Bird Count in North Carolina

The 121st CBC in North Carolina consisted of 50 counts, with four (Alamance County, Camp Lejeune, Franklin, and Holly Shelter) not being run due to Covid-19 pandemic cancellations. We all strongly hope that the pandemic restrictions and concerns will not be a problem for the next CBC! Weather this season was much closer to normal compared to last year’s above-average temperatures; only six counts had highs 60F and above. Twelve counts had morning lows at or below freezing, with the lowest being only 17 degrees at New River and Yancey County. Only three counts had measurable snow on the ground and only four counts had partially frozen waters. Light snow fell during part of the day at three counts (Grandfather Mountain, Mount Jefferson, and Upper Yadkin River). Heavy rain was a problem on a handful of counts (Central Beaufort County, Durham, Morehead City, New Bern, and Southern Pines). Thankfully, high winds hampered only a few counts (Mount Jefferson, Pamlico County, and Ocracoke). During this year’s count 1,310,261 individuals of 227 species, six Count Week birds, and two forms (Northern Red-tailed Hawk and Ipswich Sparrow) were reported, somewhat lower than last season’s 235. Top Coastal species totals included Wilmington’s 165, Morehead City’s 162, Southport’s 154, and Bodie-Pea’s 144. Tidewater counts were led by Lake Mattamuskeet’s 147, Pamlico County’s 121, New Bern’s 110, and Alligator River’s 110. Coastal Plain counts were led by Pettigrew with 109, Rocky Mount with 104, Greenville with 103, and Cumberland County with 98. Leading Piedmont counts included totals of 103 at S. Lake Norman, 103 at Raleigh, 102 at Jordan Lake, 99 at Charlotte, and 96 at Roanoke Rapids. Mountains counts were led by Henderson County’s 88, Brevard’s 84, Balsam’s 65, and Stone Mountain’s 63.

Numbers of Snow Geese were up from last year but only four Ross’s Geese were found (Grandfather Mountain, Pettigrew [2], Iredell County). Brant numbers were down, and the only Cackling Geese (4) were at Mattamuskeet. Numbers of Tundra Swans were slightly down from last year. Puddle duck numbers continued to improve slightly from the low numbers a couple of years ago. Biggest increases were provided by Gadwall, Blue-winged Teal, and Northern Shoveler. The only Eurasian Wigeons (4) were at Mattamuskeet. Diving duck numbers were down overall, especially for Lesser Scaup and Red-breasted Merganser. An exception was Bufflehead which rebounded from the previous year’s low numbers. Two Harlequin Ducks at Bodie-Pea were the only ones noted this Count season. Northern Bobwhite continued to be hard to find with only 26 noted on six counts. Common Loon numbers were up while Red-throated Loons were down. One Pacific Loon was found at the usual Wrightsville Beach area on the Wilmington Count. Grebe numbers were relatively stable across the state. Northern Gannet, Double-crested Cormorant, and Brown Pelican numbers were down this season, while the American White Pelican rebounded nicely with 120 from four Counts. Long-legged wader numbers were relatively stable compared to previous seasons. Rare inland in the Piedmont, a Green Heron was a good find on the Charlotte count. Raptor numbers were like last year, except Osprey which was up to 46 on 11 counts. One on the Southern Lake Norman count was rare for that far inland location. One Rough-legged Hawk (CW) was noted this season, that being the bird at Alligator River (frustratingly this wintering individual was seen every day but Count Day). Rail numbers were steady compared to last year, however American Coot numbers were back down to the low point noted two seasons ago. Sandhill Cranes were like last year with three at Pamlico County, four at Pettigrew, six at Rocky Mount, and two at Morehead City (the last three locations have become regular wintering sites for Sandhills). Shorebird numbers were again mixed compared to last year. Black-bellied and Semipalmated plovers were down while Piping Plovers were thankfully stable. One Wilson’s Plover was at the usual location on the Morehead City count. One Whimbrel at Cape Hatteras and two Long-billed Curlews at Morehead City were good finds. Marbled Godwit numbers were down again. Dunlin and Western Sandpiper numbers were up from last year. Jaegers were noted in good numbers this season with 18 Parasitics and two Pomarines. Razorbills were up slightly with 14 from four counts. Laughing Gulls lingered coastally in good numbers this year, with the count of 1218 at Kitty Hawk being most impressive for the northern Outer Banks. Rare were a returning Black-headed Gull (CW) at Carolina Beach Lake on the Wilmington Count, and a Glaucous Gull at Cape Hatteras. The best inland Lesser Black-backed Gull reports included nine at Jordan Lake and two at Falls Lake. Royal and Forster’s Terns, and Black Skimmers were up from last year.

Eurasian Collared-Dove numbers were down slightly compared to the previous year. Good finds included a Snowy Owl (CW) at Bodie-Pea, a heard-only Long-eared Owl at Cape Hatteras, and a heard-only Northern Saw-whet Owl at Alligator River. Ruby-throated Hummingbird numbers were up (9 counts) with impressive counts of 39 at Kitty Hawk and 31 at Cape Hatteras. Noteworthy were six Rufous Hummingbirds (including two at Catawba Valley) and one Black-chinned Hummingbird at Greensboro. All species of woodpeckers were up this year, except Red-cockaded which was down again. Falcon numbers were relatively stable compared to last year. Ash-throated Flycatchers were found in unprecedented numbers (7) this year! Singles were at Mattamuskeet, New Bern, Pettigrew, Alligator River, and Charlotte (!); while two were on the Southport count. It would be interesting to know just how many ended up in North Carolina this winter. The only Western Kingbird this count season was at Pamlico County. Crow and raven numbers were up this winter, while Horned Larks were harder to find. Tree Swallow numbers were up compared to last year, but still down from several years ago. A Cave Swallow was a good find at Orton on the Wilmington Count, the first on a North Carolina CBC in five years. Red-breasted Nuthatches staged a remarkable count season presence, with 760 tallied on 43 counts (second only to the record 829 on the 113th CBC)! Brown Creepers were up this year and wren numbers were relatively stable. Ruby-crowned Kinglets were about the same as last year, but Golden-crowned Kinglets were present in higher numbers. Thrush and mimic thrush numbers were up across the board this year. The Swainson’s Thrush (CW) nicely documented at Durham, was the first on a North Carolina CBC since 1986! Cedar Waxwing numbers were down slightly from last season. Once again, no Lapland Longspurs or Snow Buntings were found, no doubt due to the warm weather keeping these species farther north and west. Fourteen species of warbler were found this count season! Highlights included 50 Black-and-white Warblers (19 Counts), a nicely documented Tennessee Warbler at New Bern providing a North Carolina CBC first, a Nashville Warbler on the Southport count, two Northern Parulas (Morehead City and Cape Hatteras), a Black-throated Gray Warbler on Roanoke Island on the Kitty Hawk count (the second CBC record with the first one being at Wilmington in 1966!), and a Wilson’s Warbler on the Wilmington Count. Sparrow numbers were up with highlights being a LeConte’s Sparrow at Pee Dee, five Clay-colored Sparrows (1 Pettigrew, 3 Greenville, 1 Rocky Mount), and seven Lincoln’s Sparrows (1 Raven Rock, 1 Greenville, 1 Southern Lake Norman, 1 Stone Mt., 1 Morehead City, 2 Alligator River). Wilmington had a returning Summer Tanager (for the 12th winter) and a Western Tanager, both feeder birds. A well-described Rose-breasted Grosbeak (CW) at a feeder was a good bird for the Morehead City Count, as were single Indigo Buntings at Cumberland County and Pettigrew. Rusty Blackbird totals were up somewhat again, compared to last year. No Brewer’s Blackbirds were found this year, as the Mattamuskeet birds from previous years apparently did not show up. Wintering Baltimore Oriole numbers were up, with one at Greensboro and 18 at Charlotte being noteworthy that far inland. Bullock’s Oriole was noted twice with one at Southern Lake Noman and an adult male at Morehead City! Previously this species had been recorded only twice during a North Carolina CBC, in 1983 and 1984! Winter finches made news this count season. Purple Finches had the highest count since 1990 with 863 from 43 counts. Red Crossbills were found on eight counts totaling 93 individuals, with the best counts being 25 at Highlands, 24 at Chapel Hill, and 22 at Kitty Hawk. Pine Siskins provided a record total with 3118 on 39 counts. Best counts were 535 at Raleigh, 401 at Durham., 361 at Chapel Hill, 285 at Southern Lake Norman, and 280 at Falls Lake. Evening Grosbeaks caused much excitement and were found in the highest numbers since the year 2000! There were 91 found on seven counts (+3 CW counts)! The best totals included 44 at Jordan Lake and 30 at Mattamuskeet. It will be interesting to see what happens with the winter finches next year!

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