The winter of 2014-2015 was a relatively mild one across the Great Plains. Although the December temperatures were seasonable (= cold) in the Dakotas, they were quite mild indeed in the southern reaches of the region. This followed some bitterly cold temperatures in the Dakotas in November, however, that may have depressed bird numbers and resulted in fewer odd species lingering into the mid-winter period in the northern Great Plains. Most importantly was the precipitation, or lack of it really, across the area. From North Dakota south to Oklahoma, it was a snow-free winter. This of course made for unimpeded access to most areas of most count circles, and the results were easier birding and better birds.
Eighteen counts were conducted this year in North Dakota. The high species count award for this past season goes to Fargo-Moorhead with 56; Bismarck-Mandan was a close second with 54. At the other end of the spectrum was Theodore Roosevelt N.P. with 10 species recorded on count day. Fargo observers had some nice waterfowl on count day including Wood Duck (also at Fargo and Jamestown), Gadwall, Green-winged Teal, and Lesser Scaup; a single Sandhill Crane was also a treat. The only Ruddy Duck was a bird (GD) from Grand Forks. Leave it to Garrison Dam to have the monopoly on gulls, however. This year six species were found on count day including Herring, Thayer's, Iceland, Lesser Black-backed, and Glaucous. This was a moderately good year for Snowy Owls, with the species reported from 12 of 18 counts with an additional CW bird from Grand Forks-East Grand Forks. The high day count was four individuals on Lostwood. Valley City observers submitted the only Barn Owl, Denbigh reported the state's only Long-eared, and J. Clark Salyer N.W.R. observers found the only Short-eared. Finally, Northern Saw-whets were found on count day at Fargo, Medora (7 birds), and Minot, with a CW bird from Grand Forks. No rare passerines were found this year, and irruptive species' presence was only moderate. Single Varied Thrushes were found at Bismarck and at Grand Forks, while Bohemian Waxwings were sighted at Denbigh, Des Lacs N.W.R., Garrison Dam, and Lostwood, with CW birds reported from Bismarck and Fargo. Purple Finches were found on 10 North Dakota counts, and Red Crossbills (no White-wings) were located at six. Finally redpolls were reported as follows: Commons on 17 counts and Hoaries on five.
South Dakota birders also submitted 18 counts this past season. Top prize for greatest number of species went to Yankton with 75 while Pierre was a close second with 74. Lingering waterfowl helped boost species' counts at Aberdeen, Pierre, and Yankton. Aberdeen reported the state's only Blue-winged Teal, Pierre the state's only Greater Scaup, and Yankton hosted the only Ross's Geese and American Green-winged Teal. Sand Lake N.W.R. observers were treated to 11 Tundra Swans on count day.
Gulls were not widely distributed this past season, and Pierre counters found the only Thayer's and Iceland (CW) while Yankton birders the state's only Glaucous. Snowy Owls were relatively scarce with only Mitchell and Waubay N.W.R. reporting the birds on count day. (Sand Lake N.W.R. did have a CW individual). Elsewhere, fun finds were the Pileated Woodpecker and Varied Thrush at Sioux Falls and the American Pipit at Spearfish. Finches were reported from South Dakota as follows: Pine Grosbeaks from Brookings, Pierre, and Rapid City; Purple Finches were found on eight counts, while Cassin's were reported at Spearfish and Sturgis; Red Crossbills from Rapid City, Spearfish, and Sturgis; Common Redpolls were on half the counts. Spearfish and Sturgis (CW) reported the only Evening Grosbeaks this winter from the state.
Nebraska CBCers completed 12 counts this year with the Lake McConaughy count far out-pacing the competition and reporting an even 100 species on count day. A newly-started count in Harlan County, which includes the somewhat isolated but important Harlan County Lake, has the potential to give Lake McConaughy a run for its money on rare waterfowl and gulls. Waterfowl highlights on Lake McConaughy included Trumpeter and Tundra (NC) swans, Common Loon, and four grebe species. The pair of American Black Ducks at North Platte was a treat, very likely not soon to be repeated. Harlan County hosted the only Double-crested Cormorants this year. Interesting gulls were distributed as follows: Bonaparte's at Harlan County; California from Branched Oak-Seward (NC), Harlan County (CW) and Lake McConaughy; Thayer's from Branched Oak (NC) and Harlan County; Lesser Black-backed at Harlan County and Lake McConaughy; and Glaucous from Harlan County. Finally, other treats state-wide included the Baltimore Oriole (PH) attending a feeder at Branched Oak, the Mountain Bluebirds at Harlan County, and Scottsbluff's White-winged Doves, Mountain Chickadee and Pygmy Nuthatches. Purple Finches were recorded on one-half of the Nebraska counts this past season.
Kansas birders completed and submitted 28 counts this past season. Lawrence led the pack with 101 species tallied on count day, the only count to break the century mark this past year. Udall Winfield with 96, Manhattan with 93, and Linn County reporting 91 species were the only counts to pass the 90-species mark. The best bird reported this winter count season was the Pine Grosbeak at Junction City. Other interesting, singly-reported species statewide included the handsome blue form Ross's X Snow Goose from Arkansas City; the Tundra Swans from Cheyenne Bottoms; the Mallard X Gadwall (Brewer's Duck) from Manhattan; Surf Scoter at Waconda Lake; White-winged Scoter from Wilson Reservoir; Long-tailed Ducks at Oskaloosa-Perry Lake; White-faced Ibis from Quivira N.W.R.; Ladder-backed Woodpecker, Chihuahuan and Common ravens, and Mountain Chickadee all from Cimarron N.G.; Sprague's Pipit at Halstead-Newton (DD); Rufous-crowned Sparrow at Red Hills; and a Yellow-headed Blackbird from Dodge City. Aside from the Pine Grosbeak at Junction, irruptive species were really few and far between this season. Red Crossbills were only located at Manhattan (27 birds), Halstead-Newton birders hosted the state's lone Evening Grosbeak, while Purple Finches were found on more than half the state’s counts (15) this count season.
Nineteen counts were run, completed and submitted this past season in Oklahoma. Four counts passed the century mark this year with Tulsa tallying 106, Norman 107, Oklahoma City reporting 116, but Tishomingo N.W.R. taking the gold medal with 117 species recorded on count day. A state-wide survey of some of the more interesting finds would necessarily include: Hulah Reservoir's Sedge Wrens (7 birds); Kenton's (Black Mesa) Western Screech-Owl, Juniper Titmouse, Winter/Pacific Wren, Sage Thrasher, Black-throated Sparrow, and Cassin's Finch; Oklahoma City's Lesser Black-backed Gull; Sooner Lake's Peregrine Falcon; Tishomingo's American Avocet, American Woodcock (3 individuals) and out-of-place Say's Phoebe and Sedge Wren; and Tulsa's Barrow's Goldeneye. Purple Finches were only reported from four counts (Broken Bow, Hulah, Oklahoma City, and Tishomingo) with a total of only nine individuals.
In closing, let me once again extend my thanks to each compiler throughout the region. I greatly appreciate your hard work and tireless efforts to ensure the quality of the data and the reliability of the observations submitted. This is Citizen Science at its very best!