For the second straight season Indiana’s Christmas Bird Count featured the discovery of two remarkable rarities; this year it was a Vermilion Flycatcher and a Western Sandpiper. Incredibly, both of these CBC firsts were found on the same count - Western Gibson County! Other great finds included the state’s seventh Western Grebe, the tenth Swainson’s Thrush, and the first White-winged Crossbill in seven years. Nine species had record high totals this season - Trumpeter Swan (80), Redhead (1579), Red-necked Grebe (3) , American White Pelican (101), Great Egret (7), Red-shouldered Hawk (365), Barn Owl (8), Red-bellied Woodpecker (2406), and Winter Wren (68). Species found in low numbers this year were Red-breasted Nuthatch (12), Lapland Longspur (103), Snow Bunting (77), Purple Finch (18), and Pine Siskin (20).
Western Gibson County had the highest species total again with an impressive 109. Other circles to top 90 species included Oakland City (94) and Sullivan County (93). Sadly, missing from this group is the Goose Pond count that failed to report their data this year. Forty-four counts reported data in Indiana this season (down from 53 last year), which included 797 field observers and 133 feeder watchers (both totals were slight increases from a year ago). A total of 1904 party hours, 265 hours of feeder observation, and 107 hours of nocturnal birding resulted in the discovery of 147 total species. These totals were also a bit higher than last season, with the exception of the species total, that was down by six.
Several circles enjoyed good goose counts. The best Greater White-fronted Goose totals came from Sullivan County (3665), Gibson (1600), and Terre Haute (743). By recent standards, the Snow Goose total (39,024) was low; the highest totals came from Gibson (30,717), Evansville (4983), and Sullivan County (1549). Two circles had Ross’s Geese - Gibson (13) and Terre Haute (1). Tippecanoe (117) and Pokagon (97) had this year’s highest Mute Swan totals. The bulk of the season’s record 80 Trumpeter Swans were provided by Oakland City (51). It was also a good year for Tundra Swans (132) with fine counts from Eagle Creek (46) and Gibson (34).
Duck counts of note included Gibson’s 458 Gadwall and 115 Northern Pintail. Elkhart (23) and Oakland City (12) had the best Canvasback totals this season. It was an amazing year for Redhead; the vast majority of the record high 1579 Redhead total was provided by Dunes West (915), Elkhart (290), and the Dunes counters (104). The Dunes count also added two Surf Scoters, while Tippecanoe’s single bird was a nice “inland” find. All 26 White-winged Scoters were also added by the Dunes count. Black Scoter went unreported for the first time in seven seasons. This year’s three Long-tailed Ducks came from the Dunes (2) and Gibson (1).
Ring-necked Pheasants were scarce, only being reported by three circles. The best Wild Turkey counts came from Elkhart (112), Ohio River (73), and Terre Haute (62). Three counts had Red-throated Loons - the Dunes (51), Dunes West (1), and Lake Monroe (1). Sullivan County’s 68 Horned Grebes was more than half of the state’s total (114). Red-necked Grebe is always a good CBC find; this season three circles reported this handsome grebe – Whitewater (2), Oakland City (1), and Patoka Lake (cw). Even more impressive was Lake Monroe’s Western Grebe, Indiana’s seventh CBC record. Gibson (146) and Sullivan County (38) added most of the 196 Double-crested Cormorants.
A new American White Pelican record was created singlehandedly by Gibson’s 101, far surpassing the previous best (12). Seven Great Egrets was also a record high, with an impressive four by Sullivan County, a pair for Ohio River, and one for Gibson. Muncie (2) and Gibson (1) added the season’s three Black-crowned Night-herons.
Raptor highlights included a Knox County Osprey, Golden Eagles from Willow Slough (2) and Pigeon River (1), and a record year for Red-shouldered Hawks (365). Rough-legged Hawks were scarce (51), with only Willow Slough (20) finding more than six. The lone Virginia Rail was found on the Dunes count. Several circles had big Sandhill Crane totals, including Eagle Creek (5203), Muscatatuck (3500), and Whitewater (2300). Whooping Cranes were added by Gibson (4) and Eagle Creek (1).
Gibson counters discovered the season’s only Least Sandpiper as well as one of two birds vying for “bird of the season” honors - Indiana’s first CBC Western Sandpiper. Two counts contributed the bulk of the “large gulls” this season - Elkhart and the Dunes. Both of these counts contributed single Lesser Black-backed Gulls and Glaucous Gulls. The active landfills in the Elkhart circle produced 2822 of the Herring Gull total (3265). The Dunes count also contributed all 12 of this season’s Great Black-backed Gulls.
A new record Barn Owl total was set with eight; remarkably they were all found on one count - Oakland City. Double-digit Eastern Screech-Owl counts were achieved by Lake Monroe (21), Spring Mill (10), and Elkhart (10). The Dunes count had the season’s only Snowy Owl and Northern Saw-whet Owl, while the lone Long-eared Owl belonged to Willow Slough. The Red-bellied Woodpecker count (2406) established yet another new record high. Lake Monroe had an impressive 64 Pileated Woodpeckers. Both Merlin (10) and Peregrine Falcon (11) had good totals this year.
The second bird laying claim to “bird of the year” was also an amazing Gibson find - a Vermilion Flycatcher, another state CBC first. Sadly, Loggerhead Shrikes have become tough to find in Indiana, so it was nice to see one on two counts this year, Pike County and Spring Mill. Seven Northern Shrikes represented a typical year. Once again Terre Haute, with 15,716 American Crows was the main contributor to the state total (28,910). Eagle Creek reported a single Fish Crow and a nice count of 595 Horned Larks.
Red-breasted Nuthatch was a “no-show” for most counts. The state total was only 12, with the highest count coming from the Dunes with only seven birds. Elkhart (50) and Topeka (30) had very good Brown Creeper counts. The 68 Winter Wrens was also a new record high, with the best count coming from Elkhart (13).
South Bend’s Swainson’s Thrush represented the state’s tenth CBC record, and the first in nine years. Ohio River had a big American Robin count (3167), while the Dunes and Lake Monroe had single Gray Catbirds. Oddly, all 65 American Pipits this season came from one count - Elkhart. It was another poor year for Lapland Longspur (103); Topeka’s 55 was the only count with more than thirteen. The 77 Snow Buntings was only slightly better than last season’s disastrous total (11). In fact, only two counts had any Snow Buntings – South Adams County (75) and Eagle Creek (2).
The only warbler species this season (other than the expected Yellow-rumped) was Common Yellowthroat. Single yellowthroats were found on the Evansville, Dunes, and Richmond counts. It was a good year for Chipping Sparrows; the 17 chippies were added by Muscatatuck (7), Ohio River (6), Greenfield (2), Gibson (1), and Whitewater (1). There were two big contributors to the season’s 93 Savannah Sparrows - Oakland City (54) and Gibson (22); there were no other circles with more than four. Six Lincoln’s Sparrows was the highest count in 28 years, thanks to Sullivan County with an impressive four birds, and singles from Big Oaks and Lafayette.
It was a big year for blackbirds on the Evansville count; they reported 31,670 of the season’s 37,682 Red-winged Blackbirds and 775 of the 916 total Rusty Blackbirds. It was another poor year for winter finches. Only 18 Purple Finch were counted, the highest total was South Lake County’s ten birds. Pine Siskin (20) was also elusive, with only four circles tallying small numbers. The lone winter finch highlight was South Bend’s White-winged Crossbill - the state’s first in seven years.