During the 2015-16 (116th) Christmas Bird Count, 206 parties volunteered 1627 party-hours across 27 counts. Three counts were resurrected this year including Red River N.W.R., Lake Charles, and Thibodaux. A huge congratulations and thank you to those compilers and counters who made these happen! A total of 263 species was tallied (including feral Canada Goose, Monk Parakeet, and Scaly-breasted Munia not on the official state list), nine better than last year. And 6,393,475 individual birds were counted with Red-winged Blackbird (3,913,113), Brown-headed Cowbird (1,080,304), and Snow Goose (636,503) as top three most abundant.
The top five counts this year were southwest Louisiana circles. Top prize went to Lacassine N.W.R.-Thornwell with 161 species, just squeaking out Sabine N.W.R. with 160. Sweet Lake-Cameron Prairie took third with 151, followed by White Lake and Creole with 143 each. Baton Rouge ended up with a very respectable 140, just topping New Orleans with 138. Five north Louisiana counts topped the 100 species mark: Pine Prairie (115), Red River N.W.R. (109), Shreveport (102), Claiborne (101), and Natchitoches (100).
In terms of species, the big highlight this winter was the first state record Pyrrhuloxia found on the Lacassine N.W.R.-Thornwell CBC by Dan O’Malley. Many birders were able to relocate the bird for several weeks following the count, too. Ten additional LBRC “review list” rarities were also found: Burrowing Owl (1), Ruff (1), Great Black-backed Gull (1), Broad-billed Hummingbird (1), a presumed returning Couch’s Kingbird (1), “Tropical/Couch’s” Kingbird (1), Brown-crested Flycatcher (1), Great Kiskadee (4), Say’s Phoebe (5), Cordilleran Flycatcher (1), and Bullock’s Oriole (1).
There weren’t any huge surprises in the winter holdover category. A fairly typical 13 species of warbler made the list, including Black-and-white Warbler (10), Black-throated Green Warbler (4), Prairie Warbler (3), Yellow-throated Warbler (2), American Redstart (2), Ovenbird (2), Yellow Warbler (1), and Northern Parula (1). Wilson’s Warblers were in better-than-average numbers with 35 tallied across 15 counts, including essentially all south Louisiana circles. Other birds of note included Fulvous Whistling-Duck (3), Least Bittern (7), Sandwich Tern (2), Magnificent Frigatebird (2), Chuck-will’s-widow (3), Eastern Whip-poor-will (1), Wood Thrush (1), Rose-breasted Grosbeak (1), and Summer Tanager (5).
Although 2015-16 was generally a good fall and winter for Groove-billed Ani, only a group of four was found during counts, plus one additional count week bird. Southwestern species seemed reasonably well represented this winter and seemed to be straying further than normal to other mid-western and southeastern states, perhaps related to the continuing El Niño. In addition to a few species mentioned above, Louisiana CBCs picked up Ash-throated Flycatcher (9), Vermilion Flycatcher (55), and Bewick’s Wren (2).
Three reintroduced Whooping Cranes were found, and with hope these will continue to reestablish and spread, and once again becoming a permanent member of Louisiana’s bird community. This also serves a reminder that Christmas Bird Counts provide a long-term perspective on how North American bird communities continue to shift and change. I am thankful to all the compilers that ensure this legacy continues and to all the volunteers that spend their holiday season with the birds.