Volunteer Ana Novak and Bald Head Island Conservancy Chief Scientist Beth Darrow assisted with the Audubon Society’s 2023 Christmas Bird Count on December 31, 2023. Fifty-two bird species were identified in Bald Head Island’s diverse habitats.
Spotted Sandpiper on the golf course.
Bring your binoculars with you when you’re on the back nine this time of year. The golf course lagoons were the best place to see winter ducks, and we spotted Hooded Mergansers, Buffleheads, and Pied-billed Grebes floating along on this cold and windy day. One surprising find was a solitary Spotted Sandpiper foraging alongside a lagoon. It had its characteristic bobbing behavior while walking. Thanks to the Bald Head Island Club for allowing us access for the Count each year.
Downy Woodpecker at the Kent Mitchell Trail.
On the Kent Mitchell Trail, we were excited to see and hear a variety of unique birds, including a couple of Downy Woodpeckers, a Ruby-crowned Kinglet (too fast to photograph!), Palm Warblers, and Swamp Sparrows. A Red-tailed Hawk observed us from its perch in a tall tree across Federal Road. Listen for the Downy Woodpecker’s excited “whinny” or high-pitched “pik” call when you walk the Trail!
At Beach Access 1 we identified a mixed flock of shorebirds, including Ruddy Turnstones, Semipalmated Plovers, Black-bellied Plovers (which, confusingly, don’t have black bellies in their non-breeding plumage), and Dunlin. Dunlin are smaller than Black-bellied Plovers, and have slightly down-drooping bills.
Black-bellied Plovers and Dunlin at Beach Access 1.
By the time we got to the beaches, many walkers and dogs were out enjoying the New Year’s weekend winter sunshine, which may have affected the numbers of gulls and terns we spotted. Included on our list were four species of gull and Forster’s Terns (which Beth says look like bandits this time of year), plus many Brown Pelicans and Double-crested Cormorants.
We spotted or heard a variety of sparrows, including this fairly common, but adorable, Song Sparrow at Beach Access 1. Bald Head Island is home to a variety of marsh sparrow species that are threatened by sea level rise, so it is important to document their presence.
Song Sparrow on South Bald Head Wynd.
Special thanks to Ana Novak for her wonderful pictures. Bald Head Island is a part of the Southport Circle, which includes Southport, part of Oak Island, the Bald Head Island Natural Area, Fort Fisher, and Sunny Point. We feel it is important to continue participating in this survey each year to keep track of the number of species in the face of environmental disruptions. The Christmas Bird Count has run since 1900, making it the nation’s longest-running community science bird count.
Next year the Southport count will be held on January 5, and the Wilmington count will be held on January 4. If you are interested in assisting with the Christmas Bird Count next year from wherever you are over the holidays, check out https://www.carolinabirdclub.org/christmas/ for dates and contact information.
If you’d like to join another Bird Count before next year, you can participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count, February 16-19. See https://www.birdcount.org/ to learn more.
Significantly fewer species were counted in the Southport Circle this year; this could be due to lack of access to Sunny Point, where many species of duck are usually found.
Full List of Bald Head Island Christmas Bird Count Species, December 31, 2023