Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Carters Lake Christmas Bird Count Summary - December 21, 2016

                                                                    GACL circle

The 117th Christmas Bird Count season brought with it the ten year anniversary of the Carters Lake Christmas Bird Count. It was conducted on December 21, 2016. Thirty-one volunteer birders traveled a combined 542.4 miles and reported a total of 47,817 individual birds. Twelve teams spent a combined total of 90.25 party hours in the field. This year was in direct contrast with the previous year in that the last count took place during a period of record flooding for the Carters Lake circle, but this year's count came after one of the most severe droughts in recent history. The circle had not experienced any significant rainfall in more than three months.  It was only within the two weeks prior to the count that decent precipitation was recorded in the survey area. Many creeks and ponds had dried and a lot vegetation had been scorched.  We were curious to see how and if this would impact our overall results. It is difficult to assess how local bird populations were affected, but there is no doubt that the drought did bring many challenges to wildlife in the area.


Weather plays one of the most major roles in any kind of field work. Our bird count has had a few instances were wind, cold temperatures and precipitation has significantly impacted our survey efforts as well as the behavior of the birds. This was the first year that fog had blanketed the entire circle for an extended period. There were some sections that didn't have it lift until almost noon. If this wasn't enough, the morning temperatures were in the low twenties, which resulted in freezing fog. This further resulted in lower bird activity throughout the day. There were low averages for many species and this year resulted in the most "low counts" since the 115th CBC season which was the year that we experienced heavy rain throughout the day.  At this time, it is unknown to what extent this freezing fog impacted the birds, but it is appears that our numbers were down 30%. If more detailed conclusions can be drawn from the data, this information will be updated in the future. 

       Birders in Frosty Wonderland ~ Rebecca Byrd


Though the conditions for a portion of the day were not the most ideal, the teams still covered their areas thoroughly. They gleaned what they could and still submitted viable data that finished out the first ten years of the Carters Lake Christmas Bird Count in an impressive manner. 

A Christmas Bird Count circle is fifteen miles in diameter. The area within is
separated into sections and assigned to teams to be covered during a 24 hour
period. The surveying effort is conducted mostly by roadside, though there are a number of agencies and private land owners who give us access to properties. Below is the
list of this year's teams in alphabetical order, beginning with the team's leader.

Team 1 - Carters Lake - Bill Lotz, Jim Eager, Bob Henderson, Steve Monk
Team 2 - Coosawattee WMA - Charlie Muise, Tracey Muise, Allan Muise 
Team 3 - Dews Pond -  Chris Lambrecht, Bob Babcock 
Team 4 - Fite Bend - Rebecca Byrd, JoAnn King, Rich Hull, Henning von Schmeling   
Team 5 - Mashburn Pond - Joshua Spence, Theresa Spence (Duncan Beard)
Team 6 - New Echota - Johnnie Greene, Larry Stephens
Team 7 - Nickelsville - Jim Greenway & Dawn Greenway
Team 8 - Pettiet Branch Marsh -  Max Medley, Phil Riner  
Team 9 - Pine Chapel - Dan Vickers
Team 10 - Ranger -  Sandy Pangle, Gary Cottrell
Team 11 - Salacoa Creek - Joel McNeal, Brandy Rogers, Elizabeth Riekert
Team 12 - Taylortown -  Stephen Stewart, Ann Stewart, Richard White
Early Owling Effort - Joshua Spence, Theresa Spence (1:00 am-5:00am)

There was a total of 98 species reported on count dayAnnual birds marked with an asterisk ( * ):

SNOW GOOSE made its fourth count-day appearance this year. Two were observed. One juvenile
was found at the White Graves swamp by Team 1 and an adult at the Fite Bend fields by Team 4.
Snow Goose ~ Rich Hull
CANADA GOOSE numbers were below average with 185 reported.*
Only four WOOD DUCK were observed this year. This is well below the nine year 
average of 36. These were shared between teams 1 and 11. *
GADWALL, one of our annual ducks on the count, was observed in below average 
numbers this year, 58 in all. Teams 1, 8 and 11 shared these. *
At least 52 AMERICAN BLACK DUCKS were observed this year. At least fifty were seen at the
marsh along Holly Creek by Team 8. There were another two birds found along the Carters Lake 
route. This is a new high count for this species and an impressive number for north Georgia.
Only 50 MALLARDS this time, which is below their average of 83. The majority of these were 
observed by Team 1.*
After establishing a high count last year, NORTHERN SHOVELER tied with the low count that
was set during our first year of the count. One bird was observed by Team 11. 
Team 1 counted the only GREEN-WINGED TEAL of the day along the Carters route. This is
only this duck's sixth count-day appearance, and the lowest number ever reported.
RING-NECKED DUCKS were almost totally absent this year. Only two were observed, 
and these were found at the Mashburn Rd. pond by Team 5.*
Team 1 found a single LESSER SCAUP at Carters Lake. This is only the third time
that this species has been observed on count-day.
HOODED MERGANSERS continue the "single digit" trend with only seven birds being
reported this time. These were shared between Teams 7, 11 and 12.*
This was the second best showing for WILD TURKEY since the count's beginning. 
Forty-seven birds were shared amongst four teams. Team 10 found 26 of these 
along the Ranger route.*
PIED-BILLED GREBES were found in the lowest numbers yet, only three individuals.
Team 1 found these at Carter Lake.*
Team 1 also observed seven HORNED GREBE at Carters Lake. This is the fifth time 
that this species has been present on count-day.
Two DOUBLE-CRESTED CORMORANTS were found this year. Teams 4 and 9 shared these.
GREAT BLUE HERONS were found in above average numbers this year. Twenty-six in all and 
evenly spread throughout the circle.*
Though 82 BLACK VULTURES is below average for this circle, it is still a strong representation of
this species for the region. Team 12 reported 25 of these from the Taylortown route.*
TURKEY VULTURES were found in the lowest numbers yet, 128 in all. Birds were spread through
out the circle.*
Three SHARP-SHINNED HAWKS were reported this year, which is above average. Teams 4 & 5 
shared these.
Similarly, there were three COOPER'S HAWK reported by Teams 4, 7 and 11.*
Cooper's Hawk ~ Jim Greenway
It was another great year for BALD EAGLES. Four teams observed five individuals
(Teams 1,3,4, & 10). This is the second best count for this species, just behind last 
year's seven.
We established a new high count for RED-SHOULDERED HAWK at 56 individuals! 
This beat the old record by sixteen birds! This buteo was reported by every team with 
Team 2 leading the way with eleven birds.*  
RED-TAILED HAWK came in at the below average total of 30. This is the second
lowest showing for this our most common buteo. Consequently, this is only the second 
time in the last ten years that Red-shouldered Hawks were found in higher numbers.* 
Eight VIRGINIA RAILS  established a new high count. All were heard at the Holly Creek
marsh. Team 5 recored six at the southern end of the marsh along Fox Bridge Rd.,
while Team 8 had two on a northwestern portion of the marsh.
Team 8 also heard three SORAS at the marsh, which is above average. 
AMERICAN COOT continued the trend of being one of the most difficult, yet "suspected"
species to observe in the circle. Team 9 found a single bird.  This tied its low count.
For the second year in a row, the count fell on a day with excellent conditions for 
SANDHILL CRANE passage. The biggest difference is that the large southbound 
groups were mostly skimming the western boundary of the circle this time, rather than 
infiltrating the circle like last year. This made it possible for Team 4 to count them from
an excellent vantage point. They counted 3824 from one location. Team 11 added another 
294 for a grand total of 4118 individuals! This does indeed establish a new high-count for 
this species, beating last year's total by 939 birds. * 
KILLDEER were observed in all-time low numbers. 49 individuals were reported from eight different
sections. Team 3 found most of these along the Dews Pond route. This is only the third time that 
numbers have fell below triple digits.*
After last year's extraordinary count of 505 WILSON'S SNIPE, this year's total of 3 was back
to what is typically expected for this circle.  Teams 5, 9 and 11 all had single birds along their routes.                
Wilson's Snipe ~ Daniel Vickers
After four consecutive years of double-digit totals, AMERICAN WOODCOCKS were seemingly 
absent from areas where they had been flourishing. Only a single bird was reported by Team 2. 
It remains to be seen if the freezing fog at dawn contributed to this mysterious absence. This year's
single bird tied with our low count that was established during the 111th CBC season.*
Only a single BONAPARTE'S GULL  was observed at Carters Lake by Team 1. This was the only 
Larus species of the day.

The total of 200 ROCK PIGEONS reported this year was slightly below average. Most(172) were 
found at their usual hangout near the Fite Bend silos.*
EURASIAN COLLARED DOVES came in with ten individuals, which is just barely below average
Nine were observed by Team 4 and a single bird was found by Team 9. 
MOURNING DOVES were reported in much lower numbers than expected.  118 may not seem 
like a low count, but the average for this species is 271!  This is 153 less than the average, and a 
total of 85 birds less than the former low count(203) that was established during the 112th CBC 

EASTERN SCREECH OWLS were found in decent numbers. Six in all from four teams. *
Five GREAT HORNED OWLS were reported this year by Team 1 & Team 13. 
Only one BARRED OWL was reported this time. A single bird was observed being harassed
by American Crows in the daytime. Team 7. 
An average number of 12 BELTED KINGFISHERS were observed on seven different routes. *  
RED-HEADED WOODPECKERS weren't very active this time. Only two were reported! 
This ties the low count for this species that was established the first year of the count. 
Teams 3 and 5 both observed single birds. *
This year's count of 88 RED-BELLIED WOODPECKERS is below average.*
YELLOW-BELLIED SAPSUCKERS were found in above average numbers this year, with a total of
34 being reported from nine sections.*
46 DOWNY WOODPECKERS were observed this year, which is about average.*
Eleven HAIRY WOODPECKERS were reported from five teams. This is slightly above average.*
NORTHERN FLICKERS were above average at 76 individuals.* 
PILEATED WOODPECKERS came in at a below average number of 16, which is the second 
lowest number since the count's inception.*
This year's 26 AMERICAN KESTRELS  were above average, and only one below the high count
of 27 that was set during the 111th CBC season. These were reported from ten different sections.*
American Kestrel ~ Jim Greenway
Team 2 observed one MERLIN.  This is our fifth record for this uncommon falcon. 
EASTERN PHOEBES were observed in slightly above average numbers this year, 53 in all.
Team 11 observed sixteen of these along the Salacoa Creek route.*

Two LOGGERHEAD SHRIKES were observed in the circle. Both were observed 
along the Pine Chapel route by Team 9. This area has hosted a population for many years.*
This year's total of 372 BLUE JAYS is well above average 140 of these were counted
along the Coosawattee route by Team 2.*
AMERICAN CROWS were reported in below average numbers, at 540. They were spread 
evenly throughout the circle with no huge murders to mention.*
One FISH CROW was reported this year from Team 7. This is the sixth time that this species has 
shown up on count day.
Only one lone HORNED LARK was reported from the Fite Bend fields by Team 4. Surprisingly,
this is only the fifth count day record.
CAROLINA CHICKADEES were observed in above average numbers, 203 in all.*
TUFTED TITMOUSE (107) was reported in below average numbers this year.*
Two RED-BREASTED NUTHATCHES were found this time around. These were shared
by Teams 2 and 10. This is the seventh count day record for the circle.
WHITE-BREASTED NUTHATCHES (17) were observed in lower numbers than expected.
This total is only four above the circle's low count. *
BROWN-HEADED NUTHATCH (40) tied with the low count that was established 
during the 115th season.*
Five BROWN CREEPERS were recorded this year and these were shared between
Teams 2, 5 and 11.*
We had two HOUSE WRENS, which does tie this bird's low count for the circle. These 
were shared between Teams 2 and 3.  
WINTER WRENS also tied with their low count. This is the third time that this species has
came in at nine birds. These were observed by Teams 2, 3, and 5.
CAROLINA WRENS were found in slightly below average numbers, 138 in all.*
This year's 90 GOLDEN-CROWNED KINGLETS were just slightly below the nine year 
average of 95. Team 11 reported the highest number of these from the Salacoa Creek section, 57!* 
RUBY-CROWNED KINGLETS were reported in lower than average numbers, 80 in all.*
This count has produced high numbers of EASTERN BLUEBIRDS, and this year's 253 is a 
great total, but still lower than the nine year average of 290. The highest concentration
was 45 birds found along the Taylortown route by Team 12.*
HERMIT THRUSH was found in good numbers. This year's 39 reported is slightly above average.*
Hermit Thrush ~ Daniel Vickers
Good sized flocks of AMERICAN ROBINS were observed throughout the circle this year. 
Altogether, there were 1211 reported which is the second highest total since the count's inception.*
BROWN THRASHERS were found in above average numbers this time. In fact it is the second 
highest count for this species. Ironically, it is the third time that 37 birds have been reported over 
the last ten years. Team 3 reported twelve along the Dews Pond route.*
NORTHERN MOCKINGBIRD set a new high count for the circle this season. This year's 139
individuals beat the former high by one bird! Team 9 found the highest concentration of these
along the Pine Chapel route, 26 in all.*
539 EUROPEAN STARLINGS were reported.*
There were 75 AMERICAN PIPITS reported this year, which is above average. These were
shared between Teams 4, 9, 11, & 12.*
CEDAR WAXWINGS came in with a total of 748, which is the third highest total for this 
species since the count's beginning. Team 2 found the highest concentration of these.*

Team 5 found a single ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLER. This is the third time that 
this species has made an appearance on the count. 

A decent showing of 12 PALM WARBLERS were reported from four sections. Teams 1, 5 , 9 and 
12 found these. Interestingly, two teams observed Eastern form individuals, six in all, which are
uncommon here.*
Palm Warbler(Eastern) ~ Daniel Vickers
PINE WARBLERS came in at 18, which is barely below average.*
There were 87 YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLERS reported, which is below average. The
highest concentrations were found in the Taylortown and Salacoa Creek sections.*
The 269 CHIPPING SPARROWS reported was 20 less than the prior low count of 289 that was 
established during our first year of the count. The nine-year average is 457.*
This was the first year that FIELD SPARROW fell below triple digits. Only 69 were reported for a 
new low count for the circle. The nine-year average is 150.*
Field Sparrow ~ Daniel Vickers
A total of 27 FOX SPARROWS were reported from eight separate teams. As usual, most 
were found by Team 2 in the Coosawattee WMA. The nine year average is 31.*
DARK-EYED JUNCO numbers were terribly low this time at 59 individuals reported. This does
indeed establish a new low count for the circle. The nine-year average for this species is 122. 
Team 10 found some decent flocks along the Ranger route, but this species was found in 
single digits throughout most of the circle.*
WHITE-CROWNED SPARROWS were found in average numbers, 49 in all. Team 9 counted
34 birds at Pine Chapel, Team 4 found 14 birds at Fite Bend and Team 10 had a single bird near 
White-crowned Sparrow ~ Daniel Vickers

This year's 290 WHITE-THROATED SPARROWS were below their average of 329.
Four VESPER SPARROWS were tallied for the count by Team 4. This is below the average 
of 8.*
The SAVANNAH SPARROW number fell below triple digits for the first time in six years. The
nine-year average is 177, so this year's 94 was surprising. The majority of these were found 
along the Dews Pond route by Team 3.*
SONG SPARROW (328) numbers were slightly below average.*
SWAMP SPARROW (54) was scarce this time, producing the second lowest total since the 
count's beginning.*
EASTERN TOWHEES were reported in good numbers, 147 in all. This is above average. 
Team 3 reported the highest concentration of these.*
The 317 NORTHERN CARDINALS observed this year was slightly below average.*
RED-WINGED BLACKBIRD set a new high count at 10713 individuals! This beats the old 
record by only 162 birds! This total is a combination of reports from five teams. Team 1
reported 9500 from their section and Team 2 reported another 1120 from theirs.*
EASTERN MEADOWLARK (137) numbers were below average. Most of these were found 
by Teams 1 and 9.*
Team 8 found a single RUSTY BLACKBIRD which unfortunately was the only one for the day
It was found near the Holly Creek wetlands, which is a known roosting area for this declining species.
Team 2 found the largest flock of COMMON GRACKLES with a conservative estimate of 
21,000A few other teams observed much smaller flocks for a final submitted total of 24,505
This is the largest number of grackles that have been reported on the count in five years, and is
above our nine-year average of 20,013!*
BROWN-HEADED COWBIRDS came in at 101 this time. As usual, most were observed at the 
Fite Bend fields by Team 4.
PURPLE FINCHES were found in record numbers. Six teams reported a total of 45
This just beat the old high count by four individuals which was set during the 109th CBC season.
The nine-year average is 14.
The 63 HOUSE FINCHES that were reported established a new high count.*
Teams 10 and 12 found the day's only PINE SISKINS, ten in all. This is slightly below average, but 
totally the norm for this inconsistent winter visitor.
AMERICAN GOLDFINCHES were found in fewer numbers than ever before. Only 92 were 
reported. This is the first time that this common species has dropped below triple digits.
38 HOUSE SPARROWS were counted.*
COUNT WEEK There was a some effort to supplement our results by scouting and follow-up teams this
year. In fact, seven species were reported during count-week. Count-week is defined as
three days prior and three days after the actual count day. During these six days,
species that were not observed on count day can be reported to the NAS as present
within the circle. 
Surf Scoters ~ Joshua Spence
Species reported:

Greater White-fronted Goose - White Graves Swamp
Ross's Goose - White Graves Swamp
Surf Scoter - Carters Lake
Bufflehead - Carters Lake
Common Loon - Carters Lake
Northern Harrier - near Nickelsville
Ring-billed Gull - Caters Lake

   Goose gaggle(Ross's, Canada) ~ Joshua Spence

The Carter's Lake CBC is located in the ridge & valley province of north GA. The fifteen mile
diameter circle covers portions of southern Murray County and northeastern Gordon County.
The Christmas Bird Count is a winter bird survey that stands as the longest running wildlife 
census. It is conducted by volunteers. The National Audubon Society has promoted the census 
for decades. The society and others use the data to determine the health of wild bird populations.
For more information:

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