December 31st , 2011 11:54 am Leave a comment

Local birders conduct Christmas Bird Counts


As if the holiday season wasn’t busy enough, I devoted my daylight hours on a recent Saturday to taking part in a local Christmas Bird Count. Members of the Lee and Lois Herndon Chapter of Tennessee Ornithological Society held the 2011 Elizabethton Christmas Bird Count on Saturday, Dec. 17.

Photo by U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service/Dave Menke - A male Purple Finch perches on a branch. No Purple Finches were found on the Elizabethton CBC this year. In fact, this species has been found on this count for only seven of the last 20 years. In the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, the Purple Finch appeared annually on this CBC. For the Roan Mountain CBC, participants located a single Purple Finch.

This was the 69th consecutive Elizabethton CBC conducted by the Herndon Chapter. A total of 27 observers in six parties took part in the count. Weather was a factor in the morning, as drizzle changing over to snow flurries fell all morning. Fog and wind were also localized factors.

Photo by U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service/Donna Dewhurst - A Ruby-crowned Kinglet grasps a perch on a tree limb. A combined total of three individual Ruby-crowned Kinglets — two on the Elizabethton CBC and one on the Roan Mountain CBC — were observed by participants this year.

I took part in the Elizabethton CBC, birding with a large group that included Gary Wallace, Brookie and Jean Potter, Stephanie Shafer, Mike Sanders and Roger LeMaster.

We divided into smaller groups during the morning, which resulted in me counting birds with Jean Potter and Stephanie Shafer. We got off to a good start by quickly locating two adult Bald Eagles and a flock of Wild Turkeys at Wilbur Lake.

Rick Knight, the long-time compiler of the count, noted that 70 species, plus two additional species during count week, were found on the Elizabethton CBC.

“This is right at the 30-year average of 71 species,” Knight said.

The all-time high for the Elizabethton CBC is 79 species, which has been achieved three times including in 2010.

Knight noted some highlights for this year’s count. The numbers would seem to indicate an overall trend of decline for several species, including American Black Duck, American Kestrel, Killdeer, Wilson’s Snipe, Golden-crowned Kinglet and Purple Finch.

The Purple Finch may represent the most dramatic decline. No Purple Finches were found on the Elizabethton CBC this year. In fact, this species has been found on this count for only seven of the last 20 years. In the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, the Purple Finch appeared annually on this CBC.

Some good numbers were reported for Eastern Bluebird, which has been increasing for the past 20 to 30 years.

The 39 Chipping Sparrows found represent an all-time high for this species, which has been found for the past eight consecutive years as well as 12 of the last 20 years.

Although blackbirds typically depart the mountain region during the winter, this year’s CBC found 24 Red-winged Blackbirds. This species has been found seven of the last 20 years.

Three Blue-winged Teal represented only the second record for this species on this CBC.

Another good find was a single Double-crested Cormorant, which represented only the fourth time in the last 20 years this species has showed up on this CBC. Knight noted that the Double-crested Cormorant is simply scarce in the mountains.

The five Bald Eagles found around Watauga Lake and Wilbur Lake represent a good find. The five Bald Eagles tied a previous all-time high for this species, which has been found 12 of the last 13 years.

A single Northern Harrier made the count, which put this raptor on the count for a third consecutive year, but only for the sixth time in the past 30 years.

The 23 Red-tailed Hawks found gave this species a new high for this CBC.

The Common Ravens on this year’s CBC is a good number and points to a gradual increase for this species over the last 25 years.

The single Red-breasted Nuthatch found would seem to indicate that not many of these birds will be visiting feeders at lower elevations this winter season.

No Pine Siskins were found on the Elizabethton CBC, but based on results on the Roan Mountain CBC, this species was apparently concentrated at higher elevations in another part of Carter County.

Below is the overall total for the Elizabethton CBC:

Canada Goose, 630; Wood Duck, 8; American Black Duck, 2; Mallard, 143; Blue-winged Teal, 3; Bufflehead, 209; and Hooded Merganser, 1.

Ruffed Grouse, 2; Wild Turkey, 53; Common Loon, 3; Pied-billed Grebe, 24; Double-crested Cormorant, 1; and Great Blue Heron, 20.

Black Vulture, 3; Turkey Vulture, 5; Bald Eagle, 5; Northern Harrier, 1; Sharp-shinned Hawk, 4; Cooper’s Hawk, 9; Red-tailed Hawk, 23; and American Kestrel, 8.

Killdeer, 9; Wilson’s Snipe, 1; Ring-billed Gull, 6; Rock Pigeon, 628; and Mourning Dove, 151.

Eastern Screech-Owl, 7; Great Horned Owl, 3; Belted Kingfisher, 13; Red-bellied Woodpecker, 23; Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, 15; Downy Woodpecker, 28; Hairy Woodpecker, 2; Northern Flicker, 27; and Pileated Woodpecker, 20.

Eastern Phoebe, 10; Blue Jay, 155; American Crow, 543; and Common Raven, 10.

Carolina Chickadee, 165; Tufted Titmouse, 91; Red-breasted Nuthatch, 1; White-breasted Nuthatch, 35; Brown Creeper, 1; Carolina Wren, 62; and Winter Wren, 5.

Golden-crowned Kinglet, 20; Ruby-crowned Kinglet, 2; Eastern Bluebird, 185; Hermit Thrush, 11; American Robin, 755; and Northern Mockingbird, 63.

European Starling, 2,014; Cedar Waxwing, 191; and Yellow-rumped Warbler, 161.

Eastern Towhee, 18; Chipping Sparrow, 39; Field Sparrow, 22; Fox Sparrow, 1; Song Sparrow, 115; Swamp Sparrow, 3; White-throated Sparrow, 288; White-crowned Sparrow, 4; and Dark-eyed Junco, 150.

Northern Cardinal, 102; Red-winged Blackbird, 24; Eastern Meadowlark, 1; House Finch, 30; American Goldfinch, 85; and House Sparrow, 17.

During the count week, two additional species — Common Goldeneye and Ruddy Duck — were seen in the count area.

The last time a Common Goldeneye was recorded on this CBC was in 1987.


Members of the Lee and Lois Herndon Chapter of TOS conducted the Roan Mountain Christmas Bird Count on Sunday, Dec. 18. This was the 59th Roan Mountain CBC and was conducted by seven observers in two parties.

A total of 49 species was found, slightly above the 30-year average of 44 species. The all-time is 55, which was recorded in 1987.

Knight noted some interesting facts about this year’s Roan Mountain CBC results.

The American Black Duck is generally the most common duck on the very limited amount of open water in the Roan Mountain count area. Nine individual American Black Ducks were found this year.

Two Golden Eagles, an adult and an immature, represented this species on the count for a second consecutive year. Knight speculated these eagles are perhaps wintering in the vicinity.

Two Ruffed Grouse represented a notable find for the Roan Mountain CBC.

Only a single Red-bellied Woodpecker was counted, but this species has been found only 15 of last 25 years. The species is scarce at higher elevations.

The Common Raven, regularly found on the Roan Mountain CBC, still showed up in good numbers. The 31 individuals found represent the second-highest total for the species in the count’s history. The record was 33 Common Ravens found in 1992.

The 27 Red-breasted Nuthatches found represented a good number for this species, which breeds locally on Roan Mountain.

The single Ruby-crowned Kinglet meant this species made the count for only the eighth time in the count’s history.

The 210 Dark-eyed Juncos were the most of this species found since 1998.

A single Purple Finch represented only the third time in the last 12 years this species has shown up on a Roan Mountain CBC.

Red Crossbills have now been found 11 of the last 24 years. Nine crossbills were found his year.

The 170 Pine Siskins found were the most since 1991. This bird is a local breeder.

Below is the total for the 2011 Roan Mountain CBC:

American Black Duck, 9; Bufflehead, 8; Hooded Merganser, 2; and Ruffed Grouse, 2.

Cooper’s Hawk, 2; Red-tailed Hawk, 5; Golden Eagle, 2; Mourning Dove, 7; Eastern Screech-Owl, 3; Great Horned Owl, 2; and Barred Owl, 2.

Belted Kingfisher, 3; Red-bellied Woodpecker, 1; Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, 1; Downy Woodpecker, 4; Hairy Woodpecker, 2; Northern Flicker, 1; and Pileated Woodpecker, 3.

Eastern Phoebe, 1; Blue Jay, 1; American Crow, 123; Common Raven, 31; Carolina Chickadee, 35; Tufted Titmouse, 14; Red-breasted Nuthatch, 27; White-breasted Nuthatch, 8; and Brown Creeper, 2.

Carolina Wren, 9; Winter Wren, 3; Golden-crowned Kinglet, 8; Ruby-crowned Kinglet, 1; Eastern Bluebird, 19; Hermit Thrush, 1; American Robin, 17; and Northern Mockingbird, 11.

European Starling, 34; Eastern Towhee, 5; Field Sparrow, 19; Song Sparrow, 73; Swamp Sparrow, 1; White-throated Sparrow, 13; and Dark-eyed Junco, 210.

Northern Cardinal, 12; Purple Finch, 1; House Finch, 1; Red Crossbill, 9; Pine Siskin, 170; American Goldfinch, 8; and House Sparrow, 36.


On a recent sunny afternoon during my extended Christmas break, I found a mixed flock of Golden-crowned Kinglets and Field Sparrows in a brushy field near the family fish pond at my home on Simerly Creek Road. I hadn’t seen Field Sparrows at my home for a couple of years, so these small birds represented a welcome find in the waning days of December.

To share your own sighting, make a comment or ask a question, call me at 297-9077 or send email to or I’m also on Facebook.


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