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Turkey Creek Christmas Bird Count, December 18, 2010

Turkey Creek Christmas Bird Count

18 December 2010


 December 18 dawned with overcast skies, chilly temperatures and very little wind.  As the day progressed, the clouds cleared, the temperatures rose somewhat, but a significant northerly breeze developed.  Altogether, bird finding conditions were good, and this was reflected in the results.  Fifteen participants, a very good turn out, found 5,160 birds of 74 species.  The previous high was 75 in 1986, but this total ties the second highest in 1988. The total number of individuals was well above the recent average of about 3,500, but below the record numbers of 1986 and 1988.  However, there was not a single species that dominated this year's count unlike 1986 and 1988 when huge numbers of Chipping Sparrows and Yellow-rumped Warblers were seen. All the more remarkable is that this record was set without us seeing any House Sparrows or European Starlings or Rock Pigeons!  Not even any Brown–headed Cowbirds either, but we did record Eurasian Collared-Dove and Cattle Egret, although the consensus is that these two last mentioned species made their way to North America without human assistance, intentional at least.


The circle lacks any large bodies of water, so waterfowl are always scarce.  However, Wood Ducks are almost always found and were this year in normal to slightly above normal numbers. 

Perhaps helped by the favorable weather, the number of Black Vultures was on the high side of normal.  Ospreys are becoming very regular, and it was nice to see both Cooper's Hawk and Sharp-shinned Hawk recorded.  Both Red-shouldered Hawks and American Kestrels were seen in average numbers, while Red-tailed Hawk numbers at seven were quite high, agreeing with experience elsewhere in the region this year.

Surprisingly enough, only one Wilson's Snipe (then regarded as a sub-species of the Common Snipe) had been seen in the previous 32 years of this count (in 1988), but this year, three parties found one or more!  Killdeer – probably almost all in the areas covered were seen on account of their vocal nature – were in very much normal numbers.  This winter will doubtless go down as the year of the Woodcock.  After a steady decline over 30 years in the number seen, numbers exploded this year with eleven found by four parties.  This mirrors the experience of other observers across the region this year.

Mourning Doves generally seem to prefer open agricultural fields, and have never been numerous in the Big Thicket, but this year's number was on the high side of normal.  Inca Doves are found sporadically, but rarely singly, so two parties seeing four each was good.

We had all expected that the tree damage of Hurricane Rita in 2005 and Hurricane Ike in 2008 would make for favorable woodpecker habitat.  However, this was not reflected in the counts in recent years except for the high numbers of Downy Woodpeckers in 2008 and 2009.  We were gratified to find six Red-headed Woodpeckers (after missing the species altogether in 2007 and 2009).  Red-bellied Woodpecker and Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers finally showed an increase, while Downy Woodpeckers numbers were down slightly from the previous two years.  Inexplicably, Northern Flicker numbers continued low, while Pileated Woodpeckers were merely close to recent longer term averages.

High numbers of Eastern Phoebes were seen, but no other flycatchers were detected.  Loggerhead Shrike are quite common in the open areas  a few miles south of the count circle, but are hard to find inside the circle, and we missed this species this year. White-eyed and Blue-headed Vireo numbers were about normal.

American Crow numbers were high but Blue Jay numbers continued low, making us wonder whether the recent decline in that species really was West Nile virus related.  Tree Swallows favor open wet areas, but have been increasing in Jefferson and Orange Counties to the south of the count circle.  Numbers drop off to the west and north, but we have been seeing the species on the count in alternate years recently in 2006, 2008 and this year, but not in 2007 or 2009!

The quintessential woodland passerine species were mostly in normal or slightly above average numbers.  Carolina Chickadees were "high normal," Tufted Titmice in the middle of the normal range, while 26 Brown-headed Nuthatches was a recent high.  Red-breasted Nuthatches were much more frequently found in the 1990s, so it was nice to see this species in the list again. Six Brown Creepers was a good number for this inconspicuous species.  Among the wrens, Carolina Wrens were normal, House Wrens continued a recent upward trend, while Winter Wrens, not always easy to detect and sometimes missed as a result, were low at one.  On the plus side for a recent" newcomer," it was nice to see Sedge Wren again for the third consecutive year. Golden-crowned Kinglets are being seen in high numbers through the region this year and that was reflected in the count.  Ruby-crowned Kinglets were in good numbers for the second year in row.  On the minus side, no Blue-gray Gnatcatchers were recorded.

Eastern Bluebird numbers were on the low side of normal, while 26 Hermit Thrushes was more than seen in any year except 1988 when 28 were seen.  Numbers in the single digits are more normal.  American Robins are usually a very prominent part of the winter Avifauna in the Big Thicket, but history shows the numbers varying from a low of 32 to a high of 4,249.  The 2,117 recorded is obviously somewhere in the middle.  We did record 2,407 in 2007, but otherwise recent numbers have been less than 1,500.  Often, the Robins are seen in large flocks as they move to feeding areas in the morning and back to the roosting areas in the evening.  This year's good number was seen even as there was no apparent large scale movement either in the morning or evening.

Gray Catbirds, more often heard than seen in the extensive cover afforded in most areas of the Big Thicket, were in normal number, as were Brown Thrashers.  Northern Mocking birds were on the high side, while, as noted above, European Starlings were not found!  Cedar Waxwings are very nomadic in their search for trees and shrubs with berries, and the numbers this year were very low, with only four parties recording the species, none seeing more than eight.

Among the warblers, Orange-crowned Warbler numbers were somewhat low, but the same could not be said of Yellow-rumped Warblers which were seen and heard everywhere.  One has to go back to 1998 to find a number higher than this year.  Pine Warbler numbers have been surprisingly variable over the years, and the 63 seen is distinctly low, perhaps made more noticeable by a very "spotty" distribution this year.

Eastern Towhees had almost dropped off the radar screen by earlier in the decade, but this was the third consecutive year to find the species.  Chipping Sparrow numbers continue on the high side of normal.  Surprisingly, Field Sparrows are detected in only about half the counts, and then in small numbers.  We rarely miss Savannah Sparrow, even though that is a sparrow of open country.  Fox Sparrows were seen for the first time since 1997 and two exceeds the one on the previous five count on which it has been seen.  Song Sparrows were normal, while Lincoln's Sparrow was not found.  White-throated Sparrows were back up to the numbers than were normal in the 1980s.  The 42 Dark-eyed Juncos was the highest number seen in over a decade, but we haven't missed the species since 1985.

Northern Cardinals were within the normal range, while Common Grackles were last seen in 2005.  Normally we either don't find the species or find a significantly sized flock.  This year it was only two.  American Goldfinches are often detected as flyovers; however, more found feeding in roadside weeds made up for reduced numbers heard and seen overhead.

Thanks are due to all who participated:

Sherry Gibson, Lisa and Keith Hansen, John Haynes, Rose Ann and Harrison Jordan, Diane and Brian Lockwood, Steve Mayes, Dave Roemer, Christine Sliva, Wanda and Charles Smith, Ken Sztraky, and John Whittle.

Thanks are also due to the Big Thicket National Preserve for sponsoring this count.

Species Seen:

DUCK, Wood (31); TEAL, Blue-winged (2); GREBE, Pied-billed (4); CORMORANT, Double-crested (1); HERON, Great Blue (7); EGRET, Great (5); EGRET, Cattle (1); VULTURE, Black (118); VULTURE, Turkey (125); OSPREY (1); HAWK, Sharp-shinned (1); HAWK, Cooper's (3); ACCIPITER, [species] (2); HAWK, Red-shouldered (12); HAWK, Red-tailed (7); KESTREL, American (9); SNIPE, Wilson's (4); KILLDEER (47); WOODCOCK, American (11); COLLARED-DOVE, Eurasian (1); DOVE, Mourning (55); DOVE, Inca (8); SCREECH-OWL, Eastern (2); OWL, Barred (1); KINGFISHER, Belted (2); WOODPECKER, Red-headed (6); WOODPECKER, Red-bellied (55); SAPSUCKER, Yellow-bellied (31); WOODPECKER, Downy (26); WOODPECKER, Hairy (1); FLICKER, Northern (4); FLICKER, N. (Yellow shafted) (1); WOODPECKER, Pileated (21); PHOEBE, Eastern (49); VIREO, White-eyed (3); VIREO, Blue-headed (7); JAY, Blue (29); CROW, American (245); SWALLOW, Tree (12); CHICKADEE, Carolina (137); TITMOUSE, Tufted (48); NUTHATCH, Red-breasted (1); NUTHATCH, Brown-headed (32); CREEPER, Brown (6); WREN, Carolina (35); WREN, House (21); WREN, Winter (1); WREN, Sedge (1); KINGLET, Golden-crowned (23); KINGLET, Ruby-crowned (87); BLUEBIRD, Eastern (120); THRUSH, Hermit (26); ROBIN, American (2117); CATBIRD, Gray (6); MOCKINGBIRD, Northern (34); THRASHER, Brown (3); WAXWING, Cedar (22); WARBLER, Orange-crowned (13); WARBLER, Yellow-rumped (161); WARBLER, Yellow-r.(Myrtle) (256); WARBLER, Pine (63); YELLOWTHROAT, Common (1); TOWHEE, Eastern (3); SPARROW, Chipping (347); SPARROW, Field (5); SPARROW, Fox (2); SPARROW, Song (9); SPARROW, Swamp (5); SPARROW, White-throated (237); JUNCO, Dark-eyed (Slate-col.) (22); CARDINAL, Northern (122); BLACKBIRD, Red-winged (8); MEADOWLARK, Eastern (47); GRACKLE, Common (2); FINCH, Purple (4); GOLDFINCH, American (181); SPECIES, total (74); INDIVIDUALS, total (5160); Number of observers (15); Number of parties (8-9); Party-hours on foot (30.50); Party-miles on foot (31.00); Party-hours by car (34.50); Party-miles by car (214.70); Party-hours stationary (1.00); Total Party hours (66); Total Party miles (245.7).

 John A. Whittle


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