2021 John Hintermister–Gainesville Christmas Bird Count: a Recap
By Andy Kratter
The 2021 John Hintermister–Gainesville Christmas Bird Count (CBC) is in the books, the 54th event sponsored by Alachua Audubon Society. The count took place on the traditional first Sunday of the count period (December 19th this year). This tradition started in the early 1970s because new count compiler John Hintermister worked Saturdays, the day most often chosen for big-time CBCs like Gainesville’s, in the Men’s department at Sears. It probably won’t be too long before a majority of our participants do not even know what a Sears is – some traditions have quirky origin stories.
Once the count date is entered months ahead of time, the date is set in stone – rain or shine. This year we got a bit of both. Fortunately, most of us dodged heavy weather during the majority of daylight hours. But for the intrepid souls that carry on from dawn (or earlier) to dusk, the ominous darkening of the skies approaching the latter meant more, unfortunately, than just the setting of the sun – especially for those who were far from their cars, out on boats in the middle of expansive lakes or vast marshes, or awaiting the arrival of special birds coming to their night roosts. I don’t think any part of our 15-mile diameter count circle escaped the deluge. Such unpredictability, however, is a hallmark of a CBC.
Our 24-hour snapshot of wintering bird populations around Gainesville went extremely well. The total number of species this year, a whopping 169, was our third highest ever, behind the gold medal performance and record of 175 in 2018, and a silver medal for the 170 the following year. We’re on the podium! We will almost certainly carry on as one of the most diverse CBCs in all of Florida, even though we are dozens of miles away from the nearest salt water and all the species those habitats can provide. Last year, our more modest 162 species was the second highest in Florida.
Our compilation of the count’s results, held the following day by Zoom, has two sections. The first section contains the bread-and-butter birds, the 158 species that occur nearly every year. We did quite well, missing only six. John Martin has put together an excellent interactive compilation that includes a graph showing the number of individuals for each species, the record high from all years, and a cumulative species total. As each of the 11 teams reports their numbers for a particular species, the graph climbs, and we excitedly watch to see if we set a record for most individuals ever recorded for that species on this CBC. Fun as that is, the fireworks are saved for the second part, when team leaders read off species that are unexpected. Each new find pushes the cumulative total higher, in recent years far past the benchmark total of 150 species that is considered a successful count.
This year we found three new species for the Gainesville count: a Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, present at Adam and Gina Kent’s place since early November, was photographed and heard, one of only a few winter records anywhere in the United States; a Cinnamon Teal, a stray duck from out west, was found by the airboat team on the prairie; and possibly two Great Crested Flycatchers were found, one was heard and seen at Rocky Point on the prairie rim, and the other, still uncertain to species, was photographed at Barr Hammock. Other excellent finds include a Brown Creeper in the Hogtown Greenway, two Vaux’s Swifts coming to roost during a late afternoon deluge on the UF Campus, two Pine Siskins in southwest Gainesville, a Bachman’s Sparrow at Sweetwater Preserve, a Selasphorus hummingbird in the suburbs of north Gainesville, and a Lesser Black-backed Gull (3rd county record) joined the gull frenzy near sunset as they came to roost on Newnan’s Lake. A few bags of popcorn did the trick in attracting the gulls to our boat. We also picked up a good number of our expected “rare” species that have become regular presences in our count-circle: 10 Least Bitterns, 12 Roseate Spoonbills, 119 (!) Snail Kites, 1 Least Flycatcher, 1 Ash-throated Flycatcher, 1 Peregrine Falcon, and 1 White-winged Dove. The eight Canada Geese near Tuscawilla Prairie are probably countable but of suspicious origin (likely non-migratory escapees of domesticated geese or their descendants). Lastly, the long-resident Whooping Crane, left over from the failed reintroduction projects 20 years ago, was spotted by the Tuscawilla team.
In addition to the great species totals, the Gainesville CBC has become known as one for setting high counts of individual species. In fact, we led the nation in such high counts last year (17 species), the second time we have led the nation. This year, we had our highest counts ever for Eastern Whip-poor-will (8), Green Heron (51), Merlin (11), Carolina Chickadee (455), Northern Waterthrush (15), Common Yellowthroat (331), Snail Kite (119), and Roseate Spoonbill (12). These high numbers result from two factors. First, our count circle has a wide array of diverse and expansive habitats, thanks to the state and local governments that have preserved land here, including long leaf pinewoods and live oak hardwood hammocks, and prairies filled with marshlands and open habitats. Even the sprawling suburbs tend to be loaded with birds, as homeowners maintain feeders for finches, buntings, sparrows, cardinals, and orioles. But much more importantly, we have a large, diverse, and wonderful birding community here in Gainesville and Alachua County. The size and range of our community and the skill of the birders means higher numbers and better data. We have a stable full of eager new birders who are quickly becoming the standard bearers for a new generation of excellence.
Huge thanks to my co-compiler Bob Carroll, John Martin for running the compilation count-up and the entertainment, the 10 other team captains, and especially the great birders from our community who make this one of the best counts in the country. John Hintermister built a great tradition, and he would be proud of how we have carried it on.
Species list (bold-faced species = rarity; bold-faced count = high count): Black-bellied Whistling-Duck 2056, Canada Goose 8, Snow Goose-Blue 1, Snow Goose-White 4, Muscovy Duck 160, Wood Duck 530, Gadwall 31, American Wigeon 5, Mallard 3, Hybrid Mallard/Mottled 15, Mottled Duck 578, Cinnamon Teal 1, Blue-winged Teal 1842, Northern Shoveler 33, Northern Pintail 2, Green-winged Teal 281, Ring-necked Duck 6438, Lesser Scaup 14, Bufflehead 15, Common Goldeneye 1, Hooded Merganser 130, Red-breasted Merganser 1, Ruddy Duck 2, Northern Bobwhite 1, Wild Turkey 93, Pied-billed Grebe 85, Horned Grebe 0, Rock Pigeon 19, Eurasian Collared Dove 2, Common Ground-Dove 5, White-winged Dove 1, Mourning Dove 480, Eastern Whip-poor-will 8, Vaux’s Swift 2, Selasphorus sp. 1, Hummingbird sp. 1, King Rail 11, Virginia Rail 28, Sora 74, Purple Gallinule 15, Common Gallinule 1171, American Coot 743, Limpkin 389, Sandhill Crane 1329, Whooping Crane 1, Killdeer 399, Least Sandpiper 51, Wilson’s Snipe 357, Long-billed Dowitcher 85, American Woodcock 14, Spotted Sandpiper 3, Greater Yellowlegs 36, Lesser Yellowlegs 33, Laughing Gull 1, Ring-billed Gull 121, Herring Gull 4, Lesser black-backed Gull 1, Forster’s Tern 3, Common Loon 2, Wood Stork 101, Double-crested Cormorant 610, Anhinga 536, American White Pelican 114, American Bittern 14, Least Bittern 10, Great Blue Heron 265, Great Egret 325, Snowy Egret 416, Little Blue Heron 458, Tricolored Heron 265, Cattle Egret 302, Green Heron 51, Black-crowned Night-Heron 123, White Ibis 1990, Glossy Ibis 507, Roseate Spoonbill 12, Black Vulture 576, Turkey Vulture 942, Osprey 19, Snail Kite 119, Bald Eagle 99, Northern Harrier 48, Sharp-shinned Hawk 8, Cooper’s Hawk 19, Accipiter sp. 1, Red-shouldered Hawk 249, Red-tailed Hawk 49, Barn Owl 6, Eastern Screech-Owl 19, Great Horned Owl 53, Barred Owl 70, Belted Kingfisher 72, Red-headed Woodpecker 18, Red-bellied Woodpecker 464, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker 64, Downy Woodpecker 223, Northern Flicker 35, Pileated Woodpecker 163, American Kestrel 74, Merlin 11, Peregrine Falcon 1, Eastern Phoebe 512, Vermilion Flycatcher 1, Yellow-bellied Flycatcher 1, Least Flycatcher 1, Ash-throated Flycatcher 1, Great Crested Flycatcher 2, Loggerhead Shrike 27, White-eyed Vireo 96, Blue-headed Vireo 86, Blue Jay 293, American Crow 870, Fish Crow 72, Crow sp. 32, Tree Swallow 3, Carolina Chickadee 455, Tufted Titmouse 472, Brown-headed Nuthatch 6, Brown Creeper 1, House Wren 278, Sedge Wren 36, Marsh Wren 66, Carolina Wren 582, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 698, Golden-crowned Kinglet 1, Ruby-crowned Kinglet 632, Eastern Bluebird 276, Hermit Thrush 57, American Robin 217, Gray Catbird 199, Brown Thrasher 29, Northern Mockingbird 122, European Starling 40, Cedar Waxwing 83, House Sparrow 18, American Pipit 21, House Finch 104, American Goldfinch 58, Pine Siskin 2, Ovenbird 15, Northern Waterthrush 15, Black-and-white Warbler 119, Orange-crowned Warbler 99, Common Yellowthroat 331, American Redstart 2, Northern Parula 2, Palm Warbler 1442, Pine Warbler 267, Yellow-rumped Warbler 2035, Yellow-throated Warbler 48, Prairie Warbler 6, Wilson’s Warbler 2, Yellow-breasted Chat 1, Eastern Towhee 109, Bachman’s Sparrow 1, Field Sparrow 2, Chipping Sparrow 971, Vesper Sparrow 21, Savannah Sparrow 92, Grasshopper Sparrow 6, Henslow’s Sparrow 2, Song Sparrow 34, Swamp Sparrow 231, White-throated Sparrow 13, White-crowned Sparrow 7, Summer Tanager 2, Northern Cardinal 795, Indigo Bunting 1, Painted Bunting 15, Red-winged Blackbird 10204, Eastern Meadowlark 99, Rusty Blackbird 28, Common Grackle 1013, Boat-tailed Grackle 1583, Brown-headed Cowbird 833, Baltimore Oriole 33.