December 29th , 2013 10:00 am Leave a comment

Christmas Bird Counts in Elizabethton, Roan Mountain produce higher than average totals


The 71st annual Elizabethton Christmas Bird Count was held Saturday, Dec. 14. Participants in this count are familiar with various weather conditions, including cold temperatures and snow. On this count, heavy rain during the morning hours greeted counters. The count includes a circle that takes in various sections of Carter County.

This Greater White-fronted Goose at a pond in Elizabethton became the first of its kind ever found during an Elizabethton Christmas Bird Count.

This Greater White-fronted Goose at a pond in Elizabethton became the first of its kind ever found during an Elizabethton Christmas Bird Count.

A total of 24 observers divided into six parties took part in this year’s Elizabethton CBC. I counted with Brookie and Jean Potter, as well as Gary Wallace, around the upper part of Watauga Lake and Butler. At times the weather conditions were rather dismal, but we still managed to find a respectable amount of species, including some birds not found by other parties, including one Horned Grebe.

By day’s end, the count had produced 76 species, which is above the most recent 30-year average of 71 species, according to long-time count compiler Rick Knight.

Knight also posted some interesting observations on some of this year’s findings.

One new species made its debut on the Elizabethton CBC. The Greater White-fronted Goose that has been present at the “Great Lakes” pond on the campus of Northeast State Community College in Elizabethton since late October became an easy addition to the total.

Several species set new records for number of individuals counted, including Ruffed Grouse (6), Wild Turkey (161); American Robin (833); and Barred Owl (4). Wild Turkeys have become more common in recent years, with the species being found 12 straight years, as well as 16 of the last 21 years.

A single Bald Eagle was found, which extended the annual appearance of this species on the count. Bald Eagle has been found on 14 of the last 15 Elizabethton counts. Before that, the Bald Eagle had only been found on three occasions during the 71-year-old count.

A single Merlin became only the second record of this small falcon on the count. The annual count also provides a snapshot in time to help track changes in population trends among various species.

For instance, the Elizabethton CBC has tracked the trend for more Chipping Sparrows spending the winter in the region. The 54 Chipping Sparrows was also a new record number of these birds for the count. The Chipping Sparrow has been found for 10 consecutive years, as well as 13 of the last 16 years, which provides evidence of a change in this bird’s winter range. Until 16 years ago, this sparrow had only made seven appearances on the Elizabethton CBC.

The House Wren is also showing signs of becoming a winter resident in Carter County. Only one of these wrens was found this year, but that means this small bird has been found eight of the last 21 years. Before that, the House Wren had only been recorded on six occasions.

Cedar Waxwing are common this winter, with 314 of these birds being found. This is the third-highest number of waxwings ever found on this count.

Nine Eurasian Collared-Doves represented the third occurrence in the last five years for this species. Two Brown Thrashers were also a good addition to the count. The Brown Thrasher has been found seven of the last 21 years.

As always, there were some species that are normally found that were missed this year. Knight noted that this year’s notable misses included Brown Creeper and White-crowned Sparrow, which was the first time since 1992 this sparrow failed to make an appearance. The European Starling once again ranked as the most numerous bird with 3,697 individuals counted. Other common birds included American Robin (833), Canada Goose (555), American Crow (507), Mourning Dove (428), Rock Pigeon (395), Cedar Waxwing (314) and Bufflehead (213).

Below is the total for the 2013 Elizabethton CBC:
Greater White-fronted Goose, 1; Canada Goose, 555; Wood Duck, 2; American Black Duck, 1; Mallard, 274; Green-winged Teal, 2; Ring-necked Duck, 12; Lesser Scaup, 2; Bufflehead, 213; and Hooded Merganser, 2.
Ruffed Grouse, 6; Wild Turkey, 161; Common Loon, 4; Pied-billed Grebe, 24; Horned Grebe, 1; Great Blue Heron, 36; Black Vulture, 2; and Turkey Vulture, 3.
Sharp-shinned Hawk, 2; Cooper’s Hawk, 6; Bald Eagle, 1; Red-tailed Hawk, 16; American Kestrel, 11; and Merlin, 1.
American Coot, 7; Killdeer, 16; Wilson’s Snipe, 3; Ring-billed Gull, 20; Rock Pigeon, 395; Eurasian Collared-Dove, 9; and Mourning Dove, 428.
Eastern Screech-Owl, 11; Great Horned Owl, 3; Barred Owl, 4; Belted Kingfisher, 20; Red-bellied Woodpecker, 26; Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, 15; Downy Woodpecker, 26; Hairy Woodpecker, 2; Northern Flicker, 44; and Pileated Woodpecker, 19.
Eastern Phoebe, 8; Blue Jay, 97; American Crow, 507; and Common Raven, 4.
Carolina Chickadee, 127; Tufted Titmouse, 68; White-breasted Nuthatch, 5; House Wren, 1; Winter Wren, 7; and Carolina Wren, 113.
Golden-crowned Kinglet, 55; Ruby-crowned Kinglet, 12; Eastern Bluebird, 101; Hermit Thrush, 13; American Robin, 833; Northern Mockingbird, 61; and Brown Thrasher, 2.
European Starling, 3,697; Cedar Waxwing, 314; and Yellow-rumped Warbler, 130.
Eastern Towhee, 13; Chipping Sparrow, 54; Field Sparrow, 18; Fox Sparrow, 2; Song Sparrow, 158; Swamp Sparrow, 2; White-throated Sparrow, 195; and Dark-eyed Junco, 181.
Northern Cardinal, 146; Red-winged Blackbird, 2; Eastern Meadowlark, 2; and Common Grackle, 2.
House Finch, 57; American Goldfinch, 106; and House Sparrow, 94.
The Roan Mountain CBC was held Sunday, Dec. 15. This was the 60th running of this count, but it has not been consecutive years. There have been a few years when weather conditions on the Roan have made it impossible to conduct the count. This year’s Roan Mountain CBC encountered light snow and strong winds that curtailed both participation and bird activity. Six observers in one party took part in the Roan Mountain CBC, which found 45 species, slightly above the most recent 30-year average of 44 species.

Knight commented on some of the species found on the Roan Mountain CBC. Red-bellied Woodpeckers, which aren’t that common at the higher elevations of this count, have been found 17 times since 1985. Two of these woodpeckers were found this year. To give you an idea of how uncommon this woodpecker is during winter on the Roan, the most Red-bellied Woodpeckers ever found on the Roan Mountain CBC is a grand total of three.

Common Raven, on the other hand, were quite numerous. The ravens found represent a good number for this large relative of crows and jays.

Two Red-breasted Nuthatches, which also nest on the Roan, were counted.

A single Brown Thrasher represented only the second time this species has been recorded for this count.
For some reason, White-crowned Sparrows are becoming more common. Eight were found this year. This sparrow has now been found on three of the last four Roan Mountain CBCs. Prior to these records, this sparrow had been found only once in the 60-year history of this count.

Ten Purple Finches turned out to be the most of these finches found since 1983.

Although Red Crossbill was missed on count day, this finch was found during the week of the count.
The most abundant bird on the count was European Starling with 220 individuals counted. The only other species to reach triple digits was American Crow with 136 individuals counted.

Below is the total for the 2013 Elizabethton CBC:
Bufflehead, 7; Wild Turkey, 11; Pied-billed Grebe, 1; Great Blue Heron, 2; and Turkey Vulture, 3.
Sharp-shinned Hawk, 1; Cooper’s Hawk, 1; Red-tailed Hawk, 6; and American Kestrel, 2.
Rock Pigeon, 15; Mourning Dove, 41; Red-bellied Woodpecker, 2; Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, 2; Downy Woodpecker, 1; Hairy Woodpecker, 1; Northern Flicker, 1; and Pileated Woodpecker, 1.
Blue Jay, 14; American Crow, 136; Common Raven, 2; Carolina Chickadee, 16; Tufted Titmouse, 8; Red-breasted Nuthatch, 2; and White-breasted Nuthatch, 5.
Carolina Wren, 6; Golden-crowned Kinglet, 4; Eastern Bluebird, 7; American Robin, 5; Northern Mockingbird, 5; and Brown Thrasher, 1.
European Starling, 220; Cedar Waxwing, 14; Eastern Towhee, 13; Fox Sparrow, 7; Song Sparrow, 43; Swamp Sparrow, 1; White-throated Sparrow, 40; White-crowned Sparrow, 8; Dark-eyed Junco, 52; Northern Cardinal, 12; Red-winged Blackbird, 1; Purple FInch, 10; House Finch, 19; Pine Siskin, 12; and House Sparrow, 20.
If you can, make an effort to welcome the New Year by getting outdoors to enjoy the birds. If that’s not possible, fill up a feeder with sunflower seed and wait for the birds to come to you. Make a comment, ask a question or share an observation by calling me at 297-9077 or by sending an email to or I am also on Facebook.


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