Authored by John Gerwin
The Raleigh Christmas Bird Count in 2018 was very different from recent past years – it was relatively warm! I won’t say ‘balmy’ but compared to the below-freezing dawn temps some of us have experienced the past few years, this year felt a little, well, balmy. But it was also rather drizzly and indeed for the first 90 minutes, most of us experienced some form of light precipitation. I continued my tradition of providing a couple boxes of Krispy Kreme donuts (assorted variety), a thermos of bird-friendly coffee, for those willing to join me for one pre-dawn hour on site, to listen for any wood-be owl. To date, I have heard only one such owl in 5 or so years of this, and by the end of the hour, I am still at 1. But I always enjoy a few donuts and many many ounces of coffee. I have also enjoyed the company of a variety of other “dawn birds”. This year, my “flock” consisted of a couple Young Naturalists, a couple recent YNC graduates, some Audubon members, and a couple folks from the Museum.
Our overall effort this year took the form of 19 groups, covering their respective areas. By 12:30pm, with about “half the precincts” reporting, the species list total was at 95. This is noticeably higher than years past. Some of the groups will be sending in their reports in the coming 2 weeks, and the total species number may reach 100, something that hasn’t happened on this count in many years.
But it’s not just a high number that matters. Indeed, the main focus on the count is to cover the areas we do in a consistent manner. The data we collect are submitted to a national database, and this database is available to the general public. Many folks have performed a variety of analyses on these data, which span 118 years for some locations.
This is a ‘big year’ for seeing some “northern” species, which are moving into the SE in large numbers this fall/winter. Pine siskins have been showing up at various feeders. We found a couple Red-breasted Nuthatches at Walnut Creek.
Last year, we flushed an amazing Wood duck from the Garner Road pond along the Walnut Creek greenway – this year only half a dozen flew by. It’s pretty unusual to find 75 Wood ducks in such an urban setting. And some of our crew managed to flush a Gray Catbird, always rare for this count. Folks over along Swift Creek found some Rusty Blackbirds, anther good find.
A Peregrine Falcon and Merlin were seen along Mid Pines Road. A Peregrine was seen at the same spot last year, and the year before. Surely this Peregrine is a returning individual, enjoying some of the many pigeons along that stretch.
By 0900, the drizzle had stopped and the next few hours were nice for walking and birding. One of my favorite birding experiences of the year happened at the end of our count. A few of us wandered east along the Greenway into an adjoining neighborhood of southeast Raleigh (which is how the Greenway was planned at this section). In 20 minutes, covering about 3 blocks with normal yards and houses, but Walnut Creek nearby, we found nearly 75 individual birds of over 20 species. This was a section we have never covered before, but this year we had time. And it goes to show how interesting it can be to wander into such an area and see what you can find.
Indeed, the new organizer, Brian O’Shea, and I were discussing this very topic right before the count. And that we plan to get some folks into such areas in the future and thus expand coverage. There are many wooded neighborhoods within the count circle, that are never covered. If you are interested in being one of our “urban” stealth bird counters in the future, just let us know and we will set you up.
In the meantime, a big thanks to all who helped out. In the end, our Walnut Creek totals (species and individuals) were almost the same as 2017 – only a tad lower. I would have bet money that both were “a lot lower” but I would have lost. That’s in part why we do what we do. Even in a light drizzle.
This way we have real data, and we don’t have to rely on Gerwin’s faulty memory.
Here are photos of two other birds that were spotted.