The 123rd Christmas Bird Count in Indiana

The results of the 123rd Christmas Bird Count in Indiana were, in many ways, quite pedestrian; it was a season of relatively few rarities or record high counts.  However, in terms of monitoring bird populations, an “average” year can be welcome news.  As always, weather affected many counts; a cold snap across the state just before the count period seemed to move many species out of the region, resulting in fewer of the more sought-after “lingering” birds.

Just as a year ago, 44 counts were held in Indiana this season, reporting 148 species of birds (down five species from a year ago).  Hoosier counters once again made a number of outstanding discoveries, including the state’s third White-eyed Vireo, third Lesser Yellowlegs, and the first Harris’s Sparrow in nine years.  Additional highlights included five Blue-winged Teal, 60 American White Pelicans, two Great Egrets, a Virginia Rail, a Purple Sandpiper, a Least Sandpiper, a Fish Crow, a Palm Warbler, a LeConte’s Sparrow, a Vesper Sparrow, a Lincoln’s Sparrow, ten Brewer’s Blackbirds, and three Evening Grosbeaks.

Four birds had record high totals this season - Trumpeter Swan (136), Bald Eagle (407), Red-shouldered Hawk (427), and Winter Wren (77).   In contrast, species found in unusually low numbers included Wood Duck (18), American Black Duck (151), Ruby-crowned Kinglet (14), and American Pipit (3).

Two counts again topped the century mark for total species, Western Gibson County (103) and Goose Pond (101).  Surprisingly, no other circle even topped 90 species this season.  The 44 counts reporting data in Indiana this season included 768 field observers and 161 feeder watchers.  A total of 1904 field party hours, 320 hours of feeder observation, and 97 hours of nocturnal birding resulted in the discovery of 148 total species. 

The top Greater White-fronted Goose tallies were Gibson’s 4154, Sullivan’s 999, and matching totals of 696 from Goose Pond and Knox County.  Snow Goose counts of note included Gibson’s 91,230, Goose Pond’s 12,450, and 4930 from Knox County.  It was a good year for Ross’s Goose; the season’s 27 birds were found by Gibson (8), Knox (6), Goose Pond (5), and Willow Slough (5).  Nine circles contributed to the record Trumpeter Swan total (136), including nice counts from Terre Haute (50), Goose Pond (21), and Dunes West (20).

Duck totals were fairly typical, with the exception of Wood Ducks (18) and American Black Ducks (151), which were quite scarce.  Sullivan County (616) and Oakland City (494) had nice Gadwall totals.  Three circles recorded always tough to find (in winter) Blue-winged Teal - Muscatatuck (2), Oakland City (2), and Dunes West (1).  Most of the season’s 184 Northern Pintail were provided by Posey County (110).  Posey County also had a good Canvasback total (64), as did Goose Pond (27).  Big Ring-necked Duck counts came from Oakland City (595) and Goose Pond (359).  Knox County (103) provided the bulk of the season’s 188 Ring-necked Ducks.  Elkhart had an impressive 324 of this year’s 581 Common Goldeneye, while Knox County’s 108 Ruddy Ducks was half of this season’s total (216).

Sea ducks appeared in very low numbers.  The lone Surf Scoter was a count week bird from Putnam County.  Dunes East and Muncie each had single White-winged Scoters.  Black Scoters were found by Dunes East (1) and Elkhart (count week).  Dunes West (2) and Richmond (1) had the only Long-tailed Ducks.

Goose Pond found 31 of this season’s 50 Northern Bobwhites.  Surprisingly, Willow Slough was the only count to record Ring-necked Pheasant (38).  The top Wild Turkey totals came from Elkhart (116), and Terre Haute (101).  Only the two Lake Michigan counts had Red-throated Loons - Dunes East (22), and Dunes West (1).  Lake Monroe had an impressive 164 of this season’s 225 Common Loons.

Once again this year, Gibson was the only count to find American White Pelicans (60).  Goose Pond and Ohio River each discovered single Great Egrets.  The best Black Vulture tallies came from Lake Monroe (87), Patoka Lake (81), and Richmond (71).  Lake Monroe also had the top Turkey Vulture total (258), followed by Patoka Lake (219).  

Raptors of note included single Golden Eagles on the Big Oaks and Dunes East counts, and big Cooper’s Hawk totals for Goose Pond (44) and Willow Slough (27).  Major contributors to the record high 407 Bald Eagles where Lafayette (34), Gibson (32), and Lake Monroe (26).  It was also a record year for Red-shouldered Hawk (427) with a big boost from Terra Haute’s 55.  Willow Slough added an impressive 40 Rough Legged Hawks, while no other count had more than ten.

This season’s lone Virginia Rail was found at Goose Pond.  Muscatatuck topped the Sandhill Crane totals with 4000, followed by Topeka’s 2900, and 1902 by Goose Pond.  The 24 Whooping Cranes came from Goose Pond (16), Gibson (6), and Knox (2).

Shorebird highlights included Indiana’s third CBC Lesser Yellowlegs from Big Oaks, Dunes East’s Purple Sandpiper, and a Least Sandpiper from Lafayette.  Gulls were once again scarce on Lake Michigan, with most of the unusual species found at inland landfills.  Even Herring Gulls (659) were tough to come by, with the top count coming from the landfill on the Bremen count (488).  The Lone Iceland Gull was a count week bird from Elkhart.  Lesser Black-backed Gulls were found by Bremen (5), Dunes East (1), Elkhart (cw), and Southwest Allen County (cw).  Surprisingly, the only Great Black-backed Gull was also from a landfill, an Elkhart count week bird.  Glaucous Gull went unrecorded this season.

Thirty-five of this year’s 106 Eurasian Collared-Doves came from Terre Haute.  Goose Pond (2) and Oakland City had the only Barn Owls.  By recent standards, it was a good year for Long-eared Owls, with reports from four circles - Gibson (1), Spring Mill (1), Elkhart (cw), and Lafayette (cw).  This season’s five Northern Saw-whet Owls came from Lake Monroe (3) and Willow Slough (2).  Willow Slough also had an impressive Red-headed Woodpecker total (170).

Spring Mill added the lone Loggerhead Shrike, while six Northern Shrikes were spread across five circles.  “Bird of the year” honors arguably goes to Eagle Creek’s White-eyed Vireo, Indiana’s third CBC record.  In addition, Eagle Creek once again added a Fish Crow.  Red-breasted Nuthatch appeared in modest numbers, so Elkhart’s 27 was noteworthy.  Elkhart also had a good Brown Creeper count (30).  

The 77 Winter Wrens found this year established a new high, with the top counts from Evansville (8) and Elkhart (7).   The Ruby-crowned Kinglet total (14) was the lowest in 13 seasons.  Lafayette (3467) and Knox County (1228) had big American Robin counts.  Dunes East, Dunes West, and Terre Haute each had single Gray Catbirds, while six counts contributed to the nine Brown Thrashers.

American Pipits were unusually scarce with a total of only three birds.  Goose Pond’s 253 Cedar Waxwings was nearly half of the state’s total (608).  The top Lapland Longspur tallies came from Topeka (1130), Pokagon (730), and Lafayette (572).  Topeka (361) and Pokagon (211) also had the highest Snow Bunting totals.  The only lingering warbler (besides expected Yellow-rumps) was a Palm Warbler discovered by Bremen counters.

There were a number of sparrow highlights, including a LeConte’s Sparrow for Goose Pond, and Chipping Sparrows from three counts - Warrick County (2), McCormick’s Creek (1), and Gibson (1).  Additionally, Ohio River discovered a Harris’s Sparrow, Eagle Creek found a Vesper Sparrow, Gibson turned up a Lincoln’s Sparrow, and Goose Pond had an impressive 286 Swamp Sparrows.  

Elkhart (497) and Bremen (482) had big Northern Cardinal totals, while Oakland City produced the top Red-winged Blackbird count (15,895).  Spring Mill found 100 of this year’s 260 Eastern Meadowlarks.  Posey County (121) and Knox County (100) produced the highest Rusty Blackbird totals.  This season’s ten Brewer’s Blackbirds were found by Goose Pond (6) and Willow Slough (4).  Oakland City added an impressive 30,529 of the season’s 39,991 Common Grackles.

For the most part, “winter finches” were unremarkable.  Purple Finches were found in only modest numbers, with the exception of a nice count by Lake Monroe (48).   It took seven circles to tally a mere 27 Pine Siskins, with no count finding more than nine.  The clear finch headliners were the three Evening Grosbeaks found by Elkhart (2) and Dunes East (1).  

A big thank you goes out to compilers and participants for making Indiana’s 123rd Christmas Bird Count a success.  I hope you can all join us again next season!