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THIS WEEK at HILTON POND
16-30 December 2020

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30th ANNUAL YORK/ROCK HILL (SC)
CHRISTMAS BIRD COUNT

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center

Each winter--in cooperation with the National Audubon Society--Hilton Pond Center implements and compiles a Christmas Bird Count (CBC) for York/Rock Hill in York County, South Carolina (see map above). Christmas Bird Counts--perhaps the first big organized "citizen science" effort--originated 120 years ago as an alternative to traditional holiday bird hunts when folks young and old used newly gifted guns to see who could bring down the most birds. For that first counter-measure CBC in 1900, ornithologist Frank Chapman organized 25 counts of live birds from Toronto to Pacific Grove CA and involved 27 participants who tallied 89 combined species. That's a far cry from 2019 when 2,615 CBCs in the United States, Canada, Latin America , and Pacific Islands involved 79,425 participants who tallied more than 48 million birds, with 661 species in the U.S. alone!

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center

Hilton Pond Center started the York/Rock Hill count in 1991 to help provide a snapshot of numbers and species of early-winter birds present in east and central York County--in the heart of the Carolina Piedmont Region. Beginning at sunrise and finishing by dusk, participants identify and tally birds seen and/or heard in assigned sectors of an area inscribed by a standard circle 15 miles in diameter (see map above and aerial photo below). The circle is centered where Tools Fork Creek flows beneath the new bridge on SC Hwy 5 (West Main Street) just west of Northwestern High School. (Count-center coordinates are 34° 57' 23.57" N, 81º 06' 24.64" W; in decimal degrees that's N34.956547, W81.106844.)

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center

Click on image above to open a larger view in a new browser window

The 30th annual York/Rock Hill count on 19 December 2020 was quite a bit different from previous years. With a pandemic in full swing, National Audubon laid down strict count protocols--one of which led us to cancel our pre-count and mid-day get-togethers with participants. We also felt obligated to restrict participation to our veteran counters; under self-isolating guidelines we saw no good and safe way to invite and instruct new participants. We're hopeful new COVID-19 vaccines will halt the spread of the novel coronavirus and allow us to to return to Christmas Bird Count norms in the winter of 2020-21.

This year we had five experienced participants, most of whom started the count at 6:30 a.m. and operated independently throughout the day. Helping out this year were founder/compiler Bill Hilton Jr. on his 30th York-Rock Hill count, plus veterans Bob Olson (23 local counts) and Tom Anderson (seven). Gretchen Locy and Cindy Stacy--both familiar with various sectors in the count circle--were on-hand for the first time. Everyone received sector assignments and other instructions via e-mail and submitted post-count data and photos of interesting sightings the same way.

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center
Pine Warbler photo above courtesy Cindy Stacy

It was bit chilly to start the day, with a sunrise temperature of 24° under clear skies and with slight wind from the north. (The count ended at dusk at a more comfortable 51°.) As is our tradition at Hilton Pond, we start our Christmas Count sector checklist by observing birds at feeders and elsewhere on the Center's 11 acres. We were pretty pleased with an early count of 29 species--until we got one-upped by Cindy Stacy, who had 33 species in her own York backyard! One was a brightly plumaged male Pine Warbler (above) posing on a fencepost. (CAVEAT: We would probably have been able to count even more species at Hilton Pond except in yet another nod to the very strange year of 2020 our septic tank line decided to back up right before the holidays and we had to spend part of count day knee-deep in organic matter with pick and shovel.)

Read on for our bird tallies and for info about several particular species encountered during the count period. Thanks to the participants who submitted their photos for inclusion in this summary write-up.

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center
Black-and-white Warbler photo above courtesy Gretchen Locy

Patrolling her assigned sectors, Gretchen Locy spotted and photographed several birds of interest, especially a Black-and-white Warbler (above) that was a new species for the count. After past participants looked for this winter warbler for 29 years, one finally showed up in 2020 on the greenhouse trail at the Winthrop College Farm in Rock Hill--raising our all-time species total for the York-Rock Hill CBC to 112.

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center
Blue-headed Vireo photo above courtesy Gretchen Locy

Also on the Winthrop greenhouse trail Gretchen documented a scarce Blue-headed Vireo (formerly Solitary Vireo)--only the fourth time for this species in three decades. Our most recent sightings were in 2005 when we had an all-time high of three individuals.

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center
White-throated Sparrow photo above courtesy Cindy Stacy

White-throated Sparrows (bright-morph individual above, as photographed by Cindy Stacy) are essentially guaranteed for the local Count. It's one of 22 species we've seen every year.

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center
Pied-billed Grebe photo above courtesy Bob Olson

One of the prime bird-spotting locales within the York-Rock Hill count circle is Lake Wylie, a 13,400-acre impoundment created by the dam at Rock Hill. The lake is the go-to place for seeing a Common Loon (one this year), Bonaparte's Gulls (a lower-than-average 20), and Pied-billed Grebes like our only one in 2020 (as photographed above by Bob Olson).

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center
Hermit Thrush photo above courtesy Cindy Stacy

Of all the so-called "spot-breasted thrushes," only the Hermit Thrush is around these parts to be counted on our York-Rock Hill Christmas Bird Count. Cindy Stacy saw the individual above foraging on the ground and bobbing its distinctive rusty tail.

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center

This was supposed to be an "irruption year" for winter finches that don't necessarily migrate south when cold weather arrives in Canada. We weren't disappointed when Pine Siskins showed up for only the second York-Rock Hill count in 30 years. The one above was coming to a water feature at Hilton Pond Center.

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center

Purple Finches are another irruptive finch that hasn't shown up every year for our York County count; this was only our 11th time since 1991, with five at feeders at Hilton Pond (adult male, above) and five elsewhere.

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center

One non-finch that often appears in irruptive winters is the Red-breasted Nuthatch; the 2020 count was only the sixth time for this species and set a new record with seven individuals. One male (above) and one female have been hanging around the Hilton Pond feeders since early October.

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center

Raptor numbers during our York-Rock Hill Christmas Bird Count have declined precipitously through the years. For example, ten Red-tailed Hawks (above, soaring over Hilton Pond Center) were well below the maximum of 23 set in 1991--the local count's first year. We've documented similar declines in Sharp-shinned Hawks, Northern Harriers, and American Kestrels.

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker photo above courtesy Cindy Stacy

The 30th count turned out to be a good one for woodpeckers such as the male Yellow-bellied Sapsucker photographed above by Cindy Stacy--one of 11 tallied this year. (NOTE Female sapsuckers have a white throat.) All seven of our woodpecker species were at or above average in 2020.

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center
Northern Flicker photo above courtesy Cindy Stacy

Cindy Stacy also photographed another woodpecker without that word in its name: Northern (formerly Yellow-shafted or Common) Flicker. In this ant-eating species the male has a black mustache, as above.

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center
Canada Goose photo above courtesy Gretchen Locy

The Canada Goose above (photographed at rest by Gretchen Locy) was one of 300 tallied on this year's count--a new record barely surpassing 296 from back in 1999. We feel quite certain this species will always be around for the York-Rock Hill count.

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center
Double-crested Cormorant photo above courtesy Gretchen Locy

There are a few exposed perches in the lake at the old Winthrop University Farm in Rock Hill. When water levels are low various birds can be found sunning and preening, as with these Double-crested Cormorants photographed by Gretchen Locy. We counted an above-average 79 of these fish-eating birds this year.

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center
Bald Eagle photo above courtesy Gretchen Locy

Finally, it's always a highlight when we spy Bald Eagles during our annual Christmas Count, even more so when we tally a record high of four as we did this year. Gretchen Locy's photo of two adults (above) was taken at the Rock Hill dam that forms Lake Wylie.

By day's end on 19 December 2020 the five York-Rock Hill Christmas Bird Count observers had tallied 2,084 individual birds from 68 species; our historical average for 30 counts is 4,265 birds and 63.1 species. We got one new species (described above) not seen in the previous 29 counts, and nine species at new record highs (see table at end of write-up). One species tied its high, 27 of 112 species seen since 1991 were above their average numbers, and 22 species have now been seen on every count.

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center

We have mixed thoughts about the 30th annual York-Rock Hill Christmas Bird Count. Yes, participants worked hard under unusual circumstances and we checked off one new species, with several others setting new highs. However, with every passing year the total number of individual birds has continued to decline in eastern and central York County as more and more natural areas are bulldozed and destroyed in the name of commercial and residential projects. Farms, native forests, scarce wetlands, and other diverse habitats needed by birds and other wildlife are disappearing at a rapid rate. Various York County entities have set aside a few green spaces such as River Park (above) and the planned Riverbend Park in Rock Hill, but it is essential we act now to secure even larger and contiguous parcels throughout the county if bird surveys 30 years from now expect to tally even the relatively low 68 species we had in 2020.

Please take time to peruse Table 1 below for a full accounting of the official results from our 2020 early winter bird survey. Then mark your calendar and join friends of Hilton Pond Center for the 31st annual York/Rock Hill Christmas Bird Count scheduled for Saturday, 18 December 2021--pandemic-free, we hope! No experience necessary, just binoculars and a desire to help get a more complete census of avifauna in eastern and central York County, South Carolina. If you'd like to participate in the 31st anniversary event or have questions about our most recent or other past counts, please contact the compiler at RESEARCH.

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center

Image post-processing via DeNoise AI, Sharpen AI, and other Topaz Lab tools



TABLE 1:
2020 YORK/ROCK HILL SC
CHRISTMAS BIRD COUNT TOTALS
(19 December 2020)
RED = New species (1 species)
GREEN = New record high (9 species)
BLUE = Ties record high (1 species)
MAROON = At or above average (27)
Common
Name
2020
Count
30-year
Avg.
30-year
High
Number of
Counts
Blackbird, Brewer's
.
--
--
--
Blackbird, Red-winged
3
269
5,580
24
Blackbird, Rusty
1
2
30
6
Blackbird sp.
.
152
2,156
(9)
Bluebird, Eastern
80
81
216
30
Bobwhite, Northern
.
1
13
2
Bufflehead
.
2
11
11
Bunting, Snow
.
<1
1
1
Buteo sp.
.
<1
1
(1)
Canvasback
.
<1
8
1
Cardinal, Northern
82
70
169
30
Catbird, Gray
.
<1
1
1
Chickadee, Carolina
62
40
159
30
Coot, American
3
17
79
26
Cormorant, Double-crested
79
41
150
25
Cowbird, Brown-headed
16
25
245
12
Creeper, Brown
1
1
3
12
Crow, American
44
82
191
30
Crow, Fish
.
<1
10
3
Dove, Mourning
58
91
266
30
Dove, Rock (Pigeon)
.
35
185
26
Duck, American Black
.
<1
4
5
Duck, Ring-necked
.
4
50
9
Duck, Ruddy
.
3
19
10
Duck, Wood
.
1
10
9
Dunlin
.
--
--
--
Eagle, Southern Bald
4
1
4
13
Egret, Great
.
<1
1
2
Falcon, Peregrine
.
--
--
--
Finch, House

40

40
193
30
Finch, Purple
10
3
30
11
Flicker, Northern
14
8
33
27
Gadwall
.
<1
3
3
Gnatcatcher,
Blue -gray
.
--
--
--
Goldeneye, Common
.
<1
1
1
Goldfinch, American
70
23
70
29
Goose, Canada
300
149
300
30
Goose, Snow
.
--
--
--
Grackle, Common
3
411
3,901
23
Grebe, Horned
.
2
11
14
Grebe, Pied-billed
1
6
24
29
Grosbeak, Evening
.
--
--
--

Gull, Bonaparte's

20
169
1,200
30
Gull, Herring
.
1
7
5
Gull, Laughing
.
<1
1
1
Gull, Ring-billed
13
691
3,708
30
Harrier, Northern
.
1
6
17
Hawk, Cooper's
2
1
2
16
Hawk, Red-shouldered
9
4
10
29
Hawk, Red-tailed
10
10
23
29
Hawk, Sharp-shinned
.
1
4
14
Heron, Great Blue
9
17
39
30
Heron, Green
.
<1
1
1
Hummingbird, Rufous
.
<1
1
6
Jay, Blue
161
63
247
30
Junco, Dark-eyed
20
73
404
29
Kestrel, American
1
3
10
26
Killdeer
90
27
119
30
Kingfisher, Belted
3
4
14
27
Kinglet, Golden-crowned
14
5
38
21
Kinglet, Ruby-crowned
30
14
48
30
Lark, Prairie Horned
.
<1
3
2
Loon, Common
1
1
5
21
Mallard
2
41
141
29
Meadowlark, Eastern
29
27
114
27
Merganser, Common
.
--
--
--
Merganser, Hooded
2
6
38
18
Merganser, Red-breasted
.
<1
5
3
Merlin
.
--
--
--
Mockingbird, Northern
25
35
99
30
Nuthatch, Brown-headed
6
4
18
28
Nuthatch, Red-breasted
7
<1
1
6
Nuthatch, White-breasted
4
1
4
13
Oriole, Baltimore
.
<1
1
1
Osprey
.
<1
3
2
Owl, Barred
CW (1)
<1
3
8
Owl, E. Screech
.
<1
1
3
Owl, Great Horned
.
<1
3
6
Owl, Northern Saw-whet
.
--
--
--
Phoebe, Eastern
16
6
16
29
Pintail, Northern
.
--
--
--
Pipit, American
.
22
403
13
Redhead
.
--
--
--
Robin, American
65
492
7,705
30
Sapsucker, Yellow-bellied
11
4
12
29
Scaup, Greater
.
<1
4
1
Scaup, Lesser
.
3
70
6
Shoveler, Northern
.
--
--
--
Shrike, Loggerhead
.
1
5
14
Siskin, Pine
35
2
25
2
Snipe, Wilson's
.
<1
4
5
Sparrow sp.
.
8
112
(7)
Sparrow, Chipping
28
29
136
25
Sparrow, Field
2
10
58
24
Sparrow, Fox
.
<1
4
7
Sparrow, House

CW (12)

10
48
21
Sparrow, Lincoln's
.
--
--
--
Sparrow, Savannah
3
2
27
10
Sparrow, Song
23
27
91
30
Sparrow, Swamp
.
2
15
14
Sparrow, Vesper
.
1
34
3
Sparrow, White-crowned
.
<1
7
1
Sparrow, White-throated
32
44
179
30
Starling, European
121
512
3,063
30
Teal, Green-winged
.
1
15
3
Teal, Blue-winged
.
--
--
--
Tern, Forster's
.
--
--
--
Thrasher, Brown
4
3
14
25
Thrush, Hermit
5
2
15
25
Titmouse, Tufted
44
20
44
30
Towhee, Eastern
21
20
59
29
Turkey, Wild
.
7
53
8
Vireo, Blue-headed
1
<1
3
4
Vulture, Black
174
42
222
30
Vulture, Turkey
18
59
264
29
Warbler, Black-and-white
1
<1
1
1
Warbler, Palm (Yellow)
.
<1
3
1
Warbler, Pine
8
3
13
26
Warbler, Yellow-rumped
13
31
196
27
Waxwing, Cedar
12
99
1,322
26
Wigeon, American
.
--
--
--
Woodcock, American
.
<1
2
3
Woodpecker, Downy
13
6
17
30
Woodpecker, Hairy
2
1
3
12
Woodpecker, Pileated
1
1
7
9
Woodpecker, Red-bellied
24
16
41
30
Woodpecker, Red-headed
2
1
5
17
Wren, Carolina
74
24
74
30

Wren, House

.

1

1

4

Wren, Winter
3
1
3
14
Yellowthroat, Common
.
<1
1
2

2020 Individuals

2,084

30-yr avg
4,265
30-yr total
127,950
30-yr Max
12,945

2020 Species

68

30-yr avg
63.1
30-yr Max
80
23 spp. seen every year
Italicized species are possible/probable for the area but have not yet been observed on count day for an official York/Rock Hill CBC.

112 species have been observed at least once over the 30-year history of the count; our local CBC record is 80 species in 2000. Record number of individuals for our local CBC is 12,945 in 1994.

CW = Species seen this year during count week (three days before or three after) but not on count day

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center




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Don't forget to scroll down for Nature Notes & Photos,
plus lists of all birds banded or recaptured during the period


"This Week at Hilton Pond" is written and photographed by Dr. Bill Hilton Jr., executive director of Hilton Pond Center for Piedmont Natural History

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Thanks to the following fine folks for recent gifts in support of Hilton Pond Center for Piedmont Natural History and/or Operation RubyThroat: The Hummingbird Project. Your tax-deductible contributions allow us, among other things, to continue writing, photographing, and sharing "This Week at Hilton Pond" with students, teachers, and the general public. Please see Support or scroll below if you'd like to make a gift of your own.

We're pleased folks are thinking about the work of the Center and making donations. Those listed below made contributions received during the period. Please join them if you can in coming weeks.

Gifts can be made via PayPal (funding@hiltonpond.org); credit card via Network for Good (see link below); or personal check (c/o Hilton Pond Center, 1432 DeVinney Road, York SC 29745). You can also donate through our Facebook fundraising page.

The following made thoughtful and generous contributions to Hilton Pond Center during the period 16- December 2020:

  • Anonymous #1 (repeat donors; via PayPal)
  • Lillie* & Tim Cannon* (repeat donors)
  • Scott Cronk (Top Tier supporter)
  • Anne Fuller* (repeat donor)
  • Karen & Jeff Hurt (repeat donors)
  • Mary Kimberly* & Gavin MacDonald* (repeat Top Tier supporters)
  • Margaret & Robert Lloyd (repeat supporters)
  • Elizabeth Schneiders (via Network for Good)
  • The following friends contributed via the "Donate" button on one of the Center's Facebook postings or fund-raisers; some may be repeat contributors. Several are set up through Facebook to make a recurring monthly donation to benefit the Center. The following made donations during our recent GivingTuesday fund drive. Bill Pennington

    (
    * = past participant in one or more Operation RubyThroat Neotropical Hummingbird expeditions)
 
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The Piedmont Naturalist--Vol. 1--1986 (Hilton Pond Press) is an award-winning collection of newspaper columns that first appeared in The Herald in Rock Hill SC. Optimized for tablets such as iPad and Kindle, electronic downloads of the now out-of-print volume are available by clicking on the links below. The digital version includes pen-and-ink drawings from the original edition--plus lots of new color photos. All sales go
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Hilton Pond Center.

BIRDS BANDED THIS WEEK at
HILTON POND CENTER
16-30 December 2020

SPECIES BANDED THIS PERIOD:
Chipping Sparrow--
4
Pine Siskin--19
American Goldfinch--2
Pine Warbler--1
Northern Cardinal--2
Eastern Towhee--2
Purple Finch--28
House Finch--23
White-throated Sparrow--10
Eastern Bluebird--4
Downy Woodpecker--1

Mourning Dove--1

* = new banded species for 2020


PERIOD BANDING TOTAL:
12 species
97 individuals


2020 BANDING TOTAL:
77 species (39-yr. avg. = 65.3)

2,108 individuals
(39-yr. avg. =
1,841.0)

289 Ruby-throated Hummingbirds


39-YEAR BANDING GRAND TOTAL:
(Banding began 28 June 1982; since then 171 species have been observed on or over the property.)
127 species banded
71,798 individuals banded

6,644 Ruby-throated Hummingbirds banded since 1984

NOTABLE RECAPTURES THIS WEEK:
(with original banding date, sex, and current age):
Carolina Chickadee (3)
09/21/15--after 5th year male
10/02/18--3rd year female
06/01/20--hatch year unknown

Pine Warbler (1)
02/16/20--2nd year male

Northern Cardinal (1)
09/29/17--after 4th year female

Tufted Titmouse (2)
12/11/19--2nd year female
06/30/20--hatch year unknown

Purple Finch (2)
01/22/17--5th year male
02/15/19--after 3rd year male

House Finch (1)
06/05/20--hatch year male

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (1)
11/30/19--2nd year female

Carolina Wren (1)
10/13/18--3rd year female

Hermit Thrush (1)
10/25/15--6th year male


OTHER NATURE NOTES:
--We banded 97 birds of 12 species at Hilton Pond Center during the latter half of Dec 2020--much better than the first half of the month but still a poor showing for this time of year when we usually trap a few hundred winter finches. (See banding list in column at left.)

--The highlight of the banding period was the return to the Center of several old birds, including a 6th-year Hermit Thrush that has appeared each winter since its banding in Oct 2015. Two male Purple Finches returned from 2017 (now 5th-year) and 2019 (after-3rd-year). An after-5th-year Carolina Chickadee and after-4th-year female Northern Cardinal were significant, but they are resident birds that did not have to experience the rigors of multi-year migrations from and to northern climes.

--As of 30 Dec, the Center's 2020 Yard List stood at 110--about 64% of 173 avian species encountered locally since 1982. This greatly exceeds our previous record of 96 set back in 2008. (Incidentally, 106 species so far this year have been observed from the windows or porches of our old farmhouse! If you're not keeping a Yard List for your own property we encourage you to do so, and to report your sightings via eBird. You, too, can be a "citizen scientist.") New species observed locally during the period 16-30 Dec: None.

--Our immediate past installment of "This Week at Hilton Pond" was a primer on identifying immature winter hawks. It's archived and always available on our Web site as Installment #734.

All text & photos © Hilton Pond Center



Oct 15 to Mar 15:
East of the Rockies please report your sightings of
Vagrant & Winter Hummingbirds

(immature male Rufous Hummingbird at right)


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Hilton Pond Center for Piedmont Natural History is a non-profit research, conservation & education organization in York, South Carolina USA; phone (803) 684-5852. Directed by Dr. Bill Hilton Jr., aka "The Piedmont Naturalist," it is parent organization for Operation RubyThroat. Web site contents--including text and photos--may NOT be duplicated, modified, or used in any way except with express written permission of Hilton Pond Center. All rights reserved worldwide. To request permission for use or for further assistance, please contact Webmaster.