- Established 1982 -


1-15 January 2022

Installment #762---Visitor #visitor counter

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After southbound migration ended in Fall 2021, bird activity slowed considerably at Hilton Pond Center, with very few of our usual winter residents arriving from up north. We observed just one Dark-eyed Junco (in November), there were fewer White-throated Sparrows and American Goldfinches than usual, and Purple Finches were nowhere to be seen through year's end. Only Yellow-rumped Warblers showed up in noticeable numbers--272 banded October through December. We certainly weren't expecting a repeat of that unprecedented irruption of Pine Siskins that brought 1,316 of them across our banding table in the winter of 2020-21, but that species has been absent since the last one left in late March. Alas, this near-dearth of winter birds last November and December continued into 2022 as the Center's 41st year of bird banding activity started very slowly.

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

Granted, this slow start came in part because--after loading all our bird feeders and ticking a suet-eating male Downy Woodpecker (above) as Hilton Pond's first bird of 2022--we departed early New Year's Day for a trip to Ocala FL. There we helped life-long friend Jim Shuman census his sector for the annual Marion County (FL) Christmas Bird Count (CBC). We've known Jim for nearly 60 years, ever since he was a counselor at West Virginia's National Youth Science Camp we attended in 1964, and it's always fun visiting and being in the field with him.

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

Jim Shuman's also the guy who pointed us toward the pleasures of birdwatching and has served faithfully as our board president since the establishment of Hilton Pond Center for Piedmont Natural History as a non-profit organization. He welcomed the Hiltons to Ocala by flying the South Carolina flag (see selfie above with a real Palmetto in the background) and led us to numerous Florida birding spots during our most recent stay. We're ever-grateful for Jim's on-going support of the Center--including his usual edit of and insightful suggestions about installments of "This Week at Hilton Pond."

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

The Christmas Bird Count sector we worked with Jim on 3 January primarily encompassed the On Top of the World (OTOW) retirement community in which he lives. Although the rest of the Marion County 15-mile-diameter CBC circle includes rivers, forests, and other more or less natural habitats, OTOW is highly developed and essentially an urban area with houses, manicured landscape, expanses of St. Augustine grass, golf courses, and a scarcity of established woody vegetation. One of the nice woodland birding spots within the sector is Shalom Park, where the Great Blue Heron in our iPhone photo above was coming to a small artificial pond filled with large and undoubtedly tasty multicolored koi.

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

Despite less than opitimal habitats within the OTOW sector, seven field participants working all day managed to find 975 individual birds from 52 species (plus eight more during count week). Among our personal favorites were a quartet of four Pileated Woodpeckers energetically exploring a giant old oak tree and a small flock of White-crowned Sparrows (above) in mature plumage--a species we have seen only twice at Hilton Pond Center.

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

After bidding fond adieu to Jim Shuman on 5 January we returned to Hilton Pond by late afternoon and immediately checked feeders we had filled five days before. Amazingly, two big sunflower seed tubes were still at least half full and several suet blocks had barely been touched in our absence. All this was more evidence confirming local birds were having a slow start in January.

Next morning we set and baited traps and deployed four mist nets to see what we might be able to catch and band. Early on the digital thermometer read barely above freezing, and few birds appeared except for two reliable female residents (above): Northern Cardinal and Downy Woodpecker. By day's end we had trapped and banded just three birds: American Robin and male and female House Finch. Things didn't improve much over the next several days, and by the middle of the month we'd captured just 35 birds of eight species--about half the 64 individuals banded during the same 15-day period last year.

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

On 10 January we did see and catch the Center's first Purple Finch (PUFI) of the current winter--a raspberry-colored adult male (above). In 41 years of study here it's been common for the seasons' first PUFI to show up in January--possibly pushed further south by worsening winter weather in Canada and the northeastern U.S. This particular bird was an after-second-year male, meaning he had to have hatched in 2020 or before. (It takes two years for male Purple Finches to get full red plumage, so don't refer to all the brown PUFI you see as females; many are undoubtedly immature males.) Last winter we captured 368 Purple Finches at Hilton Pond, so with one so far we have a long way to go to reach that number--or to equal our record-breaking 976 banded locally in the winter of 1983-84.

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center
Photo by Susan B. Hilton

Another occurrence that slowed January banding activity came when good ol' Newberry College roommate Doug Dietz flew in from California on the 12th and we turned some of our attention to other matters. Although he majored in history at Newberry, over the years since graduating Doug has developed some very fine building skills, so when he visits we usually collaborate on a project that benefits Hilton Pond Center.

This year we decided on adding a canopy to one side of a shop building so we'd have a place out of the weather to keep a garden tractor, shrub grinder, and other big equipment used to groom the trails and maintain Center property. On the 13th we drew up plans for a 8'x24' lean-to, hooked up a utility trailer, drove to the neighborhood Lowe's to buy lumber and hardware, and returned with a full load (above)--enthused and ready to work.

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center
Photo by Susan B. Hilton

Next day we got down to business, bringing out the radial arm saw (above) and other tools and making good progress on setting corner posts and placing rafters. Bird banding may have been slow-going the first half of January, but good things still happened for us in Florida and the Carolina Piedmont. (More to follow about the lean-to project in the next installment of "This Week at Hilton Pond.")

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

Photoshop image post-processing for this page employs
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Don't forget to scroll down for lists of all birds banded and 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, fellow scientists, and the general public. Please 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 donors made contributions to Hilton Pond Center during the period 1-15 January 2022:

  • Anonymous (recurring monthly $17 donation; via PayPal)
  • Julie Finn
  • Robert Miller (long-time donor)
  • Kathy & Don Miner (repeat donors, via Network for Good)
  • The friends below contributed via the "Donate" button on one of the Center's Facebook postings or fund-raisers; some may be repeat contributors. Several have set up through Facebook to make a recurring monthly donation to benefit the Center. Many are long-time donors.
    Lynn Biasini McElfresh, Sara Carolyn Blair, Bill Pennington**, Russell Rogers**, Gretchen Locy**.
    * = past participant in Operation RubyThroat Neotropical Hummingbird expedition

    ** = recurring monthly Facebook donor
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1-15 January 2022

American Goldfinch--4
Carolina Chickadee--1
Chipping Sparrow--5
House Finch--20
White-throated Sparrow--2
Purple Finch--1
American Robin--1
Mourning Dove--1

* = new banded species for 2022

8 species
35 individuals

8 species (41-yr. avg. = 64.3)

36 individuals
(41-yr. avg. =

(Banding began 28 June 1982; since then 173 species have been observed on or over the property.)
128 species banded
74,946 individuals banded

6,909 Ruby-throated Hummingbirds banded since 1984

(with original banding date, verified sex, and current age):
Carolina Chickadee (6)
05/01/21--2nd year unknown
05/31/21--2nd year unknown
09/17/21--2nd year unknown
09/19/21--2nd year unknown
09/24/21--2nd year unknown
10/21/01--2nd year unknown

Brown-headed Nuthatch (2)
09/14/21--2nd year unknown
09/18/21--2nd year unknown

Chipping Sparrow (1)
02/17/20--4th year unknown

Northern Cardinal (5)
06/21/21--2nd year male
07/13/21--2nd year male
08/14/21--2nd year female
08/29/21--2nd year female
09/27/21--2nd year female

Song Sparrow (2)
01/20/19--4th year unknown
03/22/21--3rd year unknown

White-breasted Nuthatch (1)
02/25/19--after 3rd year female

** Notable local longevity for species

--As of 15 Jan, the Hilton Pond's 2022 Yard List stood at 30--about 17% of 173 avian species encountered locally since 1982. (Incidentally, all of those 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, where you, too, can be a "citizen scientist!") New species observed locally during the period 1-15 Jan: Great Blue Heron, Canada Goose, Turkey Vulture, Mourning Dove, Great Horned Owl (heard), Red-bellied Woodpecker, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Downy Woodpecker, American Crow, Carolina Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, White-breasted Nuthatch, Brown-headed Nuthatch, Carolina Wren, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Eastern Bluebird, Hermit Thrush, American Robin, Northern Mockingbird, Brown Thrasher, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Pine Warbler, Northern Cardinal, Chipping Sparrow, Song Sparrow, White-throated Sparrow, Purple Finch, House Finch, American Goldfinch.

--Our immediate past installment of "This Week at Hilton Pond" was an illustrated summary of 2021 bird banding results. It's archived and always available on our Web site as Installment #761.

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.