- Established 1982 -


1-31 January 2021

Installment #737---Visitor #best free website hit counter

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With the arrival of a new calendar year we've decided to photograph as many Hilton Pond sunsets as possible in 2021--an artistic endeavor as well as a way to document what the end of each day was like from a meteorological perspective. (This complements our 24/7 data collection via the Center's digital weather station--KSCYORK4--continuously updated at Weather Underground.)

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center

We didn’t actually conceive of this project until 2 January--New Year's Day was totally overcast with a low cloud layer--but the sunset on the 2nd (above) was pretty spectacular. With your indulgence, we'll throw in a few of these sunset images from time to time as we post installments of "This Week at Hilton Pond." Incidentally, our self-quote about all this: Never trust a person too lazy to get up for sunrise or too busy to watch the sunset.

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center

Although we capture a lot of birds at Hilton Pond Center, we don't even come close to banding all those we see on the property. (Since 1982 we've encountered 172 species and banded 127 of them, including the adult male Purple Finch above.) Thus, to provide a more realistic inventory of local avifauna, for the past 14 years we've been making a daily list of all birds observed. More recently, we've posted our daily counts to eBird so other birders can see what's happening at the Center. We encourage all of you to register at and contribute to eBird, thus serving as citizen scientists who help create a better understanding of birds in your own backyards.

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center

Our previous one-year record was 96 species seen in 2008--a number we missed by just one in 2019. But we blew the top off the record last year, tallying 111 species observed at least once in 2020. So far in 2021 we've been doing pretty well with our annual Yard List, recording 40 species through 31 January (including the Brown-headed Nuthatch above). So far, all have been observed from windows or porches of our old farmhouse! Our best single-day total was 23 species on 6 January.

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center

Below is our list for the first month of 2020; we won't see much of an up-tick in species until spring migration begins. (NOTE: This year, our least commonly seen species at the Center long-term was probably a male Hooded Merganser (above), with Sharp-shinned Hawk a close second.)

Canada Goose Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Wood Duck Red-breasted Nuthatch
Hooded Merganser White-breasted Nuthatch
Mourning Dove Brown-headed Nuthatch
Great Blue Heron Carolina Wren
Black Vulture Brown Thrasher
Turkey Vulture Northern Mockingbird
Sharp-shinned Hawk Eastern Bluebird
Cooper's Hawk Hermit Thrush
Red-shouldered Hawk House Finch
Red-tailed Hawk

Purple Finch

Barred Owl Pine Siskin
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker American Goldfinch
Red-bellied Woodpecker Chipping Sparrow
Downy Woodpecker Dark-eyed Junco
Pileated Woodpecker White-throated Sparrow
Blue Jay Song Sparrow
American Crow Eastern Towhee
Carolina Chickadee Pine Warbler
Tufted Titmouse Northern Cardinal

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center

By the way, our first bird banded in 2021 was a female Eastern Towhee (above) at 8:25 a.m. on 1 January. Once common year-round residents at Hilton Pond, towhees have been in steep decline since the early 2000s--possibly from West Nile Virus and habitat changes. We banded 85 in 1991, but our average for the past 14 years is just four per annum.

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center

(Click on chart above for a larger version in a new browser window)

A long-anticipated "winter finch" irruption came to pass, with the earliest-ever Pine Siskins coming down from Canadian breeding grounds in mid-October 2020. (Siskins typically only migrate south in years when there is a seed crop failure across Canada. The last irruption here at Hilton Pond Center was in the winter of 2014-15 when we banded 780. Most years we have none, as noted on the chart above that shows winter seasons October through March.) PISI continued at our feeders--and in our traps--but practically disappeared in December; we banded 207 in October, 101 in November, and only 20 the last month of the year. By December's end we figured this unpredictable, nomadic species had done its time at the Center and then moved on to even warmer climes.

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center

Pine Siskins did reappear, however, and we banded our first one of 2021 on New Year's Day--followed by another 82 during January. That gave us 411 so far for the winter of 2020-21 (see chart above), our fourth-best seasonal total in 40 years at Hilton Pond. It will be interesting to see if the siskin influx again abates, or if it renews with vigor before it's time for these pointy-billed little finches to return north to nest. Incidentally, the siskin in our latest photo just above is an older male; not all PISI--especially females and immature males--have such intense yellow pigment in wing, rump, and tail.

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center

Sunset over Hilton Pond (above), 14 January 2021. Every evening is a little different, no two sunsets are quite the same.

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center

At Hilton Pond Center we deploy a variety of humane live traps for capturing birds. One of our most productive styles is a large hanging cube of welded wire mesh, inside which we place a tube feeder filled with black sunflower seed. Several one-way tunnels on trap walls allow birds--such as summertime American Goldfinches (above)--to enter but not escape.

Late on the afternoon of 28 January we watched from a window in our old farmhouse as three brown Purple Finches entered the trap in rapid succession. They settled onto feeder perches and began chowing down on seeds. A few minutes later they suddenly froze as a large, dark bird swooped toward the trap and landed on top--an accipiter intent on making a meal of its own.

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center

After several seconds the raptor spread its wings and the finches began to flutter, at which point we grabbed our camera with telephoto lens and moved closer to the window glass. This spooked the hawk, which flew to a nearby branch (above) where it perched in partial shade, revealing field marks typical of an immature Cooper's Hawk: Droop-shouldered posture, red-brown breast markings, largish bill whose top edge followed the slope of its forehead, and rounded tail with a pale, wide terminal band.

We exited the back door of the farmhouse and approached the trapped birds and the hawk, the latter seeming rather nonchalant. It wasn't until we began to extract the finches from the trap that this raptor finally figured out it would have to go elsewhere for an afternoon snack.

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center
Map above courtesy Cornell University

The 24rd annual Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) is coming up soon (12-15 Feb 2021). During all or part of the four-day event, people from all over the world head outdoors or gaze through their windows at feeders to count birds. In 2019, an estimated 224,781 participants submitted 204,921 checklists covering 6,699 bird species--669 of the latter from the U.S. alone. All these data are used by scientists to look for trends and track the health of avian populations. Wherever you are, please join Hilton Pond Center in this ever-popular citizen science activity.

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center
Logo above courtesy Cornell University

Participating in the bird count is free AND easy. You just commit to counting birds for at least a mere 15 minutes on one or more days of the four-day event and report your sightings on-line via the event’s Web site. Anyone can take part in the Great Backyard Bird Count--from beginning bird watchers to experts--and you can do the count from your backyard or anywhere in the world. You an also submit photos of unusual sightings made during the count.

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center
Photo above courtesy Cornell University

This is a GREAT way to involve kids and grandkids of all ages in an important environmental activity that can take just a quarter-hour or last all day. (Teachers can also get a whole class involved--virtually or in person--and scouting groups might work on merit badges.) Pry those young people away from their cell phones and tablets and show them what the real outdoors looks like! Wouldn't it be great if the kiddos--and adults--all posted "selfies" of themselves with binoculars!?

The Great Backyard Bird Count is a joint project of the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, National Audubon Society, and Birds Canada; support is provided in part by founding sponsor Wild Birds Unlimited. If you're already reporting bird sightings via eBird, they automatically will be entered into GBBC totals. Happy Birding!

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center

Sunset (above) at Hilton Pond on 29 January 2021, looking back at the old farmhouse while the sun paints leafless winter trees in a golden glow.

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center

Photoshop image post-processing uses DeNoise AI, Sharpen AI , and other Topaz Lab tools

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York SC 29745

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Don't forget to scroll down for Nature Notes & Photos,
plus lists of all birds banded or recaptured during the period

"This Week at Hilton Pond" is written and photographed by Dr. Bill Hilton Jr., executive director of Hilton Pond Center for Piedmont Natural History

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Thanks to the following fine folks for recent gifts in support of Hilton Pond Center for Piedmont Natural History and/or Operation RubyThroat: The Hummingbird Project. Your tax-deductible contributions allow us, among other things, to continue writing, photographing, and sharing "This Week at Hilton Pond" with students, teachers, and the general public. Please see Support or scroll below if you'd like to make a gift of your own.

We're pleased folks are thinking about the work of the Center and making donations. Those listed below made contributions received during the period. Please join them if you can in coming weeks.

Gifts can be made via PayPal (; credit card via Network for Good (see link below); or personal check (c/o Hilton Pond Center, 1432 DeVinney Road, York SC 29745). You can also donate through our Facebook fundraising page.

The following made thoughtful and generous contributions to Hilton Pond Center during the period 1-31 January 2021:

  • Anonymous #2
  • Bi-Lo/Winn-Dixie Community Bag Program
  • Sue Bridson (repeat donor)
  • Teri Lynn Herbert
  • The following friends contributed via the "Donate" button on one of the Center's Facebook postings or fund-raisers; some may be repeat contributors. Several are set up through Facebook to make a recurring monthly donation to benefit the Center.
    Liz Layton*, Russell Rogers, Gretchen Locy, Bill Pennington, Kathy Mayfield-Smith

    * = past participant in Operation RubyThroat Neotropical Hummingbird expedition)
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If you like shopping on-line please become a member of iGive, through which 1,800+ on-line stores from Amazon to Lands' End and even iTunes donate a percentage of your purchase price to support Hilton Pond Center. ..Every new member who registers with iGive and makes a purchase through them earns an ADDITIONAL $5 for the Center. You can even do Web searches through iGive and earn a penny per search--sometimes TWO--for the cause! Please enroll by going to the iGive Web site. It's a painless, important way for YOU to support our on-going work in conservation, education, and research. Add the iGive Toolbar to your browser and register Operation RubyThroat as your preferred charity to make it even easier to help Hilton Pond Center when you shop.

The Piedmont Naturalist--Vol. 1--1986 (Hilton Pond Press) is an award-winning collection of newspaper columns that first appeared in The Herald in Rock Hill SC. Optimized for tablets such as iPad and Kindle, electronic downloads of the now out-of-print volume are available by clicking on the links below. The digital version includes pen-and-ink drawings from the original edition--plus lots of new color photos. All sales go
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Hilton Pond Center.

1-31 January 2021

Pine Siskin--83
Purple Finch--82
House Finch--19
Northern Cardinal--11
American Goldfinch--9
White-throated Sparrow--8
Blue Jay--7
Mourning Dove--4
Pine Warbler--3
Eastern Towhee-2
Carolina Chickadee-1
Dark-eyed Junco--1
Red-bellied Woodpecker--1

* = new banded species for 2020

13 species
231 individuals

13 species (39-yr. avg. = 63.7)

231 individuals
(39-yr. avg. =

(Banding began 28 June 1982; since then 173 species have been observed on or over the property.)
127 species banded
72,033 individuals banded

6,644 Ruby-throated Hummingbirds banded since 1984

(with original banding date, sex, and current age):
Pine Warbler (2)
02/01/18--5th year male
2/16/20--3rd year male

Carolina Chickadee (1)
06/08/20--2nd year unknown

Northern Cardinal (2)
05/11/17--after 5th year female
08/12/18--4th year female

White-throated Sparrow (1)
01/10/20--3rd year unknown

House Finch (1)
07/03/20--2nd year female

Hermit Thrush (1)
10/29/15--7th year unknown

Purple Finch (1)
01/29/19--4th year male

--We had several significant returns/recaptures at Hilton Pond Center in Jan 2021, as noted in the list below left. Perhaps most significant was a 7th-year Hermit Thrush that has returned every winter since it was banded in 2015. A 4th-year male Purple Finch from 2019 also has quite a few migration miles under his wings. Two old female Northern Cardinals and a male Pine Warbler are also showing some age, although all three are likely year-round residents at the Center.

--As of 31 Jan, the Hilton Pond 2021 Yard List stood at 40--about 24% of 172 avian species encountered locally since 1982. (Incidentally, all species so far this year have been observed from the windows or porches of our old farmhouse! If you're not keeping a Yard List for your own property we encourage you to do so, and to report your sightings via eBird. You, too, can be a "citizen scientist.") New species observed locally during the period 1-31 Jan: See chart in write-up above.

--Our immediate past installment of "This Week at Hilton Pond" was our year-end summary of bird banding results from 2020. It's archived and always available on our Web site as Installment #736.

All text & photos © Hilton Pond Center

Oct 15 to Mar 15:
East of the Rockies please report your sightings of
Vagrant & Winter Hummingbirds

(immature male Rufous Hummingbird at right)

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Hilton Pond Center for Piedmont Natural History is a non-profit research, conservation & education organization in York, South Carolina USA; phone (803) 684-5852. Directed by Dr. Bill Hilton Jr., aka "The Piedmont Naturalist," it is parent organization for Operation RubyThroat. Web site contents--including text and photos--may NOT be duplicated, modified, or used in any way except with express written permission of Hilton Pond Center. All rights reserved worldwide. To request permission for use or for further assistance, please contact Webmaster.