The 122nd Christmas Bird Count in North Carolina

The 122ndCBC in North Carolina consisted of 53 counts, with three (Alamance County and Morehead City due to weather, and Holly Shelter due to COVID 19 concerns) not being run. We welcome a new count at Hot Springs, which produced a very respectable 58 species; and the Lake Lure count was restarted, previously dormant for six years. The weather this season was easily milder and warmer than normal. There were 15 counts with highs 70F and above! Most impressive was the 71F recorded on the Henderson County count in the mountains. Only six counts had morning lows at or below freezing, with the lowest being only 22 degrees F at Mt. Jefferson. No counts had measurable snow on the ground, and only three counts had partially frozen waters. Snow fell during part of the day at only one count, that being Falls Lake. Heavy rain was a problem on about eight counts, with Central Beaufort County suffering all day. High winds hampered a hand-full of counts (Falls Lake, Greensboro, Greenville, Lake Mattamuskeet, Southport, and Wilmington). During this year’s count 796,827 individuals of 220 species, two Count Week birds (Yellow-breasted Chat and “Eurasian” Green-winged Teal), and two forms (Great Blue Heron “white form” and Ipswich Sparrow) were reported, somewhat lower than last season’s 227. Top Coastal species totals included Wilmington’s 158, Southport’s 151, Bodie-Pea’s 137, Cape Hatteras’ 126, and Kitty Hawk’s 124. Tidewater counts were led by Lake Mattamuskeet’s 146, New Bern’s 120, Pamlico County’s 113, and Alligator River’s 112. Coastal Plain counts were led by Pettigrew with 100, Wayne County with 96, Greenville with 95, and Rocky Mount with 93. Leading Piedmont counts included totals of 99 at Southern Lake Norman, 96 at Raleigh, 95 at Greensboro, and 94 at Roanoke Rapids. Mountains counts were led by Henderson County’s 86, Brevard’s 71, Balsam’s 64, Stone Mountain’s 62, and Grandfather Mountain’s very respectable 60. These species totals, lower than last year across all counts, no doubt a result of the warm late fall leading into the Count season.

Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks were noted on the Mattamuskeet count with 11 at an area where they have been present for some time. This was only the third time on the NC CBC. Numbers of Snow Geese were comparable to last year, but only six Ross’s Geese were found (Mattamuskeet 1 and Pettigrew 5). Brant numbers were still down, and only one Cackling Goose was found, that being at Mattamuskeet. Numbers of Tundra Swans were like last year. Puddle duck numbers were down, no doubt due to warm weather north of the state. This season’s Eurasian Wigeons were at Bodie-Pea (2) and Mattamuskeet (1). Diving duck numbers were stable overall, but down again for both Greater and Lesser scaup and Red-breasted Merganser. Nine Common Eiders were noted including eight at Kitty Hawk and one at Bodie-Pea. Northern Bobwhite continued to decline with only singles noted on five counts. It won’t be much longer before this species is missed on the CBC! Common and Red-throated loon numbers were about average. Two Pacific Loons were once again with the Common Loon flock at the usual Wrightsville Beach area on the Wilmington Count. A highlight of the Count season in North Carolina this season was the Arctic Loon found at Cape Hatteras. This bird was studied at length by three seasoned, experienced observers, and was well-described with extensive details by all three. Since no photos were obtained, the sighting will most likely not be accepted by the NC Records Committee, but never-the-less, is a most exceptional bird for the NC CBC and the East Coast. Horned Grebe numbers were down this year, while Pied-billed Grebe numbers were relatively stable. Rare grebes included two Red-necked Grebes with singles at Falls Lake and Jordan Lake, and two Eared Grebes at the usual Goldsboro WTP site on the Wayne County count. Northern Gannet, Double-crested Cormorant, and Brown Pelican numbers were like last season, while the American White Pelican was up again with 166 from four Counts (160 at Bodie-Pea, 1 at Wilmington, 1 at Pamlico County, and 4 at Mattamuskeet). Anhingas continued to winter in the state, with 33 being found on five Counts (17 at Wilmington, 10 at Greenville, 3 at New Bern 2 at Mattamuskeet, and 1 at Southport). Long-legged wader numbers were relatively stable compared to previous seasons. Very rare was the Great Blue Heron “white form” found on the Grandfather Mountain count! This individual provided only the 5th NC CBC record and has been present in that locality for some time now. Rare inland in the Piedmont, a Green Heron was a good find on the Durham count. Osprey numbers totaled 31 on nine counts, down slightly from last year. One on the Durham count was unusual for that inland location. Four Golden Eagles included singles at Alligator River, Mattamuskeet, Mt. Jefferson, and Hot Springs. Two Rough-legged Hawks were found at Alligator River this year. Rail numbers were steady compared to last year, however American Coot numbers were up again, but still not at levels recorded three years ago. Sandhill Cranes increased again with 14 at Cumberland County, nine at Pettigrew, four at Rocky Mount, and one at Alligator River. Shorebird numbers were generally normal for the counts. Black-bellied and Semipalmated plovers were up while Piping Plovers were found on only two counts (11 at Portsmouth and 4 at Camp Lejeune). The only Spotted Sandpipers reported included an impressive six at Wilmington and the regular wintering one at Kerr Lake. Marbled Godwit numbers were low again with only 110 on four counts. Red Knots had their best showing in several years with a total of 597 on five counts; notable was the 515 at Ocracoke! Rare sandpipers included a Stilt Sandpiper at Eagle Island on the Wilmington count and a Pectoral Sandpiper at the Ft. Fisher spit on the Southport count (both were only the 5th NC CBC records). Jaeger numbers were slightly down this season with 12 Parasitics on three counts and one Pomarine at Cape Hatteras. A Dovekie at Cape Hatteras was a good find since no Razorbills were tallied this season (Razorbills started showing up off the Carolinas, as usual, in mid-January). Laughing Gulls lingered coastally in very good numbers this year, with the count of 1285 at Kitty Hawk being most impressive for the northern Outer Banks. Rare gulls included a California (8th NC CBC, first since 2007) and an Iceland at Cape Hatteras. Lesser Black-backed Gull numbers continue to increase, and this year there were 1915 from all the coastal counts. This total is more than double last year’s record count! Royal and Forster’s terns and Black Skimmer numbers were like last year.

Eurasian Collared-Doves were down slightly again, making the fifth year in a row of declining numbers. The only Short-eared Owls found were two at Pettigrew, and a heard-only Northern Saw-whet Owl at Kitty Hawk was the lone individual of that species detected. Ruby-throated Hummingbird numbers were down only slightly, with all being found on coastal and tidewater counts as usual. Three Rufous Hummingbirds were counted this year, compared to six last year. All species of woodpeckers had totals like last year, except Red-cockaded which was up with the best total in four years. Falcon numbers were relatively stable compared to last year. No Ash-throated Flycatchers or Western Kingbirds or other less expected flycatchers were detected this year. Crow and raven numbers were up again this winter, while Horned Lark numbers were like last year. Tree Swallow numbers were like last year, but still dependent on the location of the big wintering flocks. Compared to last season, Red-breasted Nuthatches were almost a no-show—only 43 were tallied on 16 counts! Brown Creepers were up this year and wren numbers were relatively stable. Blue-gray Gnatcatchers were present in normal numbers, but two far inland at Jordan Lake were good finds for that CBC. Both kinglets were present in numbers like last year. Thrush and mimic thrush numbers were comparable to those of last year. North Carolina’s third White Wagtail was the star of this season’s CBC! The nicely documented individual, apparently of the European alba subspecies, was found at Eagle Island on the Wilmington count. Cedar Waxwing numbers were up 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. Twelve species of warbler were found this count season! Highlights included 66 Black-and-white Warblers (13 Counts), 201 Orange-crowned Warblers (19 counts), a Nashville Warbler inland at Raven Rock, two Northern Parulas (one each at Kitty Hawk, and far inland at Charlotte), and a photo-documented Blackpoll Warbler at Raleigh, which was another NC CBC first! Sparrow numbers were like previous years with highlights being one Clay-colored Sparrow at Greenville and two Lincoln’s Sparrows (1 Roanoke Rapids and 1 surprisingly far inland at Henderson County). Wilmington had a returning Summer Tanager (for the 13th winter) and a Western Tanager was a good find at Kitty Hawk. The two Painted Buntings at Cape Hatteras were the only ones found this year. Blackbird numbers were comparable to previous years and wintering Baltimore Oriole numbers were like last year also. The Bullock’s Oriole frequenting a feeder in the Southern Lake Norman circle last year, was back again for its second winter! Winter finches were present in North Carolina this winter, but in extremely reduced numbers compared to last year’s irruption. Only 29 Purple Finches from 11 counts were noted. A flock of 13 Red Crossbills at Balsam were the only ones found this year. Thirty-one Pine Siskins from five counts tells the story. And Evening Grosbeaks once again, were not found at all, which is no surprise after last year’s exciting return to the state was during a major finch irruption.