I participated in five counts this year, Gastonia on December 14, Southern Lake Norman on December 15, Charlotte on December 28, Wilmington on January 4, and Southport/Bald Head Island on January 5. Every year is different. Sometimes loads of birds, sometimes not so many. Some years are full of rarities, some are not.
Unfortunately, the consensus across the state this year was the season was lackluster, that bird numbers are down compared to recent times. Its hard to say why, it could be the birds have just not moved as far south as usual. The entire winter thus far has been more like spring. Birds are more active when its cold too. Those little dynamos burn a lot of energy in cold weather. No need to expend energy when insects are active and tree buds are swelling. The years has been a “perfect storm” to the negative. Winter finches, red-breasted nuthatches, golden-crowned kinglets, and waterfowl just haven’t budged from northern areas. The food crop was great in the northeast, and ice hasn’t locked up the open water. It could be totally different next year.
I still experienced many highlights however, just like any other year. At Gastonia I found what is the most surprising bird I have EVER seen in 40 plus years of Christmas Counting. I flushed a bobolink, a bird that should be in Argentina by now, out of a broomsedge field.
The next day at Lake Norman a total of 95 species was recorded, a 12-year low. The big news there was the numbers of blue-headed vireos and black-and-white warblers found. Those species were absent from local Christmas Counts a decade or so ago. A prairie warbler was a nice rarity.
As Lake Norman goes, so does Charlotte. Numbers of the same vireos and warblers were the story. A modest 90 species were recorded there.
The coastal counts proved to be even slower, relatively. There are more species to find at the coast but numbers were still down. The Wilmington Count had a morning washout, while Southport, though clear, was beset by high winds most of the day.
I’ll still look forward to participating in the same counts next year. As the years have passed, its not so much about the birds anymore anyway. Its time in the field with old friends and reminiscing about memorable counts from past years that keep me coming back.