The 119th Christmas Bird Count season in Indiana will be remembered for the discovery of two amazing rarities. Any other year, the first CBC record of the Piping Plover found on the Indiana Dunes count would have easily been the bird of the season, but not this year. That honor goes to the Gene Stratton-Porter count’s Great Kiskadee, not only a CBC first for Indiana, but a first state record as well! Additional rarities included Indiana’s fifth Spotted Sandpiper, the state’s forth Tree Swallow, two Northern Waterthrushes, and Indiana’s second Nelson’s Sparrow. Still other good finds included three Great Egrets, a Black-legged Kittiwake, and a House Wren.
Six species had record high totals this season - White-winged Scoter (94), American White Pelican (12), Bald Eagle (355), Red-shouldered Hawk (306), Barn Owl (7), and Red-bellied Woodpecker (2232). Unusually low counts included Wood Duck (10), American Wigeon (32), American Black Duck (141), Short-eared Owl (24), Lapland Longspur (45), and Snow Bunting (11).
Western Gibson County had the highest species total this season with 104, followed closely by Goose Pond’s 102. Other circles to top 90 species included Oakland City (93) and Lake Monroe (92). Fifty-three counts reported data in Indiana this season, which included 775 field observers and 119 feeder watchers. A total of 1800 party hours, 243 hours of feeder observation, and 103 hours of nocturnal birding resulted in the discovery of 153 total species.
Compared to recent seasons, this year’s goose totals were unremarkable. However, it was a good season for Ross’s Goose, with four circles contributing to the 26 total - Goose Pond (16), Gibson (5), Terre Haute (3), and Oakland City (2). The South Bend count found a Ross’s X Snow Goose hybrid - a CBC first for Indiana. The majority of the season’s Cackling Geese (53) came from the Southern Lake County count (35). Swan numbers were also lower than expected. In particular, the Tundra Swan total (16) was the lowest in 16 years.
Duck totals were dismal this season. Many compilers commented on low waterfowl counts - several suggesting that low temperatures leading up to the count period pushed the waterfowl out despite an abundance of open water on count day. The Wood Duck total (10) was the lowest in 45 years. The American Wigeon total (32) was a 28-year low, while the American Black Duck total (141) was the lowest in the history of the state’s CBC. The Goose Pond count saved the Northern Shoveler and Northern Pintail totals from similar fates. Their well-attended count had 53 of the season’s 83 shovelers and 111 of the 171 total pintails.
Sea ducks included 12 Surf Scoters, all from “inland” counts - Indianapolis (9), Eagle Creek (2), and Whitewater (1). The record 94 White-winged Scoters all came from Lake Michigan; the Dunes count had a remarkable total of 93, while Dunes West added one more. The Dunes count also had the season’s only Black Scoter and all 11 of this year’s Long-tailed Ducks. Other duck counts of note included Indy’s 78 Bufflehead, 240 Common Goldeneye on the Elkhart count, Patoka Lake’s 186 Hooded Mergansers, and nice Ruddy Duck tallies by Knox County (58) and Elkhart (22).
More than half of this season’s 84 Northern Bobwhite were provided by Goose Pond (46). Good Wild Turkey numbers came from Evansville (133) and South Bend (91). As expected, most of the seasons 68 Red-throated Loons came from the Dunes count (66), while singles came from Lake Monroe and Dunes West (count week). Sullivan County had a fine Horned Grebe total (101). Gibson found 115 of the season’s 130 Double-crested Cormorants and all 12 of the record count of American White Pelicans. Great Blue Heron counts of note came from Gibson (144) and Cass County (54). Great Egret was recorded for a fourth straight year, with singles from Goose Pond, Oakland City, and Sullivan County.
Patoka Lake counted 82 Black Vultures and 178 Turkey Vultures, while Lake Monroe added 168 Turkey Vultures. This season’s seven Golden Eagles included two from Big Oaks. Bald Eagles once again established a new record total (355), with nice counts from Lafayette (50) and Cass County (33). Terre Haute’s 52 Red-shouldered Hawks were big contributors to a record total (306). Significant Rough-legged Hawk counts came from Willow Slough (25) and Goose Pond (19). This season’s lone Virginia Rail came from the Dunes count. Whitewater State Park’s 4595 Sandhill Cranes was nearly half of the season total (9733). Once again, Whooping Cranes were added by Goose Pond (23) and Gibson (4).
The Piping Plover found on the Dunes count was a stunning CBC first for Indiana. Other shorebird highlights included a nice Killdeer total from Whitewater (70), Indiana’s 5th CBC Spotted Sandpiper on the Indy count, and American Woodcocks from Gibson (3) and Pike County (1).
Gull highlights featured a Black-legged Kittiwake on the Dunes count and 415 Bonaparte’s Gulls from Whitewater. Three-fourths of the season’s 1111 Herring Gulls were found on the Elkhart County count (736) - probably the result of active landfills. The two Lesser Black-backed Gulls were found at Gibson and Elkhart (count week), while the two Glaucous Gulls came from Elkhart and Farmland. Elkhart also had the only Iceland Gull of the season (count week). This year’s ten Great Black-backed Gulls were provided by the Dunes count (7), Dunes West (2), and Elkhart (count week).
A record high seven Barn Owls included an impressive count of five from Oakland City and two from Spring Mill. Elkhart and Goose Pond each had single Long-eared Owls. The 24 Short-eared Owls was the lowest total in 12 seasons. This year’s three Northern Saw-whet Owls came from Lake Monroe (2) and Patoka Lake (1). Lake Monroe also tallied a nice Red-headed Woodpecker total (103). A record high 2232 Red-bellied Woodpeckers featured fine totals by Elkhart (198), Lake Monroe (169), and Terre Haute (102).
Gene Stratton-Porter’s first state record Great Kiskadee ended up sticking around a Lagrange County yard long after the count period, thrilling countless birders. McCormick’s Creek had the lone Loggerhead Shrike of the season. The six Northern Shrikes were found in four circles - two each from the Dunes and Willow Slough, and singles from Dunes West and Gene S-P. Southern Lake County had nearly a third (515) of the season’s total Horned Larks (1686).
A “count week” Tree Swallow on the Gibson count was Indiana’s forth CBC record and the first in 18 years. It was an irruption year for Red-breasted Nuthatches; the 430 counted was the highest total in ten years. Goose Pond had the lone House Wren and the only two Marsh Wrens this year. It was a good season for Winter Wrens, with Elkhart (15) and Oakland City (12) big contributors to this year’s 62 birds.
Gray Catbird went unreported for the first time in 25 years. The Lapland Longspur total (45) was also the lowest in 25 seasons, while it has been 24 years since the Snow Bunting total (11) was so low. The dearth of Snow Buntings, though worrisome, was not unexpected, after a disastrous fall migration for this arctic species. Warblers of note included a remarkable TWO Northern Waterthrushes on the Dunes count. These birds were the state’s third and forth CBC records, and the first in 24 seasons. Three circles had single Common Yellowthroats - Goose Pond, Whitewater, and Jamestown (count week). The season’s lone Palm Warbler was also provided by Goose Pond.
Indiana’s second CBC Nelson’s Sparrow was found on the Eagle Creek count. This year’s 19 Chipping Sparrows included seven from Gibson and six from Gene S-P. The only Vesper Sparrow was found by Oakland City’s counters. Goose Pond’s dedicated crew found an impressive 203 Swamp Sparrows. Terre Haute’s “count week” Dickcissel was the state’s first CBC record in 11 years. Nearly all of this season’s 363 Rusty Blackbirds came from two circles - Know County (200) and Pike County (122). Common Grackles had a similar story with almost all of this year’s birds (115,776) coming from Oakland City (103,851). Small numbers of Purple Finches were widely spread, with the highest count only eight birds from South Bend. Lake Monroe found five Red Crossbills, alone the highest count in ten seasons. All of this year’s Common Redpolls came from the Lakefront; the Dunes count tallied 51 birds, while Dunes West added redpoll as “count week.” It was a great season for Pine Siskin, which had their highest total in 20 years (389). Big Siskin counts came from Elkhart (118), the Dunes (53), and Willow Slough (42).