The 121st Christmas Birds Count in South Carolina

With the return of the Pinewood count, South Carolina again had 27 counts for the 2000-2021 Christmas Bird Count season.  There were nine coastal, 10 coastal plains and sandhills, and nine piedmont and mountain counts.  The Covid-19 virus caused a reduced number of field participants in many of this year's counts.  Hilton Head, which always has the most participants, had 230 comparied with 266 last year.  Likewise Sun City-Okatie had 149 this year but 197 last year.  The Lowcountry count had 49 this year and 85 last year.  Similar reductions were seen in the Litchfield-Pawleys Island count.  Other counts which usually have 20-45 had similar numbers this year compaired to last probabaly because there was a core group of experienced birders who participate in these counts.  There were eight counts with 10 or fewer participants, an increase of two over last year and a continuing of a trend in the wrong direction.  The one count which bucked this trend was Sea Island which had 68 field particpants this season as opposed to 49 last season.  Forty-four percent of counts had feeder watchers compared with 50% last year.  Fifty-eight percent of  these counts had 1-3 feeder watchers.  Hilton Head had 119 compared with 80 last year.  Spartanburg had 24 watchers while Sea Island had 14.  Keowee had 10 and the Low Country count had five.  Seventy percent of counts did some owling compared with 85% last year.  Unsual for South Carolina, three counts (Columbia, Carolina Sandhills NWR, and York-Rock Hill) had partially frozen still waters in the morning.  Both the North Greenville and Keowee counts had heavy fog while the ACE Basin count had local fog in the morning.  The Aiken and Sun City-Okat1e counts had heavy rain in the afternoon. 

The highest species count this season was McClellanville with 178 species follwed by Winyah Bay with 170.  Litchfield-Pawley's Island had 162 and Sea Island had 157.  Despite the compiler commenting on a lack of waterfowl, Santee NWR with 134 species was the highest Coatal Plains-Sand Hills count.  The Four-Hole Count had 103 species and the Congaree NP had 101.  Clemson with 97 species was the top Piedmont-Mountain Count with Keowee having 86 species. This season there was a strong winter finch eruption with 82% of counts having Red-breasted Nuthatches and 85% of counts with Purple Finches but only 62% of counts detected any Pine Siskins.  There were 30 species found on only one count.  There were five waterfowl: 1 Mute Swan  and 2 Common Eiders on the Litchfield-Pawleys Island count; a male Cinnamon Teal  and a Common Goldeye were good finds on ACE Basin;  Sea Island had a Long-tailed Duck.  The McClellanville count had a Great Cormorant and Hilton Head had a Reddish Egret.  A well-described Broad-winged Hawk was seen at the Center for Birds of Prey on the Charleston count.  This is the same location where a pair of birds had been seen all summer (breeding?).   A total of 48 Sandhill Cranes were at their traditional location of the Bluff Unit, Santee NWR.  A pair of Purple Sandpipers were found at Huntington Beach State Park on the Litchfield-Pawley's Island count. The bird of 2020-2021 was a banded LITTLE STINT photographed by Nathan Dias on the McClellanville count.  The bird had been banded last summer in Sweden.    A pair of Short-eared Owls were seen at the Bluff Unit on the Santee NWR count.  A Western Kingbird was found in the Vance territory on the Santee NWR.  There were two Ravens on the Clemson count.  A photographed Cliff Swallow was a great surprise on the Winyah Bay count.  There were five unique warbler species seen during 2020-2021.  There was one Ovenbird on the McClellanville count, a Northern Parula on the Congaree Count and a well described male Yellow Warbler on the Pinewood count.  A continuing Northern Waterthrush and a continuing 1st state record TOWNSEND'S WARBLER were found at Huntington Beach State Park on the Litchfield-Pawleys Island count.   A Western Tanager was found on the Columbia Count. There were two unique sparrow reports: a Henslow's Sparrow on the Congaree NP count and a LeConte's Sparrow on the Santee NWR count.  Two Ipswich race of Savannah sparrows on the Litchfield-Pawley's Island count were notable.  There were 31 Brewer's Blackbird found on the Clemson count.  A well-described Rose-breasted Grosbeak on the Keowee Count was remarkable, as was a Dickcissel on the ACE Basin Count.  Lastly an adult female Bulock's Oriole appeared at a feeder for a 2nd year on the Sun City-Okatie Count.

A number of species continue to increase on South Carolina Christmas Bird Counts.  There were 184 Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks this season on three coastal counts, with 169 seen on the Sun City-Okatie count.  This is a species which continues to expand year around in South Carolina. Also    increasing in South Carolina, there was a remarkable count of 2111 American White Pelicans this season.  They were found on 20 counts, with nine having  record numbers: 878 on McClellanville, 640 on Winyah Bay, and even 4 on the inland Santee NWR count.  Roseate Spoonbills continue to expand in South Carolina.  Four counts had a total of 13 individuals.  Also increasing are Bald Eagles, with 489 found on 20 counts with record tallys on seven including inland counts like York-Rock Hill, Clemson, and Lake Wateree.  Encouraging were 274 of the declining Red Knot seen on five counts for with, a remarkable 254 on Sea Island.  Also remarkable was a count of 1143 Black Skimmers, a species facing pressure from increased coastal growth.  They were found on five coastal counts with 578 on Sea Island and 289 on Hilton Head.  The federally endangered Red-cockaded Woodpecker had a good season with 177 individuals on 11 counts.  Especially encouraging was a record count of 14 on the ACE Basin count where individuals had been released in recent years.  A record count of 67 on the McClellanville shows that the Francis Marion National Forest population is doing well.  Cave Swallows are increasingly seen during migration during the winter and this year was no exception, with 32 seen on two counts: 4 on McClellanville and 28 on Winyah Bay.  Also good news was a count of 940 for the declining Rusty Blackbird.  It was found on 17 counts with record numbers on Lake Wateree (62), Sea Island (72), Spartanburg (191), and Litchfield-Pawley's Island (125).

Sadly a number of species continue to decline in South Carolina.  There were only 26 Northern Bobwhite found on six counts.  There were eight bobwhites found on the ACE Basin count as well as eight found on the 4-Hole Swamp count; a territory on the latter is Brosnan Forest which is a game farm that raises quail.  There were 13 American Bitterns seen on five counts.  The bittern was new for the 4-Hole Swamp count.  New lows of one of this species were reached on the ACE Basin, Santee NWR, and the Winyah Bay counts.  A remarkable eight were found on McClellanville.  The declining Sharp-shinned Hawk had 41 individuals found on 21 counts.  Most counts had new lows but Keowee had a record count of two individuals!  The federally endangered Piping Plovers had 56 individuals on seven coastal counts.  While Charleston and McClellanville had five individuals each and Litchfield-Pawleys Island and Winyah Bay only had one each, three counts had double digit numbers.  The Lowcounty had 19, Hilton Head 13, and Sea Island 12.  Euarsian Collared-Doves have come under increasing pressure from Cooper's Hawks.  This season there were 83 individuals on 11 counts.  There were three new lows but there were good counts from Aiken (25), Litchfield-Pawleys Island (24), and the Low Country Counts (13).  Common Ground-Doves were only found on three counts; ACE Basin (4), Winyah Bay (5), and a remarkable 10 on the Congaree NP count.  A total of 43 Eastern Screech-Owls were found on 17 counts.  Keowee had a record count of five.  Winyah Bay had a remarkable 10 but eight counts experienced record lows.  Another declining species, American Kestrel, had an encouraging 207 individuals on 25 counts.  Savannah River had 22 individuals, Pinewood had 21 Congaree NP and Aiken both had 15.  Lowcountry had a record 13, Santee NWR had 11, and Winyah Bay 10.  Logerhead Shrikes had 112 individual on 19 counts.  There were four new lows but there were an encouraging 18 on the 4-Hole count and 16 on Aiken.  There were 251 Field Sparrows on 19 counts.  There were two record lows (Santee NWR and Savannah River Site), but there were some good numbers in Sandhills and Piedmont counts:  Carolina Sandhills NWR had a remarkable 76, North Greenville 32, Keowee 29, Lake Wateree and Pinewood both had 19, and Spartanburg 18.  Lastly there were 42 individuals on seven counts for the scarce Vesper Sparrow, including a remarkable 22 on the Santee NWR count.

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