Long-running bird counts find some surprises


Photo by Bryan Stevens • Abundant waterfowl, such as this Wood Duck, helped push the 2016 Elizabethton Christmas Bird Count to tie a previous record.

The annual Christmas Bird Counts conducted by the Lee and Lois Herndon Chapter of Tennessee Ornithological Society found some good birds.

The 74th consecutive Elizabethton CBC was held on Saturday, Dec. 17. Twenty-four observers in six parties, plus one feeder-watcher, participated. Conditions were generally favorable and featured mild temperatures (35-66 degrees) on a mostly cloudy day with windy conditions, especially in the higher elevations.

I spent the morning and early afternoon counting birds with Chris Soto and Charles Moore along the Watauga River in Elizabethton. We also received some assistance from Michelle Sparks.


Photo by Bryan Stevens • This female Eastern Towhee was one of several towhees found on the 2016 Elizabethton CBC.

A total of 80 species were tallied, tying the all-time high for this count set in 2012.  By comparison, the average over the last 30 years has been 72 species, according to the count’s long-time compiler, Rick Knight.

Knight said that highlights from the count included:

• 12 species of ducks (plus four more in count week) were counted on this year’s CBC. In particular, wigeon, shoveler, green-winged teal, both scaup and red-breasted merganser are scarce on this count, but all were found this year.

• Double-crested Cormorant was found for just the seventh time on this CBC, with six of those times since 2004.

• This CBC marked just the third time in the last 24 years and 10th ever on this CBC that Red-headed Woodpecker has made the count.

• The seven Red-breasted Nuthatches reported represented an above average number for this species.

• This was only the third time for Pine Warbler on this CBC in the last 50 years and the three Pine Warblers found this year represent a high count for this CBC.

• A single Savannah Sparrow was the first on this CBC in 16 years. There’s not much accessible habitat for this sparrow within the count area.

• Nine Purple Finches on this CBC marked the most found since 1987.


Photo by Bryan Stevens • The 26 Great Blue Herons found during the Elizabethton CBC almost tied the old record.

• Red Crossbills on this year’s CBC marked only the fourth occurrence on this CBC in the last 30 years.

Nevertheless, the Elizabethton CBC had some notable misses, including Brown Creeper, White-crowned Sparrow and Pine Siskin.

Some species are showing rather obvious trends on this CBC, according to Knight.

• The 114 Wild Turkeys found are the second most found in the  last 24 years. Prior to that date, no turkeys had been found on this CBC.

• Great Blue Herons continue to increase. The 26 individuals found represent the second most ever reported on this CBC.

• The four Bald Eagles found meant that this large raptor has been found for 17 of last 18 years, but only three times before that.

• Only three Killdeers were found, which reflects a continuing decline on this CBC likely due to habitat loss and degradation.


Photo by Bryan Stevens • The 47 Red-bellied Woodpeckers on the 2016 Elizabethton CBC set an all-time high for this species.

• The eleven Eurasian Collared-Doves found means that this dove has been found five of the last eight years.

• The 21 Belted Kingfishers found tied for second highest total ever for this species.

• The 47 Red-bellied Woodpeckers found set a new high count for this species, which has shown a steady increase in the foothills and lower mountains. CBCs conducted in the 1970s in Elizabethton had only single-digit counts for this woodpecker.

• Common Raven, with 13 found on this year’s CBC, has been found yearly since 1974, but none had appeared on this count prior to that date.

• Eastern Bluebird numbers continued to rise yearly. The 177 bluebirds this year represent the third-highest count for this species.

• Numbers for Field Sparrow, Song Sparrow and White-throated Sparrow showed the fewest of these three species since 1996, 1974 and 1969, respectively. These low sparrow numbers may be due to drought this year, which meant fewer seeds to feed these sparrows.

The total for the Elizabethton CBC follows:


Photo by Bryan Stevens • Feeder visitors, like this White-breasted Nuthatch, were abundant birds on both Christmas Bird Counts.

Canada Goose, 426; Wood Duck, 1; Gadwall, 10; American Wigeon, 2; American Black Duck, 1; Mallard, 205; Northern Shoveler, 2; Green-winged Teal, 3; Ring-necked Duck, 1; Greater Scaup, 2; Lesser Scaup, 1; Bufflehead, 256; and Red-breasted Merganser, 4.

Ruffed Grouse, 1; Wild Turkey, 114; Common Loon, 3; Pied-billed Grebe, 10; Horned Grebe, 21; Double-crested Cormorant, 4; and Great Blue Heron, 26.

Black Vulture, 10; Turkey Vulture, 2; Sharp-shinned Hawk, 4; Cooper’s Hawk, 8; Bald Eagle, 4; and Red-tailed Hawk, 13.

American Coot, 33; Killdeer, 3; Wilson’s Snipe, 4; Ring-billed Gull, 3; Rock Pigeon, 487; Eurasian Collared-Dove, 11; and Mourning Dove, 246.

Eastern Screech-owl, 2; Great Horned Owl, 1; Barred Owl, 2; Belted Kingfisher, 21; Red-headed Woodpecker, 2; Red-bellied Woodpecker, 45; Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, 7; Downy Woodpecker, 23; Hairy Woodpecker, 7; Northern Flicker, 15; and Pileated Woodpecker, 24.

American Kestrel, 13; Eastern Phoebe, 10; Blue Jay, 209; American Crow, 541; and Common Raven, 13.


Photo by Bryan Stevens • American Crows are abundant birds on these two CBCs.

Carolina Chickadee, 114; Tufted Titmouse, 102; Red-breasted Nuthatch, 7; White-breasted Nuthatch, 41; Winter Wren, 8; Carolina Wren, 85.

Golden-crowned Kinglet, 19; Ruby-crowned Kinglet, 3; Eastern Bluebird, 175; Hermit Thrush, 4; American Robin, 105; and Northern Mockingbird, 40.

European Starling, 809; Cedar Waxwing, 272; Pine Warbler, 3; and Yellow-rumped Warbler, 58.

Eastern Towhee, 25; Chipping Sparrow, 29; Field Sparrow, 7; Savannah Sparrow, 1; Fox Sparrow, 1; Song Sparrow, 70; Swamp Sparrow, 2; White-throated Sparrow, 57; and Dark-eyed Junco, 135.

Northern Cardinal, 92; House Finch, 74; Purple Finch, 5; Red Crossbill, 7; American Goldfinch, 101; and House Sparrow, 17.


The 64th Roan Mountain CBC was held on Wednesday, Dec. 21, with six participants in two parties. Conditions were generally favorable: mild temperatures (21-53 degrees) were coupled with clear skies and no significant winds.


Photo by Bryan Stevens • These American Black Ducks were found at Ripshin Lake during the Roan Mountain CBC.

A total of 42 species were tallied, slightly below the recent 30-year average of 46. The all-time high was 55 species back in 1987. Despite the decent weather, birds were hard to find. I counted with Brooke and Jean Potter in the town of Roan Mountain and on Ripshin Mountain.

Highlights included 12 American Black Ducks, a single Red-breasted Nuthatch, a solitary Ruby-crowned Kinglet and two Purple Finches. Notable misses for this count included Ruffed Grouse, Hairy Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, Brown Creeper, American Robin, Cedar Waxwing, Eastern Towhee and Pine Siskin.

The total for the Roan Mountain CBC follows:

Canada Goose, 5; American Black Duck, 12;  Bufflehead, 6; Wild Turkey, 8; Pied-billed Grebe, 1; and Great Blue Heron, 1.

Turkey Vulture, 1; Cooper’s Hawk, 1; Red-tailed Hawk, 6; Rock Pigeon, 25; Mourning Dove, 66; Barred Owl, 2; and Belted Kingfisher, 1.


Photo by Bryan Stevens • Red-tailed Hawks are a fairly common winter raptor in the region.

Red-bellied Woodpecker, 6; Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, 1; Downy Woodpecker, 7; and Pileated Woodpecker, 2.

Eastern Phoebe, 1; Blue Jay, 22; American Crow, 170; and Common Raven, 9.

Carolina Chickadee, 24; Tufted Titmouse, 17; Red-breasted Nuthatch, 1; White-breasted Nuthatch, 6; Winter Wren, 2; and Carolina Wren, 18.

Golden-crowned Kinglet, 7; Ruby-crowned Kinglet, 1; Eastern Bluebird, 6; Northern Mockingbird, 3; and European Starling, 78.

Field Sparrow, 10; Fox Sparrow, 2; Song Sparrow, 55; White-throated Sparrow, 8; Dark-eyed Junco, 68; and Northern Cardinal, 12.

House Finch, 6; Purple Finch, 2; American Goldfinch, 17; and House Sparrow, 24.


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