In a normal Christmas Bird Count season bird numbers and volunteer effort are both 38 percent influenced by weather. The 115th count was rough with 52 percent of the counts impacted by fog, wind, drought, rain, and inaccessibility within circles. In addition, for the first time in ten years, widespread illness affected results as the flu heavily impacted 12 percent of the counts and moderately impacted others.
The highest numbers of individuals and species tallied occurred 12/25-30. Number of individuals (647,066) was 95 percent below average, declining from an average of 19 million birds in the 1960s & 70s to 819,000 in the 2010s.
All told, 26 counts were submitted with 11 counts finding more than 90 species, including Holla Bend N.W.R. with the species high of 113. Pine Bluff had the most new or unusual species (11) and Hot Springs N. P. had the most new high counts (16). Fayetteville had the most hours (323) and the most observers (44). Lake Georgia Pacific- Felsenthal N.W.R. set a new species high of 99. The state-wide tally of species at 163 was slightly below the normal range of 164-167.
The numbers for the following avian highlights are normalized by party hours. In broad groupings, waterfowl were 340 percent above average (from 694 average per year in the 1950s to 265,000 in the 2010s); blackbirds were 98 percent below average; frugivores down 95 percent; and upland game birds down 71 percent.
Setting new 62-year highs were “Blue morph” Ross’s Goose, Common Goldeneye (with 97 percent at Lake Dardanelle), Black Vulture (with three counts setting new highs, including Fayetteville which had 23 percent), Red-shouldered Hawk, Merlin, Virginia Rail, Lesser Black-backed Gull, White-winged Dove (two years in a row), Red-bellied Woodpecker, Carolina Wren, Townsend’s Solitaire, “Western” Palm Warbler (this year more common than the Eastern subspecies), Chipping Sparrow, and Smith’s Longspur (all the last at Conway). Gadwall was 200 percent above average for the last two years, Red-breasted Merganser up 394 percent, Peregrine Falcon up 372 percent, and vireos up 500 percent.
American Robins had their best flight in 15 years, American Pipits were best in 11 years, Cedar Waxwings had two of its top five flights in 2014 & 2015, and Lincoln’s Sparrow the best flight in 20 years.
Meanwhile, 62-year lows were set by Northern Bobwhite (for the third time in five years) and Loggerhead Shrike (for the second time in five years). Usually the Mississippi Alluvial Plain is in general a stronghold against statewide declines, but this year showed numbers at their lowest ever, especially in the Southern portion. Sora was the only missed regularly occurring species during the 115th Count.
Least Sandpiper was 96 percent below average, European Starling down 98 percent; American Tree Sparrow down 95 percent; Lapland Longspur down 91 percent, for last two years; Red-winged Blackbird down 98 percent, Rusty Blackbird down 97 percent; and Common Grackle down 99 percent.
American Wigeon had the worst flight in 20 years; in the last two years Northern Harrier had the worst flights in 38 years; Horned Lark the worst in 50 years; and while Red-breasted Nuthatch had a good flight three years ago, it has been followed by two very low years.
A mystery of species range occurred with Palm & Orange-crowned warblers; 75 percent of the Palms were “western”, whereas all the Orange-crowned were “eastern”.
Species found only on one count included Spotted Sandpiper (Arkadelphia); American Bittern (Bayou DeView); Smith’s Longspur (Conway); Long-tailed Duck and “Red-shafted” Northern Flicker (Fayetteville); White-winged Dove (Fort Smith-Moffett); Barn Swallow (Jonesboro); Trumpeter Swan, White-winged Scoter and “Eastern” Palm Warbler (Lake Dardanelle); Red-cockaded Woodpecker, Blue-headed Vireo and Yellow-breasted Chat (Lake Georgia Pacific-Felsenthal N.W.R.); Rufous Hummingbird (Little Rock); Townsend’s Solitaire and Red Crossbill (Mount Magazine); “Blue morph” Ross’s Goose, “Krider’s” Red-tailed Hawk and Long-billed Dowitcher (Pine Bluff); Black-crowned Night-Heron, White Ibis, Least Sandpiper, Forster’s Tern and Great-tailed Grackle (Texarkana); and Blue-winged Teal (White River N.W.R.).
The birds-of-the-year were the second Arkansas CBC records of Red-throated Loon at Lake Dardanelle, Townsend’s Solitaire at Mount Magazine and Yellow-breasted Chat at Lake Georgia Pacific-Felsenthal N.W.R.
This year’s sponsors were the Audubon Society of Central Arkansas, Buffalo River Partners, Inc., the City of Hot Springs, Felsenthal N.W.R. and the Friends of Felsenthal N.W.R., Friends of Holla Bend N.W.R., Garland County Audubon, Holla Bend N.W.R, Hot Springs N.P., Hot Springs Village Audubon, Lake Catherine S.P., Mississippi River S.P., Mount Magazine S.P., North Central Arkansas Audubon Society, NorthWest Arkansas Audubon Society, Ouachita-Caddo Bird Club, Ozark-St. Francis N.F., Tennessee Ornithological Society, Texarkana Audubon Society, Three Rivers Audubon Society, and Village Creek S.P.
It can never be said frequently enough—all the compilers and volunteers deserve a big “thank you” for your hard work!