Capital City Christmas Bird Count (or, CCCBC)
Joy to the World, CBC season is finally upon us. The one time of year when a region’s entire birding population, from twitcher to backyard feeder, from avid club meeting attendee to inveterate loner, comes together for one big annual effort in their home towns. I’m set up to do three CBCs this year, about average for me, and the first was this past weekend in Raleigh. In the four years that I’ve done this count, I’ve never found an area to call home. Each of the years I’ve participated has seen me in a different section of the count, with a different set of birders. And this year was no different.
I was assigned the Cary section, near the western edge of the circle. My partner was Sterling Southern, the long-time holder if this section of the count circle, and a retired professor from NC State. We got along famously, as birders are wont to do, and birdered the area more or less thoroughly. The problem with Cary, and this is indicative of the triangle as a whole, is that the places that Sterling had historically covered in his nearly 30 years of participation in the Raleigh CBC have pretty uch been swamped by development of one sort or another in various and mostly poor levels of attention to the surrounding habitat. This means that there was little in the way of extensive forests or even much for brushy fields (the species factories of sparrow heavy CBCs), but there were lots of parks with little stands of trees and a multitude of small to medium sized lakes surrounded by condominiums, because if there’s one thing that people like apparently, it’s living near a medium sized lake that seems to attract nothing but pond scum and a dozen or so Canada Geese.
So even though the land birding was merely fair at best, we spent a good deal of time racking up rather impressive numbers of small lake waterfowl like Hooded Mergansers, Buffleheads, and Ring-necked Ducks. The cold snap we’ve had in the area over the last week has done a good job of completely freezing over the smallest bodies of water, and concentrating the birds in larger ponds where they can be more easily counted. We had one lake that contained a conservative count of 80 Hoodies (it’s hard to get an exact count when they pop up and down), which was by far the most I’d seen in one place outside of the big Wildlife Refuges out east. This particular flock also included several Coots (a county bird) and a pair of American Wigeon, by my count the best birds we had all morning and a difficult species to come up with in the triangle.
Beyond that, there were a couple hundred of the ever-present Canada Geese, some Mute Swans (yes, I counted them), and lots of ducks of more or less Mallard-y parentage. The flock below contained a pair that looked to be legitimately wild birds, smaller than the rest and prone to staying on the far side of the flock. We counted them separately and noted the rest for the count compiler to deal with. I’m inclined to include them, but everyone has their own deal.
All in all, it was a fine morning, and the lunchtime round up suggested that the count of ducks this year was going to be very good indeed, for the reasons I mentioned above, with local rarities like Common Goldeneye and Northern Pintail making appearances. Northern Harrier was the most exciting raptor at that point, but the only one Sterling and I could turn up was the quintessential neighborhood raptor of the south, Red-shouldered Hawk. It’s not like we expected more, but a Sharpie would have been nice…
I’ve got the Chapel Hill CBC the day after Christmas – my first time doing what is essentially my neighborhood count – and Jordan Lake, another one I’m doing for the first time and the last of the five area counts I have yet to do, the week after. I can’t wait!
Tis the season and all.