Author :
Rexanne Bruno
Category :

The 123rd Christmas Bird Count in Washington, D.C. and Virginia

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Audubon’s special pandemic protocols for conducting CBCs remained in effect for the 2022-2023 Christmas Bird Count (CBC) season. Fifty-four counts were conducted in the Virginia and Washington DC Region this season. The results from three counts in Virginia (Chesapeake Bay, Darlington Heights, and Giles County) are not submitted to Audubon for various reasons and thus are not included here. The Chatham and Clifton Forge CBCs were not conducted this season. The total number of species tallied on the 2022-2023 counts was 208 which is slightly lower than the 2021-2022 season total of 213 and 2020-2021’s of 216. The total number of individuals was 794,480 which is quite a bit lower than the 2021-2022 season total of 854,511 and the 2020-2021 total of 855,722.

There were a few compiler changes in 2021-2022. Jeff Blalock who started the Banister River CBC in 1986 handed over compiling duties to Adam D’Onofrio this year after compiling this count for 36 years. Barry Kinzie initiated the Fincastle CBC in 1974 and now after compiling the count for 49 years, Andrew Newcomb took over as the compiler. Ashley Studholme assumed the compiling duties for the Nokesville CBC replacing Kim Hosen. And Larry Frey tapped Greg Justice to be the new compiler for the Northern Shenandoah Valley CBC. A few counts had a record number of observers this year: Walkerton with 39 observers, Middle Peninsula with 56, and Washington’s Birthplace with 30.

A new species was added to regional CBC records this year as a Black-throated Gray Warbler was an exciting discovery on the Fort Belvoir CBC. There are a few other documented sightings of Black-throated Gray Warbler in the area but this is the first on a Christmas Bird Count. Coincidentally, the first record of a Black-throated Gray Warbler in Virginia occurred on 1 Oct 1949 at Fort Belvoir!

There were three cases where a species was only located during Count Week and only on one count: Red-necked Grebe at Nansemond River, Northern Parula at Fort Belvoir, and LeConte’s Sparrow at Back Bay. Surprisingly the following species were missed entirely for the 2022-23 CBC season. No Common Eiders were recorded despite three logged in 2021 and 10 in 2020; they were only missed two other times in the last ten years (2013 & 2017). Little Blue Heron was also missed this year; the only other time this happened in the last ten years was in 2014. The last time that no Red Knots were reported was just over 20 years ago, in 2002.

There were some high counts of interest, some of which set local and/or regional records.

A total of 10 Blue-winged Teal were spotted; six at Back Bay and four at Hopewell. This is up from only two found in 2020 and three in 2021.
There were 312 Northern Harriers observed this year; this is the highest number since 317 were seen in 2008 but it doesn’t break the record of 340 set in 1998. Of these, 45 were counted on the Cape Charles CBC and that wasn’t even a record high count there as 97 occurred at Cape Charles in 1976.
A regional record high of 289 Cooper’s Hawks were identified this year; the previous record was 265 set in 2014. This was due in part to these counts having local record high counts for Cooper’s Hawk: seven at Washington’s Birthplace, 14 at The Plains, four at Chancellorsville, nine at Charlottesville, 15 at Blacksburg, three at Giles County, and two at Cedars Preserve-Jonesville where it was a new species. The 29 Cooper’s Hawks on the Washington DC count were the most logged on a CBC in the region this year, but that wasn’t a record as 36 were seen there in 2020.
Bald Eagle also set a record high count of 1678 this year. Again, new local record high numbers contributed: 61 at Newport News, 51 at Northumberland-Lancaster, 67 at Central Loudoun, 21 at Rappahannock, 17 at Rockingham County, 23 at Highland County, three at Mount Rogers-White Top Mountain, 11 at Glade Spring, nine at Blackford, and two at Wise County where this was a new species. The 299 Bald Eagles found on the Brooke count were the highest number for a count in the region this year, but this wasn’t a local record as 350 were seen at Brooke in 2019.
The 15 Soras heard on these four CBCs were the most since the record high count of 25 set in 1975; one at Chincoteague, one at Back Bay, 10 at Hopewell which was a record high count there, and three at Fort Belvoir.
The 256 Wilson’s Snipe is the highest number since 286 were observed in 2007. Two counts set local record high counts for snipe: 68 at Hopewell and eight at Manassas-Bull Run. The record high count for Wilson’s Snipe on the region’s CBCs is 558 seen in 1976.
Northern Saw-whet Owl has been recorded five times in the last ten years. The nine Northern Saw-whet Owls heard this year are the highest number since the record high count of 13 in 1997. These owls were detected on three counts: one at Cape Charles, three at Walkerton where it was a new species, and five at Fort Belvoir.
The five Rufous Hummingbirds spotted ties the record high for the region set in 2012 and again in 2013; they were documented on these CBCs: one at Charlottesville, one at Lynchburg, two at Rappahannock, and one at Blacksburg.

A new regional record high count of 728 Hairy Woodpeckers was set and these CBCs recorded local high counts for this woodpecker: 26 at Brooke, 130 at Fort Belvoir, 16 at Glade Spring, five at Cedars Preserve-Jonesville, and 77 at Washington DC. 
Dismal Swamp logged a local record high count of four Red-cockaded Woodpeckers this year. Given their restricted range in southeastern Virginia, these were the only Red-cockaded Woodpeckers reported on an area CBC this year; it was nearly a record high for the region as that record is five set in 1971 when all five Red-cockaded Woodpeckers were seen at Back Bay.
A record high of 645 Common Ravens was counted. This includes these local high counts for them: 16 at Manassas-Bull Run, five at Chancellorsville, 40 at Rappahannock, 24 at Augusta County, and eight at Breaks Interstate Park. Plus, ravens continue to show up on new counts each year including these CBCs this year: one at Washington’s Birthplace and seven at Cedars Preserve-Jonesville.
The 3632 White-breasted Nuthatches are a new high count; several local CBCs had record high counts that contributed to this: 38 at Newport News, 34 at Middle Peninsula, 100 at Brooke, 62 at Rappahannock, 77 at Rockingham County, and 89 at Lexington.
Brown Thrasher also had a record high count for the region of 307; these counts contributed by setting local record high counts: 36 at Hopewell, six at Middle Peninsula, one at Mount Rogers-White Top Mountain where it was a new species, two at Buchanan, and four at Cedars Preserve-Jonesville.
The 61 Orange-crowned Warblers were also a new record high count; the record highs on these two local counts contributed: 15 at Back Bay and 12 at Hopewell. Orange-crowned Warblers were seen on seven other CBCs in the region.
A regional record high count of four Nashville Warblers were detected on three counts: one at Cape Charles, one at Hopewell, and two at Washington DC.
Common Grackle numbers surged this year to 110,495, the highest number in over 15 years since 141,094 were recorded in 2007. Over half of these grackles were tallied on the Warren CBC with 57,056 which is a local record high count; “the grackles were not in roosts but passing over in continuous streams,” according to the compiler, Allen Hale. The record high count for Common Grackles on Virginia CBCs is 12,076,281 set in 1965. The vast majority (12,000,000) of these were seen on what was the Chesapeake CBC (its count circle was centered 6.5 miles NE of Wallaceton in city of Chesapeake and included the eastern edge of the Dismal Swamp, western part of Northwest River drainage, Great Bridge, Butts Station, Fentress, and Deep Creek); no other details were given in the ‘Virginia Christmas Bird Counts – 1965-66 Season’ in The Raven about this astounding number, so we can only speculate whether these grackles were on a very large roost or in a huge streaming flock.
The 39 Baltimore Orioles came close to the record high count of 43 set in 2020 and 2021. They were found on eight counts: two at Little Creek, seven at Nansemond River, two at Newport News, 11 at Williamsburg, 14 at Hopewell where this was a record high count, one at Chancellorsville where it was a new species, one at Lynchburg, and one at Blacksburg, plus it was spotted count week at Sandy River Reservoir Belvoir.

And then there are always some species with low numbers or single appearances (some expected and some not so much).

Only three Northern Bobwhite were detected on just two counts: one Cape Charles and two Williamsburg; this is quite a drop as their numbers have at least been in double digits for the region every year since 2007.
Only single King Rails were identified on the Back Bay and Fort Belvoir CBCs.

The numbers for the following species are at least somewhat encouraging.

The six Ruffed Grouse spotted on two counts this year, five at Tazewell and one at Blackford, are the highest number seen since 12 were recorded in 2016. Given their scarcity today, it is hard to believe that the record high count for Ruffed Grouse on the region’s CBCs is 101 set in 1979.
The five American Bittern are the most in the last ten years. Single bitterns were seen on these counts: Chincoteague, Back Bay, Dismal Swamp, Fort Belvoir and Washington DC. The record high count for American Bittern is 67 set in 1975.
This is only the third time in the past twenty years that more than 20 Barn Owls were reported as 21 were found on these ten counts this year: one at Nansemond River, two at Mathews where this was a record high count, one Central Loudoun, two The Plains, one Warren, three Calmes Neck, five Shenandoah NP-Luray, four Rockingham County, one Lexington, and one Tazewell, plus a count week sighting at Glade Spring.
American Kestrel numbers are encouraging, too, as the 563 for this CBC season is the highest number seen in 15 years; two counts had local record high numbers: two at Middle Peninsula and 14 at Cedars Preserve-Jonesville. Kestrels were seen on 48 of the 54 counts plus there was a count week sighting.
American Tree Sparrow continues to show up on a few counts, mostly around the Shenandoah mountains; 12 were seen on six CBCs this year: one at Brooke, one at Calmes Neck, two at Northern Shenandoah Valley, three at Shenandoah NP-Luray, three at Waynesboro, and two at Glade Spring.
After being missed last year, single Lincoln’s Sparrows showed up on two counts: Chincoteague and Back Bay.

These sightings are interesting as the species are unexpected or at least not seen every year.

A single Greater White-fronted Goose was documented on each of these two CBCs: Hopewell and Walkerton.
Augusta County reported the only Ross’s Goose this year.
A total of 33 Cackling Goose was identified on six CBCs: three (Richardson’s subspecies) Back Bay, 11 Hopewell, five Walkerton, three Washington’s Birthplace, one Fort Belvoir, and 10 Waynesboro plus count week in Washington DC.
Single Eurasian Wigeon were found on three CBCs: Chincoteague, Cape Charles, and Nansemond River.
A Harlequin Duck turned up, not on the Coastal Plain where it might be expected, but surprisingly at Blacksburg in the Mountains and Valleys.

The only Ring-necked Pheasant (classified by the Virginia Avian Records Committee (VARCOM) as a Category 6 species in Virginia as it is introduced and there are no longer any known self-sustaining wild populations in the state) was on the Calmes Neck CBC. Since 2000, Ring-necked Pheasant was reported ten times, with the highest number of eight that were seen on the Hopewell CBC in 2002. In the last ten years, they have only been found twice, a single bird last year on the Washington’s Birthplace CBC and this year’s sighting.
American White Pelicans have been recorded on the Williamsburg CBC on five of the previous six CBCs, but not this year; the only sighting this year was the seven photographed on the Brooke count where they were a new species. There was also a count week report for the species on the Nansemond River CBC.

Green Heron is turning up somewhere in the region nearly every year; this year with one on the Nansemond River CBC where it was a new species, and one on the Lynchburg CBC where Green Heron has now been reported for three years in a row.
The only Sandhill Cranes were four photographed at Glade Spring; they were also seen during count week at Fort Belvoir.
 The only count spotting American Avocets this season was Nansemond River with 68.

A single Piping Plover was photographed on the Newport News CBC; this plover was first reported to eBird on 1 Dec 2022 and lastly 10 Mar 2023. It has been five years since a Piping Plover turned up on a regional CBC as one was seen at Cape Charles in 2017.
A lone Spotted Sandpiper at Newport News was the only one found in the region this year.
Rare gull sightings this year were limited to just Iceland Gulls with one recorded on the Little Creek CBC and two on the Central Loudon CBC.
A single White-winged Dove was a new species on the Back Bay CBC and the only one documented in the region this year; it has occurred two other times, in 1987 on the Wachapreague count and in 2019 at Cape Charles.

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher was only reported on one count with three on the Hopewell CBC plus Blacksburg during count week.
An amazing 20 Lapland Longspurs were discovered on the Washington’s Birthplace CBC where it set a local record high count; this species has been missed on four of the last ten years and this many haven’t been seen since 21 were spotted in 2012 with 17 at Central Loudoun and four at Blacksburg.
After being missed twice in the last five years, seven Snow Buntings were turned up on three counts: two at Chincoteague, two at Newport News and three at Mathews.
The only report of Yellow Warbler was one on the Washington DC CBC.

A single Yellow-breasted Chat was photographed on the Washington DC count.
A lone Clay-colored Sparrow was found on the Chincoteague CBC and during count week at Back Bay.
One Lark Sparrow was a new species on the Fincastle CBC and the only one tallied this year. It was also reported count week at Back Bay and at Washington DC.
An exciting new species on the Washington’s Birthplace CBC was a single Yellow-headed Blackbird; this was the only Yellow-headed Blackbird recorded on a CBC this year and was last discovered on a CBC in the region 30 years ago on the Dismal Swamp CBC in 1993.
The 12 Red Crossbills on the Big Flat Mountain count were the only ones detected this year. And this wasn’t even a local high record as 23 were seen there in 1963 and the region high count is 331 from 1975. Red Crossbills have been observed every year for the past five years now. 

The Finch Research Network forecasted only movement of Evening Grosbeaks into states bordering Canada in 2022 although “some birds could be expected to go further south into the United States than usual.” That possible movement further south extended deep into Virginia as a surprising 33 Evening Grosbeaks showed up on six counts here: 10 at Hopewell, three at Walkerton, one at Northumberland-Lancaster, six at Lynchburg, one at Rockingham, and 12 at Highland County where this is a local record high count.

Only a few hybrids were recorded for the 2022-2023 CBC season. Fort Belvoir and Walkerton participants found single geese that were Snow Goose X Canada Goose hybrids; this is a new hybrid for the region’s CBCs. American Black Duck X Mallard hybrids were discovered on two counts: two at Chincoteague CBC and one at Washington DC.

Although not a ‘countable’ species in Virginia, Muscovy Duck is being reported, as it should be, anywhere it is encountered, on our CBCs. The species was first documented in 2019 with one on the Newport News CBC and six on the Middle Peninsula count. None were located in 2020 and 2021, but seven showed up this year with four on Newport News CBC and three on the Mathews CBC.

You have probably heard about the success of the 1990s Operation Migration project that trained captive-reared Whooping Cranes to migrate between Wisconsin and Florida and Canada Geese to migrate south to South Carolina by following an ultralight aircraft. What you may not know is that Operation Migration also attempted to teach Trumpeter Swans to migrate to the Chesapeake Bay area in the 1990s. Dr. William Sladen of The Swan Research Program of Environmental Studies at Airlie in Virginia partnered with Operation Migration in the hopes of reestablishing migrating Trumpeter Swans to Virginia. The project was successful in that Trumpeter Swans did follow the ultralight to the Airlie area west of the upper Chesapeake Bay in Virginia, but the birds did not migrate north in the spring. These original tagged swans became permanent residents and began successfully reproducing in Virginia. They are classified by VARCOM as Category 5 birds, i.e., an introduced species that are currently maintaining self-sustaining populations in Virginia. According to Todd Day, these birds disperse somewhat in summer but typically return to ponds in the Airlie area in winter. In 2005, Trumpeter Swan was first reported on a Virginia CBC as a count week sighting on The Plains CBC, which includes Airlie. Over the next ten years, Trumpeter Swans were only found four times, in 2007, 2008, 2010, and 2012; these records were mostly for The Plains CBC but single swans were discovered on the Roanoke CBC in 2010 and Calmes Neck in 2012. Since 2016, Trumpeter Swan has been recorded every year and on eight other counts (see Table 1). Until this year, The Plains CBC compiler only included Trumpeter Swans that could be identified as not being part of the original Operation Migration project based on their patagial tags (or lack thereof). But after some lengthy discussions with Geoff LeBaron, National Audubon Society Christmas Bird Count Director and Todd Day, who vets many Virginia eBird checklist submissions, and because these birds are a self-sustaining population in Virginia, all Trumpeter Swans (wild or feral) should be counted on Virginia CBCs and be included in the Audubon and eBird data bases. This also applies to these other birds classified by VARCOM as Category 5 species: Mute Swan, Rock Pigeon, Eurasian Collared-Dove, European Starling, House Sparrow, and House Finch.

Table 1.

Trumpeter Swans recorded on Regional CBCs since 2016

Year

CBC

2016

2017

2018

2019

2020

2021

2022

Mathews County

1

1

Central Loudoun

7

The Plains

2

2

22

Charlottesville

1

Calmes Neck

4

3

5

6

Northern Shenandoah Valley

1

Rappahannock

3

3

2

4

15

Waynesboro

1

Giles County

2

Total

2

4

17

8

2

9

43

LITERATURE AND MEDIA CITED

Day, Todd, eBird vetting for Virginia, Feral Trumpeter Swans, 3 Feb 2023 and 7 Jun 2023 personal emails to R. Bruno

Hale, Allen, compiler Warren CBC, 2022-23 Warren CBC, 28 Mar 2023 personal email to R. Bruno

Hoar, Tyler, Winter Finch Forecast 2022-2023, Finch Research Network [Online], https://finchnetwork.org/winter-finch-forecast-2022-2023

Johnson, David W. 2003, The History of Ornithology in Virginia, Virginia Society of Ornithology, page 104

LeBaron, Geoff, National Audubon Society, Christmas Bird Count Director, Feral Trumpeter Swans, 3 Feb 2023 personal email to R. Bruno

National Audubon Society. 2022. Christmas Bird Count Compiler Announcements, November 4, 2022 [Online]. Available at https://www.audubon.org/news/christmas-bird-count-compiler-announcements

Piping Plover – Species Map – eBird [Online], https://ebird.org/map/pipplo?env.minX=-124.3044523775&env.minY=9.50785511115814&env.maxX=-52.4392296479381&env.maxY=54.864915454395

Rottenborn, S. C. and Brinkley, E. S. 2007. Virginia Birdlife: An Annotated Checklist, Virginia Society of Ornithology

Scott, F. R., Virginia Christmas Bird Counts – 1965-66 Season, The Raven, Virginia Society of Ornithology, Vol. 37, No. 1, March 1966, pages 20-33

Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. 2022. Operation Migration July 26, 2022 [Online]. Available at https://airandspace.si.edu/stories/editorial/operation-migration#:~:text=The%20whooping%20cranes%27%20migration%20route,23%20miles%20(37%20kilometers).

Virginia Society of Ornithology, Virginia Avian Records Committee (VARCOM), Review List for Virginia (Category 5 and Category 6 species are listed). [Online] https://www.virginiabirds.org/varcom

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