The Litchfield-Pawleys Island Christmas Bird Count 1972- to date
On December 29th, 1971, ten birdwatchers (as birders were then called) assembled at dawn at the headquarters of Huntington Beach State Park. to engage in the first Litchfield-Pawleys Island Christmas Bird Count. [link to count circle map]. The first compiler, the late Col. Frederick (Pat) Probst, formed this band into three parties. Fortunately, they had excellent weather that day with temperatures in the mid 60's most of the day and clear skies with light winds less than 10mph. After Col. Probst explained the rules and gave them their assigned areas they spread out to do less than half of the new 15-mile diameter count circle. The recorded hours of counting was between 7:45 AM and 4:30 PM. That evening they assembled at Col. Probst's house to see how well they had done. The answer was not bad considering the lack of full coverage for the circle. They recorded 2997 individual birds of 114 species. Bold faced rarities found were Peregrine Falcon seen by Julian and Margaret Harrison of Charleston, a Short-eared Owl by Calvin Clyde, Evelyn Dabbs and David McLean, and two Snow Buntings were duly recorded by Julian and Margaret Harrison and Frederick Probst. From that modest beginning the Litchfield-Pawleys Island Christmas Bird Count began to grow. The date for the count by tradition became fixed as a weekday between Christmas and New Years Day. This was unusual for a CBC because most counts were done on the weekends when most birders would be free from work. However, the Litchfield-Pawleys Island count seemed to attract academics and naturalists from the Charleston area, Coastal Carolina University, retirees, and visitors to Myrtle Beach during the holidays. In the years since that first count, Litchfield-Pawleys Island has had 8 compilers/co-compilers - Col. Probst remained the compiler through the 1980 count. During that time the count grew both in field participants and numbers of species seen. On the third count in 1974, 142 species were recorded. In 1980 Col Probst and his wife Renee moved to Arizona. Jim Beatty took over as the compiler for two years, during which time the count stabilized at about 25 field participants and around 130 species recorded. But still most of the count circle west of the Waccamaw River was not being censused. Greg Cornwell, the naturalist at Brookgreen Gardens became the compiler in 1983 and 1984 and in 1985 Dr. Chris Marsh of Coastal Carolina University became the compiler and continued until 1992 sharing the task of organizing the count with Terry Barnett in 1986. Julie Finlayson was the compiler in 1992, when one of its best birds was seen, an immature Black Guillemot [Link to BLGU Photo] off the jetty at Huntington Beach S.P. This sighting was the first documented record for the species for the state ("Supplement to the Status and Distribution of South Carolina Birds" until the 2007 count when a second record, also from the same locality was added. In 1994 Jack Peachey took over the reins as compiler and for several years shared this duty with Tonya Spires who handled the organizing chores for the areas west of the Waccamaw River. During the late eighties and into the nineties the count really took off with more participants and more species being recorded and field parties organized for areas west of the Waccamaw River. In 2008 Dr Chris Hill assumed the role of count coordinator. In 1986 what seemed then an amazing 149 species were recorded and in 1988 more than 20,000 individual birds were recorded for the first time. In 1991, the Litchfield-Pawleys Island Count broke the 150-species barrier and was included in the elite listing of Christmas Counts recording 150 species or more in the Christmas Bird Count issue of American Birds published by the National Audubon Society. In the 1990’s the count exceeded 20,000 individual birds recorded on three occasions, topped by the 27,865 in 1991. In 1998 159 species were tallied. This remained the count record until 2008 when 160 species were recorded. Some of the amazing finds, in addition to the already mentioned Guillemot, on The Litchfield-Pawleys Island Count have been Red-necked Grebe, Harlequin Duck, Wilson’s Plover, Parasitic Jaeger, Lesser Black-backed Gull and Glaucous Gull, White-winged Dove (1998/99), a hummingbird (sp.), Vesper Sparrow and Lincoln’s Sparrow, and 1998/99's 8 Lapland Longspur. Sharing rarest bird honors with the Black Guillemot is the immature Vermillion Flycatcher seen in 1984 by Julie Finlayson on Sandy Island. The 2000 Litchfield-Pawleys Island Christmas Bird Count was one of the most successful ever. There were a total of 157 species seen and 34,873 individuals counted. Two species accounted for almost 20,000 individuals: Common Grackle and Red-winged Blackbird. One new bird, a Masked Booby seen by an experienced birder, Wendy Allen, working the Pawleys Island beach area, was added to the cumulative total. Originally reported as a booby species at the countdown, the details submitted including a sketch which supported a species listing. This report is unprecedented on a US mainland Christmas Bird Count. The 2001 Litchfield-Pawleys Island Bird Count (which was actually held in January 2002) was one of the most unusual. But the bad weather, even snow, didn't stop the birders and we tallied a respectable 152 species, the most on any SC count, and counting 26,339 individual birds. In recent years we broke 160 species three times, with 161 in 1999, 162 in 2002 and a record-setting 165 in 2004 (the 105th count). For10 out of the last 12 years we have tallied over 150 species. We've counted more than 30K birds seven times, with a high of 35,171 in 2002.
IN 2020, due to COVID we conducted the count differently - smaller parties and no carpooling. Despite the skeleton crew it was a very successful count. HOPEFULLY, by next year we will be able to get back to more normal levels of participation, and if you were not able to participate this year, you are invited for next year. Thanks to all the traditional area leaders who managed their counts under tricky conditions; thanks to Ken and Julie Davis and other new participants for joining up and doing a great job where we needed them.
Preliminaries: we had 37 observers in 24 parties. They spent 121 hours on foot and 46 by car, cart, bike and boat. Weather (thanks for your weather notes Dennis, Andy and Wendy!) was overcast, 44-56 degrees, with light rain after 4pm, winds 10-15 from the NE. The ocean was rough.
We recorded 161 species (working draft, but pending checks, that's right), which by my records is the most since 2004! Good work, counters!
Highlights were many and varied, probably led by two warbler species at Huntington Beach which had not previously been recorded on our count: Northern Waterthrush and Townsend's Warbler, the latter the first well documented Townsend's Warbler for South Carolina.
This history was initially composed in 2008 by Jack Peachey, former Compiler for the Litchfield-Pawleys Island CBC and has since been updated with information from Chris Hill and other participants.