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The Local Count

December 24, 2012

I don’t always get to do the Chapel Hill Christmas Bird Count, scheduled as it is always on the weekend closest to the holiday.  On years where I visit Missouri I’m generally out of luck, which is a shame because as every CBCer knows, the key to getting a good spot on count day is longevity.  In contrast, I’m a mercenary in my own home count, destined to fill in wherever I’m needed on short notice.  I’ve done the Chapel Hill count a handful of times,  that is, at least when I’m able to get out my front door, and every time I’ve had to take on a new spot that requires new research, a new schedule, and a new plan of attack on count day. But this is my lot.

This year saw me filling in for an out of town regular in a couple territories on the northwest part of town.  My area contained the Orange County landfill, so I was pretty stoked at the possibility that I’d finally be able to add Herring Gull to my county list, and if I’m really lucky, something sweet like Lesser Black-backed Gull.  Imagine my disappointment on county day to discover that the landfill was closed on Sundays preventing me from accessing it, and worse, Orange County manages their trash in such a way as to minimize the attraction for gulls.  So why even have a landfill, then?

Landfill out, aside from the constant flow of vultures and crows passing to and from the trash pile, my site consisted of lots of power line cuts, housing developments built on former farms, and tracts of pine forest.  It was so-so to be honest and I didn’t end up with anything abnormal despite keeping my ears tuned to the sky for winter finches, but I did have some highlights.  My first stop at a power-line cut turned up a whole mess of Field Sparrows, and the time I spent at a section of Duke Forest that contained a massive field of broomsedge produced both an American Kestrel and a flushed Northern Harrier, a dozen or so Eastern Meadowlarks (difficult in the count circle anymore), and a ton of Savannah Sparrows like the one below.

Savannah Sparrow - Orange Co, NC

I’m fairly happy with that photo despite the fact I was shooting through a gap in the fence (you can see the shades of the posts on either side.  Oh well.

The final total was 40 species, so a fairly regular day out this time of year.  I had some big misses, however, like Brown Thrasher and Pine Siskin (of all years!), but the Harrier was a clear bird of the day (only my second in the county), and it sounds like the count itself had some surprises including White-winged Crossbill (no details on that one yet, though), and Virginia Rail.

Another good year in Chapel Hill.

  1. annemccormack permalink
    December 24, 2012 4:52 pm

    It’s always a good day when you see a Harrier! Here in Missouri–at the Weldon Spring count in St. Charles County–we missed Brown Thrasher too. Love your photo!

    • Nate permalink*
      December 27, 2012 5:24 pm

      Thanks, Anne!

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