The 115th Christmas Bird Count in Louisiana

During the 115th CBC, 190 parties put in 1630 party-hours and participated in 24 Louisiana Christmas Bird Counts. Counters found 254 species (including Monk Parakeet and feral Canada Goose, which are not on the official state list), six fewer than last year, but equal to the 113th CBC. The two most abundant birds were icterids: Red-winged Blackbird (4,862,306) and Brown-headed Cowbird (4,609,272), both of which were primarily found at the mega-roost in the Pine Prairie CBC that reported 72% and 98%, respectively, of all individuals. Snow Goose (429,995) and European Starling (420,862) were the next two most abundant birds, with the Sweet Lake-Cameron Prairie CBC reporting 70% of all Snow Geese and again Pine Prairie CBC reporting 95% of all European Starlings.

In general, species totals this winter were below average. The Lacassine N.W.R.-Thornwell CBC squeaked out the highest species count with 157, just topping the Sabine N.W.R. CBC, which reached 156, a relatively low count for that circle, especially compared to the 179 it reached last year. The Sweet Lake-Cameron Prairie N.W.R. CBC didn’t quite get to the magic 150 mark, with 148 species reported, and White Lake wasn’t far behind with 143 species reported. Among north Louisiana counts, Natchitoches reported the top species count with 116, followed closely by Shreveport with 114, and Pine Prairie with 113.

Winter birding in Louisiana is often highlighted by western vagrants and the odd bird that didn’t make the trek to Central or South America, and a total of 15 Louisiana “review list” species were found. In the western-vagrant category, a stake-out (apparently overwintering) third state record Lucy’s Warbler on the Grand Isle CBC was an excellent addition to Louisiana’s CBC list. A dark-morph Ferruginous Hawk was also a real treat for several Lacassine N.W.R.-Thornwell participants. This bird eventually moved on and remarkably was relocated a couple weeks later 20 miles away to the WSW. Other more typical western vagrants included a Cinnamon Teal on the Sweet Lake-Cameron Prairie N.W.R. CBC, Swainson’s Hawk on the Johnson’s Bayou count, Burrowing Owl at Grand Isle, two Say’s Phoebes in the Lacassine N.W.R.-Thornwell circle and one more one the Sweet Lake-Cameron Prairie N.W.R. CBC, two Brown-crested Flycatchers and four Ash-throated Flycatchers across four different counts, Couch’s Kingbird on two counts (Red River and White Lake CBCs), Bell’s Vireo at Sweet Lake-Cameron Prairie N.W.R., a Lark Bunting on the Natchitoches CBC, two Western Tanagers at Grand Isle, and Bullock’s Oriole on the Venice count.

One of the most remarkable winter holdovers was a well photographed Swainson’s Thrush on the Sabine N.W.R. CBC. Other interesting wintering birds included a group of 70 Fulvous Whistling-Ducks at White Lake, four Broad-winged Hawks from three counts, two Solitary Sandpipers from the Creole and Venice CBCs, four Franklin’s Gulls from three counts including two from the Shreveport CBC, a total of eight Common Terns from two counts on opposite sides of the coast (Sabine N.W.R. and Grand Isle), two Chuck-will’s-widow from the Creole and Grand Isle counts, a Least Flycatcher from the Lacassine N.W.R.-Thornwell CBC, a Yellow-breasted Chat at Reserve-Bonnet Carre Spillway, three Dickcissels from the Lacassine N.W.R.-Thornwell and Sweet Lake-Cameron Prairie N.W.R. counts, and three Baltimore Orioles from the Baton Rouge and St. Tammany-Northshore CBCs. Only 12 species of warbler were turned up this winter, obviously punctuated by the aforementioned Lucy’s Warbler, but also an Ovenbird and American Redstart at Grand Isle, seven Black-and-white Warblers from five counts including the relatively northern Cheneyville-Lecompte circle, and three Prairie Warblers from the New Orleans and Venice CBCs. Wilson’s Warblers were a little more apparent this winter compared to last with 13 reported from six different counts. Other unusual species included a Glaucous Gull from Sabine N.W.R., four Smith’s Longspurs on the Shreveport CBC, and for the second winter in a row, four Brown Boobies on Lake Pontchartrain reported during the St. Tammany-Northshore count.

It was a relatively poor season for wintering hummingbirds, and counts were particularly low in Baton Rouge (hummingbird central) at least partially because the hummingbird counting team’s usual leader was ill. Only 98 individuals of the five most typical species were found in the following order from most to least common: Rufous, Ruby-throated, Black-chinned, Buff-bellied, and Calliope. Perhaps the most exciting report was a photographed adult male Calliope Hummingbird from the Pine Prairie CBC. It was also an especially low year for American Goldfinch (2044), the lowest count adjusting for effort since 1998-99, and the third lowest count since 1967-68. On the other hand Purple Finch numbers were reasonably high, being the third highest count in the last 10 years.

Several other species with relatively good counts included White-tailed Kite (21). This species appears to have gone through multi-year increase peaking about 15 years ago followed by a decreasing trend dropping to a low in 2005-06, and has since again climbed back, perhaps again peaking in the last couple years. The previous high annual count for Yellow Rail was four in 1996-97 and this count was annihilated by observers at the Lacassine N.W.R.-Thornwell CBC who were rewarded with 19 individuals this year. They were able to watch an unusually late-season harvest of rice, which is known for turning up this species in good numbers in fall. The Sandhill Crane count was the second highest of all time, totaling 3752 individuals, 91% of which reported from the Sweet Lake-Cameron Prairie N.W.R. CBC. With 11 individuals, this is the first year where Lesser Black-backed Gulls broke the double-digit mark. First reported in 1993-94, Crested Caracara counts did not exceed five birds until 2009-10 when they first reached double-digits; this year, 128 birds more than doubled any previous year’s count. Six counts reported this species, and 104 were reported from the Sweet Lake-Cameron Prairie N.W.R. count.

Thanks to all who participated in counts and submitted data. Your hard work provides valuable insights into population trends for many species that would otherwise go unnoticed and undocumented.