Saturday, January 19, 2008

Birthing a new CBC

I originally intended to organize a full-fledged dry run of a prospective new Lewis County CBC this year, but I didn't get around to it. So instead, I spent the first part of January scouting the prospective CBC circle on my own. The major purpose was to thoroughly evaluate the roads, habitats, and territory of the preliminary circle to see if it needs any adjustments. The location is fairly constrained already by the need to avoid overlap with the Buffalo River CBC, my desire to keep it almost entirely confined within Lewis County (one of Tennessee's smallest counties), and of course by the desire to include the homes of a few likely participants. After fine-tuning it a little bit, I settled on a circle centered at N35deg31.1min, W87deg31.4min, which is about 3 miles SE of downtown Hohenwald. Some of the landmarks this includes are the Natchez Trace Parkway from Jack's Branch to Fall Hollow Falls (including the Meriwether Lewis area), the Lewis State Forest, all of Hohenwald, Hick Hill WMA, a teeny tiny tip of Laurel Hill WMA, a long stretch of the Buffalo River, and vast expanses of hillbilly holler country, paper company and gun club holdings, north to Kimmins, west and south to Buffalo Valley, and east to Gordonsburg and the NACO Natchez Trace resort. Of necessity, the circle excludes the easternmost parts of the county, so The Farm and the Swan Land Trust holdings are not in it. The circle center is only 15.3 miles from the center of the Buffalo River circle, so there's no room to go any farther east without overlapping. Plus, it would lose my house...

To scout this area I drew up 4 preliminary party territories (optimistically I'm hoping to round up a total of 4 qualified party leaders for the first run next year). I then split each territory in half, and spent one morning (about 4 hours) in each semi- territory. Much of my attention was taken up by negotiating the roads using our horribly outdated and inaccurate county road map (GoogleMaps and all the others just buy their info from the local gov'ts, so the online maps are just as inaccurate as the 20 year old paper ones). My birding was almost entirely within 20 feet of my truck, spishing and screech-owl tooting, at quick roadside stops. If you've never tried to scout out an entire CBC circle in detail, let me tell you they are HUGE. But the effort was definitely worthwhile, as I now have piles of info on where habitats, birds, and roads really are, so I can draw up more balanced party territories and give the leaders lots of info to help them out. As many of y'all probably know from your own experience on understaffed small-town CBCs, even 1/4 of a count circle is far more than any single party can really cover in a day, so good scouting and planning are essential.

My bird tallies actually are pretty good, considering how rushed and distracted by navigation and note taking I was. All told, between January 6th and 17th (2008) I spent 32 hours out, driving 383 miles. My totals for the whole period are:

Canada Goose 157
Wild Turkey 42
Northern Bobwhite 15
Pied-billed Grebe 2
Great Blue Heron 3
Black Vulture 69
Turkey Vulture 57
Cooper's Hawk 1
Red-shouldered Hawk 17
Red-tailed Hawk 17
American Kestrel 11
Killdeer 40
American Woodcock 2
Rock Pigeon 67
Eurasian Collared-Dove 10
Mourning Dove 52
Eastern Screech-Owl 1
Barred Owl 1
Belted Kingfisher 5
Red-bellied Woodpecker 16
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker 2
Downy Woodpecker 29
Hairy Woodpecker 10
Northern Flicker 27
Pileated Woodpecker 24
Eastern Phoebe 3
Blue Jay 31
American Crow 374
Horned Lark 1
Carolina Chickadee 105
Tufted Titmouse 130
Red-breasted Nuthatch 2
White-breasted Nuthatch 54
Brown Creeper 8
Carolina Wren 121
Winter Wren 21
Golden-crowned Kinglet 84
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 9
Eastern Bluebird 211
Hermit Thrush 18
American Robin 24
Northern Mockingbird 34
Brown Thrasher 1
European Starling 751
Cedar Waxwing 1
Yellow-rumped Warbler 15
Eastern Towhee 34
Chipping Sparrow 53
Field Sparrow 441
Savannah Sparrow 3
Fox Sparrow 22
Song Sparrow 222
Swamp Sparrow 76
White-throated Sparrow 429
White-crowned Sparrow 12
Dark-eyed Junco 644
Northern Cardinal 198
Red-winged Blackbird 72
Eastern Meadowlark 163
Common Grackle 2
Brown-headed Cowbird 20
Purple Finch 18
House Finch 51
American Goldfinch 77
House Sparrow 95

Total species: 67

I was quite pleased with these results, and with the diversity of habitats the circle contains. As you can tell, there is very little open water habitat. Of the four largest lakes in the circle, only one (Napier Lake) is visible from a public road. The others are entirely ringed by private land; one sits in the middle of the Elephant Sanctuary, which is among the most heavily secured, fortified, and restricted 1000 acres of forest the entire state (for obvious reasons). I might be able to arrange access to some of the other lakes, but even so, smallish lakes in the Highland Rim rarely produce much in the way of waterfowl anyway.

Weedy fields, fencerows, and brushy woodland edges are the forte of this circle. I was especially happy with the total of 9 sparrow species (not counting Junco). The Lincoln's Sparrow is a fairly common migrant here, but this is the first one I have ever found in this area in midwinter. The shrike was the first I have found in Lewis County ever; both it and the Lincoln's Sparrow were in an area I have not birded regularly in the past. I'd not be surprised if the shrike is a regular there. The two biggest "misses," Red-headed Woodpecker and Pine Warbler, are species that seem to be down throughout this area this year. Other "misses," like Wood Duck and Sharp-shinned Hawk, are always difficult in winter here. I didn't do any owling other than what I heard around my own farm in the evenings,

It will be interesting to see what turns up next year with real parties devoting full attention to the birds!


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