The Fayette Citizen-News Page

Wednesday, January 3, 2001

PTC's bird count adds 2 new species


Close the books on the Peachtree City Christmas Bird Count for 2000.

At last report, all 19 observers were present and accounted for, and had survived sloshing about with steamed-up binoculars and wet wool socks in a day of steady cold rain.

Owing partly to early morning fog, which made census-taking of waterfowl almost impossible, the overall totals were low. There were, however, two first-time birds added to a local history that dates back to 1981.

Birders from several counties started the annual census before dawn Dec. 16, fanning out over a circle 15 miles in diameter and centered in Sharpsburg. In addition to the field counters, several couples maintained a feeder watch from the comfort of their homes.

"I had a lot of calls from interested people who had not participated before," said count coordinator Brock Hutchins, "but I think the weather kept them home."

When all the numbers were lined up, the 2000 count yielded 82 different species and 7,002 individual birds. The first number is fairly average, Hutchins said, while the second is on the low side. In fact, only 1998 showed a smaller total, with 6,200 birds reported.

As many as 91 species have been observed, in 1986 and 1990, and more than 44,500 individuals tallied in 1994. Hutchins noted that fewer hawks and owls were seen in the 2000 count, and guesses that record development in the area has reduced habitat.

He cautioned, however, against making assumptions based on any one tally. The data gathered by more than 50,000 volunteers in 1,800 circles over a period of years are certainly helpful to researchers calculating trends, but a single count-circle in a single year is not a large enough sampling.

But it's hard not to lament the disappearance of once common species that seem to have left the area. The Northern bobwhite, a perky little game bird that used to be seen marching across urban lawns with a line of chicks behind her, was counted in the CBC of the late 1980s in numbers up to 52. None were seen in 1990, 1991 and 1993, and only one has been seen since 1996. None was seen in 2000.

The two birds that made the 2000 list for the first time were a sedge wren and three LeConte's sparrows. The secretive sedge wren is an inch shorter than his familiar cousin, the Carolina wren, and hides in dense, tall grasses. The LeConte's sparrow also is described as very small and secretive in bird guides.

Both are often glimpsed as simply a "small brown bird flying away," one guide says. In both sightings last month, these birds were identified by experienced birders who got an unusually long look at them.

Hutchins said he was gratified that so many people called for information about the count and also to offer teams of canvassers access to private property. "Considering the weather, it was not a bad day's work," he said.

The Christmas Count is sponsored jointly by the National Audubon Society and the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology. Records of surveys done for much of the 101-year history of the hemisphere-wide project, including tallies submitted from the Peachtree City circle, may be found at