During the 2018-2019 (119th) Audubon Christmas Bird Count, Louisiana birders for the first time conducted 30 counts, continuing a recent trend of CBC expansion and increased participation. A total of 246 parties (35 more than last year!) dedicated 1746 party-hours (85 more than last year). An average of 18.2 people participated in each count, with Baton Rouge (54), Sabine N.W.R. (38) and St. Tammany (30) receiving the most participation. In addition, 40 feeder-watchers (7 more than last year) provided 81.5 hours of count data. A total of 1,773,572 individual birds were counted, with Red-winged Blackbird (620,149), Snow Goose (352,590), White-faced Ibis (85,522), and Brown-headed Cowbird (83,789) topping the list and collectively representing 64.4% of all birds counted.
The species total across all Louisiana CBCs was 254 species, plus one count-week species (Brown-crested Flycatcher, which is an LBRC “Review List” species). An additional nine Review List species and one species complex were found during CBCs included Western Grebe (Shreveport CBC), White-tailed Hawk (Sweet Lake-Cameron Prairie N.W.R. CBC), Black Rail (Creole CBC and Sabine N.W.R. CBC), Limpkin (Thibodaux CBC), Glaucous Gull (Grand Isle CBC), Vaux’s Swift (Baton Rouge CBC), Fork-tailed Flycatcher (2 together [!], Sweet Lake-Cameron Prairie N.W.R. CBC), Tropical/Couch’s Kingbird (New Orleans CBC), Smith’s Longspur (5, Shreveport CBC), and Bullock’s Oriole (1, Lafayette CBC).
Among the 30 Louisiana CBCs, 22 topped the 100 species mark. Lacassine N.W.R.-Thornwell tallied the most species (150) among the counts, and four others hit the 140 mark: Creole (149), Sabine N.W.R. (149), Baton Rouge (147), and Palmetto Island (143). Shreveport (120) and Natchitoches (114) had the highest number of species among north Louisiana counts.
This winter was remarkable in that not only were there 17 species of warblers found during the CBCs, but also that there were relatively high numbers of several of the less frequently encountered winter warblers. Among the most remarkable finds were Tennessee Warbler (Palmetto Island CBC), Hooded Warbler (Grand Isle CBC), and Magnolia Warbler (Venice CBC). This was also a good winter for Black-and-white Warbler (24 from 10 counts), Yellow-throated Warbler (8 from 6 counts, plus one count-week), Prairie Warbler (7 from 3 counts), and Black-throated Green Warbler (4 from 4 counts). Other notable warblers included 5 Ovenbirds (Grand Isle CBC and Venice CBC), 3 Northern Waterthrush (Venice CBC, Lacassine N.W.R.-Thornwell CBC, Baton Rouge CBC), 3 Northern Parula (Grand Isle CBC, Venice CBC, Sabine N.W.R. CBC, plus count week at Creole CBC), and Yellow Warbler (Lacassine N.W.R.-Thornwell CBC). Wilson’s Warbler, a species that has fairly substantial fluctuations from year to year, was relatively scarce this winter; it was found on only three counts, including a nice tally of 11 during the Grand Isle CBC where it is reliable each winter, but also as a new count first on the 51st Shreveport CBC.
Other notable finds included Fulvous Whistling-Duck (2, Creole), Surf Scoter (3, Creole; 1, Johnsons Bayou), Black Scoter (25, Creole; 1, Grand Isle), Least Bittern (6, Venice; 3, New Orleans; 1, Creole), Broad-winged Hawk (1, Grand Isle), Yellow Rail (1, Sabine N.W.R.; 1, Creole), Franklin’s Gull (1, Lacassine N.W.R.-Thornwell), Lesser Black-backed Gull (1, Shreveport), Royal Tern (1, Baton Rouge), Chuck-will’s-widow (1, New Orleans; 1, Venice), Eastern Whip-poor-will (1, Baton Rouge), Peregrine Falcon (1 first count record, Natchitoches), Least Flycatcher (1, Creole; 1, Lacassine N.W.R.-Thornwell; 1, Palmetto Island), Say’s Phoebe (1, Claiborne), Vermilion Flycatcher (1, Baton Rouge), Ash-throated Flycatcher (1, Baton Rouge; 1, Sweet Lake-Cameron Prairie N.W.R.; 2, New Orleans; 1, Reserve-Bonnet Carré Spillway; 1, White Lake), Western Kingbird (3, New Orleans; 1, St. Tammany; 1, Sweet Lake-Cameron Prairie N.W.R.), Scissor-tailed Flycatcher (1, Shreveport; 3, Sweet Lake-Cameron Prairie N.W.R.; 1, Venice), Bell’s Vireo (1, Baton Rouge; 1, Sweet Lake-Cameron Prairie N.W.R.; 1, Venice), Northern Rough-winged Swallow (5, Lafayette; 1, Grand Isle), Clay-colored Sparrow (1, White Lake), Lark Sparrow (1, New Iberia; 1, Palmetto Island; 2, Sabine N.W.R.; 1, New Orleans; 1, White Lake), Summer Tanager (1, St. Tammany; 1, Reserve-Bonnet Carré Spillway; 1, Thibodaux; 1, Lafayette), Blue Grosbeak (2, Palmetto Island; 1, Lafayette), Yellow-headed Blackbird (1, Lacassine N.W.R.-Thornwell; 1, Grand Isle), and Orchard Oriole (1, Lacassine N.W.R.-Thornwell).
Several species continue to expand across the state. Inca Dove continues to move north and east, and is clearly well established across most of Louisiana now. A total of 192 individuals were found on 22 of the 30 CBCs. It was most notably found this year as a count first on the 35th D’Arbonne CBC (in north Louisiana) and for the 5th time on the 31st New Orleans CBC (in southeast Louisiana). Crested Caracara also continues to expand east; 108 individuals were found on 11 CBCs, including most notably one each on the Reserve-Bonnet Carré Spillway and Venice CBCs. Neotropic Cormorant also continues to push north and east, and was found on 18 Louisiana counts, five of which represented high counts: Lafayette (73), Baton Rouge (1029), Crowley (148), Shreveport (30; 1st count record), and New Orleans (3; 1st count record). It was also a 2nd count record at Venice (1).
Western Hummingbirds on the other hand continue to follow a pattern of being relatively scarce compared to their heyday in the 1990s, although Ruby-throated Hummingbirds in contrast appear to be increasing in abundance. The counts for hummingbirds are as follows: Rufous and Rufous/Allen’s Hummingbird (31 from 7 counts), Ruby-throated Hummingbird (24 from 7 counts), Buff-bellied Hummingbird (7 from 5 counts), Black-chinned Hummingbird (3, Baton Rouge, Reserve-Bonnet Carré Spillway), Calliope Hummingbird (2, Baton Rouge), Archilochus sp. (1, Lafayette), Broad-tailed Hummingbird (1, Baton Rouge), and 3 unidentified hummingbird sp.
Louisiana did not miss out on the great Purple Finch irruption of winter 2018-2019. A total of 26 CBCs reported 398 of this otherwise fairly unusual species, making this the 4th highest count since 1970 and the highest count since 1984. The highest counts came from around the state: Baton Rouge (85), Claiborne (66), Reserve-Bonnet Carré Spillway (35), New Orleans (29), White Lake (28), Thibodaux (27), and D’Arbonne (25). This was also the 4th best count for Pine Siskin since 1970, with 211 reported from nine CBCs, although more than half were reported from St. Tammany (117). Coincidentally, this was also the 4th highest count for Red-breasted Nuthatch since 1970 with 22 CBCs reporting 163 individuals. Highest counts came from Fort Polk (27), St. Tammany (19), D’Arbonne (18), Claiborne (16), and Northshore-Slidell (15).
A huge amount of gratitude goes to the compilers of Louisiana’s CBCs, as they ensure that Louisiana birders can continue this tradition of birding with a purpose. The 2018-2019 CBC compilers included Abigail Arfman, Chris Brantley, Samantha Collins, John Dillon, Robert Dobbs, Marty Floyd, Toddy Guidry, Terri Jacobson, Erik Johnson, Gary Kelley, Delaina LeBlanc, Irvin Louque, Andrew Morang, David Muth, Glenn Ousset, Katie Percy, Larry Raymond, Michael Seymour, Thomas Trenchard, Michael VanEtten, and Melvin Weber. All of the compilers are also extremely grateful to the CBC volunteer participants who often fight the cold and rain (and sometimes get lucky with amazing Louisiana mild winter days) to find and count birds, for fun.