The 118th CBC in North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, and Oklahoma

The winter of 2017/2018 was an uneventful one throughout the Midwest.  The weather was very warm, especially in the Dakotas, in the weeks running up to the count period; precipitation was minimal as well.   In fact, the western portions of all the Great Plains states are in the throes of a long-running drought.  The lack of snow and rain during the fall generally allowed birders unrestricted access throughout count circles, and the opportunity to record some lingering species. The temperate conditions changed dramatically at the end of December when the meteorological freezer door opened in the northern reaches of the region.  Ron Martin relates that the Denbigh, ND, count which was conducted on December 30, recorded a HIGH temperature of -22F and a low of -38F.  By comparison, the southern portions of the Great Plains were relatively mild throughout December and January.  This was also an uneventful winter for irruptive species in all areas of the Midwest.  The one exception: Red Crossbill.  That species was recorded in fairly impressive numbers, and the birds were widely distributed throughout the region.  I'd encourage birders to attempt to document the Red Crossbill "types" that are encountered; this is pretty clearly an evolving scientific issue and citizen scientists have a wonderful opportunity to make an impact on the genetic issues that are under current investigation and evaluation.  Sound recordings are clearly of primary importance and use.

North Dakotan birders completed and submitted 17 counts this season, with Fargo-Moorhead taking the high species count blue ribbon at 70 count day species.  Fargo reported good numbers of waterfowl thanks to the open warm water outflow from both a sewage treatment plant and a commercial sugar processor.  Counters there also reported Snowy Owl, Varied Thrush, Gray Catbird (DD), Bohemian Waxwing, Pine Grosbeak, White-winged Crossbill, and Hoary Redpoll.  These irruptive species were unevenly distributed elsewhere across the state as follows:  Snowy Owls were seen on count day on a total of 11 counts (1 CW) with Grand Forks-East Grand Forks reporting a high count of five individuals; Varied Thrush was also reported on Bismarck-Mandan and Minot;  Bohemian Waxwing was additionally tallied on Garrison Dam, Grand Forks and Medora; Pine Grosbeak was additionally seen only on Grand Forks;  and White-winged Crossbill was also reported on Garrison Dam and Jamestown.  Finally Red Crossbills were reported on a total of five counts (Bismarck, Denbigh, Garrison Dam, Jamestown, and Minot) and while Common Redpoll was observed as a count day species on all 17 counts, Hoaries were located on seven only.

South Dakotans participated in 19 counts this past winter with CBCers at Yankton reporting an impressive 73 count day species, while Pierre followed closely in second place with 69.   A quick state-wide survey confirms some interesting finds:  Badlands N.P. reported Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch; Lake Andes reported Barrow's Goldeneye (CW) and Glaucous Gull (CW); Pierre tallied a nice selection of lingering waterfowl as well as six gull species including California, Iceland, Lesser Black-backed and Glaucous (CW), and tardy Hermit Thrush and Northern Mockingbird; Piedmont reported the local Black Hills specialty species including both Gray Jay and Pygmy Nuthatch, while Pine Ridge had Pinyon Jay (CW) and Pygmy Nuthatch and Rapid City had Pygmies, as well; Spearfish reported Trumpeter Swan, Virginia Rail, Lewis's Woodpecker, Pinyon Jay (CW), Marsh Wren, American Dipper, Bohemian Waxwing, and Evening Grosbeak; Sturgis birders found Lewis's Woodpecker and the state's only Cassin's Finches.  Finally, Snowy Owls were located on seven counts in South Dakota this past season (with 2 CW reports) with Waubay N.W.R. reporting a high count of four birds on count day, and crossbills were found as follows:  Red Crossbill on seven counts (plus 2 CW reports) and a high count from Piedmont with 85 individuals, and White-wings on three counts (with one additional CW report) and a high count of an impressive 35 birds on count day from Brookings.  

Nebraska CBCers submitted 13 counts this past winter and a new count debuted with the submission of Joel Jorgensen's Lower Platte River count, geographically located roughly between Lincoln and Omaha.  Lake McConaughy birders tallied the most species on count day with 98, but Harlan County observers were close on their heels reporting 95.  Lake McConaughy birders recorded tardy Blue-winged Teal, Red-throated Loon (PH), Red-necked, Western (507 individuals!) and Clark's Grebe as well as seven gull species including Mew, which is now almost reaching "to be expected" status, and Harlan County participants ticked six species of gull at the Harlan County Reservoir including Mew and FOUR Lesser Black-backed.  Snowy Owls were not found on any of the counts on count day this season, but Norfolk, North Platte, and Omaha did note the species as CW.   Elsewhere, the late Blue-winged Teal, Sandhill Crane, and eight White-winged Doves at North Platte, the CW Dickcissel at Omaha and the Greater Yellowlegs (PH) and Pygmy Nuthatch from Scottsbluff were all nice additions to the state list. Finally, Red Crossbills were tallied from Branched Oak-Seward (20 individuals), Harlan County (24 birds), and Lincoln (16 birds), while Norfolk and Scottsbluff both had the species as CW only. 

As Regional Editor, I must say that one of the saddest parts of my job is to read under the Special Aspects tab of a count that a count is dedicated to a friend, companion, husband, wife, fellow birder on his or her passing.  This past season, there were two such moving dedications involving three counts among the 29 Kansas CBCs submitted for the 2017/2018 season. The Bonner Springs-Lansing count was dedicated to long-time Kansas City birder and NAS contributor Lloyd Moore, and both the Lawrence count and the Oskaloosa-Perry Lake counts were similarly dedicated to Cynthia and Ed Shaw, among the founders of the Jayhawk Audubon Society in Lawrence.  Their many contributions to citizen science are well known in the state, and will not be forgotten.  Jeff Hansen submitted a new count from St. Mary's, just northwest of Topeka; that count produced this season's sole report of Turkey Vulture (GD).  Only two counts broke the century mark this year, Lawrence which bested all the competition by recording 103 species, and Parsons that claimed the silver medal with 100 species even.  Across there state there were good birds, indeed.  Mid-winter is not usually the time to "shorebird" in Kansas, yet this year, Killdeer were reported on 12 counts and Wilson's Snipe on nine.  These two are, of course, the usual suspects, but this count period Greater Yellowlegs were noted at Leavenworth-Atchison (CW), Linn County and Quivira N.W.R. (10 birds), Dunlin on Quivira N.W.R., Least Sandpiper at Arkansas City and Quivira N.W.R., Long-billed Dowitcher at Quivira (CW only), and American Woodcock at Parsons.  Elsewhere, Cheyenne Bottoms produced Black-crowned Night-Heron and Snowy Owl, while Cimarron N.G. reported Lark Bunting, Cassin's Sparrow (WR, GD), Lesser Goldfinch, and Evening Grosbeak, and Lawrence birders found an American Bittern and an out-of-range Rock Wren.  Oskaloosa-Perry Lake reported a very late Blue-gray Gnatcatcher with GD.  Parson's counters located two Sedge Wrens and the Red Hills birders found a Rufous-crowned Sparrow.   Wakefield and Waconda Lake both tallied Snowy Owl with Waconda hosting two individuals and Wilson Reservoir had White-winged Scoter (3 birds) and Barrow's Goldeneye.  Finally, Red Crossbills were noted on count day in very nice numbers, and the species was well distributed across the state: Cheyenne Bottoms (27 birds), Cimarron N.G. (15 birds), Dodge City (87 individuals), Hays (12 birds), Leavenworth-Atchison (CW only), Udall-Winfield (12 birds), Waconda Lake (14 birds), Webster Reservoir (2 individuals) and Wilson Reservoir (14 birds).

Oklahomans completed and submitted 19 CBCs this past winter season.  No fewer than eight counts equaled or surpassed 100 species: Ft. Gibson (105), Norman (101), Oklahoma City (127), Red Slough (107), Stillwater (100), Tishomingo NWR (122), Tulsa (106), and Wichita Mountains W.R. (104).  A survey across the state shows some of the better finds:  Broken Bow reported Red Crossbill (I wonder where THESE nomads originated); Kenton (Black Mesa) tallied Barrow's Goldeneye, Western Screech-Owl, Steller's Jay, Sage Thrasher, and Cassin's Finch; and Norman had Long-billed Dowitcher. Oklahoma City (with the high count total of 127 species) had some true rarities including Black-bellied Whistling-Duck, Red-throated (CW) and Pacific loon, Neotropic Cormorant, American Bittern, Great Egret, Snowy Owl, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, and Red Crossbill, while Red Slough in the far southeast part of the state tallied Black-bellied Whistling-Duck, Great Egret, King Rail, Blue-headed Vireo, and Henslow's Sparrow.  Elsewhere, Stephens County reported Great Egret, Sooner Lake had Pacific Loon, Spavinaw noted Long-billed Dowitcher, while Tishomingo N.W.R. had seven shorebird species (plus CW Spotted Sandpiper) and Tulsa birders found dowitcher, sp. and Franklin's Gull.  Finally, Washita N.W.R. hosted Red-throated, Pacific, and Common loons on count day.

As a final matter, let me thank each of the regional compilers for taking the time necessary to carefully compile and to edit each of the counts.  Only in this fashion can we be assured of the integrity of the reported data and the resulting utility of the Christmas Bird Counts for decades to come.  My thanks to each of you. 

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