The 121st Christmas Bird Count in Arkansas

Weather is always a factor, but Arkansas has had three years in a row of record mild seasons.  Only 11 % of the counts were moderately impacted by rain or wind and 4% were severely impacted by rain.  Overall, 15% of the counts were impacted in some form, which was 19% below the 14-year average.  

Covid-19 had a heavy impact on some individual counts, but state-wide wasn’t a big factor.  Probably the biggest impact wasn’t to the birds, but to the social aspect of the counts.  Two counts canceled, with excellent thinking about observer safety.  All the other counts modified their counts, to be Covid safe.  From the ten-year average, party miles were -14% and observers were -10%.  Increases were # of parties +13%; party hours +2%;  # of individuals +480% and  # of species went from 172 to 173, a new Arkansas high.  In addition, four counts tied or broke their species highs.  Thank you to the compilers that canceled their counts or modified their counts to be Covid safe! 
 
In Arkansas 28 counts were submitted with 15 counts having more than 90 species.   Lake Dardanelle (123), Pine Bluff (117), Arkadelphia & Holla Bend NWR (111), Lonoke (110), Big Lake NWR & Hot Springs NP (104), Lake Georgia Pacific/Felsenthal NWR (102), Wapanocca/Shelby Forest (100), Little Rock & Mississippi River SP (98), Bayou DeView & Conway (97), White River NWR (95), and Fayetteville (94).  The high species count of 123, was five species above average.  Big Lake NWR (104), Hot Springs Village (85), Lake Dardanelle (123), and Mississippi River SP (98) tied/set new species highs.  Big Lake NWR & Lonoke had the most new or unusual species (8) and Mississippi River SP had the most species high counts (15).  Fayetteville had the most observers (35), Parties (14) and hours (97.5).  173 species statewide was eight species above average.

The numbers for the following bird highlights are normalized by dividing by the party hours.  The best number of species (146) occurred 12/25-12/30, with all others in the 133-136 range.  The best number of individuals (4,249,460) occurred 12/19-12/24.  Statewide-total number of individuals (6,224,767) was 280% above the ten-year average and the best in 31 years.  The best number of species occurred in the Mississippi River Alluvial Plain with Crowley’s Ridge included and the AR valley and hills (137) areas, followed by the pine country of the South-Central Plains (128) and the Grand Prairie (127) eco-regions.  The best number of individuals occurred in the Arkansas River valley/hills, followed by the Grand Prairie and the Mississippi River Alluvial Plain/Crowley’s Ridge eco-regions.  For the last two years Lake Dardanelle had the most individuals, followed this year by Fort Smith/Moffett (4,187,394).  

In the broad groups, Geese have set two records in three years, and were 461% above average.  Last year, dabblers had their 26th best flight, followed this year by their 31st \best flight.  Last year, divers had their 29th best flight, followed this year by their nineteenth best flight.  Last year, semi-hardy waterbirds had their 6th best flight, followed this year by their second best flight, 376% above average.  Last year, Raptors had their 6th best flight, followed this year by a new record.  Last year, Shorebirds had their 21st best flight, followed this year by their 29th best flight, although still five percent below average.  Gulls were +77% and have had three record years in the last five years. Last year, semi-hardy lingerers had their seventh best flight, followed this year by their 36th best flight.  Last year, grassland species had their 65th worst flight, followed this year by their 61st worst flight, -44%.  Last year, irruptives had their 58th worst numbers, followed by the eighth best flight.  Last year, blackbirds had their 23rd worst flight, followed this year by their 22nd best, although 53% below average.  For two years, western species have had their 7th best flight.  Last year, frugivores had their 12th worst flight, followed by their tenth worst flight. And last year upland game birds had their worst flight, followed this year by their tenth worst flight.
   
Setting new 68-year highs were Greater White-fronted Goose (7th record high in 13 years and 300% over last year’s numbers); Snow Goose (2nd record in three years); Long-tailed Duck; Great Egret (first year of more Great Egrets than Great Blue Heron, by +24%); Black Vulture (4th record high in nine years); Osprey; Red-shouldered Hawk (6th record high in 14 years); Greater Yellowlegs; Long-billed Dowitcher; Barn Owl ( 2 records in a row); Red-bellied Woodpecker (6 record highs in 7 years); Downy Woodpecker (2 records in a row); The wrens put in a second strong showing with Carolina Wren setting three record highs in a row, House (2 records in a row). and Marsh and almost setting a new record; Orange-crowned Warbler (2 records in 3 years); Common Yellowthroat (2 records in 3 years); Palm Warbler; White-throated Sparrow (2 records in 4 years); and Yellow-headed Blackbird.
 
Common Loon has had two records and two strong years in the last four years; Cooper’s Hawk had their strongest flight in 12 years; Inca Doves had the best flight in 13 years; Northern Flicker had the best flight in 13 years; American Crow had their strongest flight in 43 years; Carolina Chickadee had their best flight in 38 years, Tufted Titmouse had the best in 20 years, Song Sparrow had the strongest flight in 12 years, Red-winged Blackbird had the best flight in 13 years, and House Finch had their best flight in 30 years. 
   
Meanwhile, no 68-year lows were set this year.

Ross’s Goose was 75% below average and had the worst flight in 11 years.    

Irruptives, were normalized by party hours and ranked for 68 years:  Last year, Cedar Waxwings had their sixth best flight, followed by their 18th best flight this year.  Last year, Red-breasted Nuthatch had their 30th best flight, followed this year by their ninth best flight.  Last year, Red Crossbills had their sixth best flight, followed this year by their second best flight.  Last year Purple Finch had their 65th worst year, followed this year by their best flight in 25 years.  And last year, Pine Siskin had their 37th best flight, followed by this year’s third best flight and the best flight in 41 years, 329% above average.  Evening Grosbeak have occurred only 22 times and this was the first time in 16 years.

The 121st CBC missed only two common/uncommon occurring species – Trumpeter Swan (first miss in 14 years) and American Woodcock (first miss in 60 years).
  
Species found only on one count included:  Egyptian Goose (Bella Vista/ Bentonville/ Centerton);  American Black Duck and Smith’s Longspur (Big Lake NWR);  Surf Scoter, (Red-shafted) Northern Flicker, and Summer Tanager (Fayetteville);  White-winged Dove and Yellow-headed Blackbird (Fort Smith/ Moffett);  Pacific Loon (Hot Springs N.P.); Yellow Warbler (Hot Springs Village);  Long-tailed Duck, Common Merganser, and Lesser Black-backed Gul  (Lake Dardanelle);  Red-cockaded Woodpecker and Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (Lake Georgia Pacific-Felsenthal N.W.R.);  Red-breasted Merganser (Little Rock);  American Bittern, American Avocet, Western Sandpiper, Dunlin, and Long-billed Dowitcher (Lonoke);  Red Crossbill (North Fork of the Illinois Bayou);  Tropical Kingbird and Dickcissel (Pine Bluff);  Evening Grosbeak (Sylamore Ranger District); Black-crowned Night-Heron and White Ibis (Texarkana); and Say’s Phoebe (Wapanocca/Shelby Forest).

Species found only on two counts included:  Sandhill Crane, Spotted Sandpiper, and Spotted Towhee (Arkadelphia);  Bewick’s Wren (Bella Vista/ Bentonville/ Centerton); Blue-winged Teal (Big Lake NWR);  Bewick’s Wren (Buffalo National River-East); American Tree Sparrow (Crooked Creek Valley);  Rufous Hummingbird (Fayetteville); Peregrine Falcon (Fort Smith/Moffett);  Eared Grebe (Hot Springs NP);  Mute Swan and Spotted Towhee (Jonesboro);  Blue-winged Teal and Peregrine Falcon (Lake Dardanelle);  Rufous Hummingbird (Little Rock);  Sora, Sandhill Crane and Palm Warbler (Lonoke);  Anhinga (Mississippi River SP);  Mute Swan (Mountain Home); American Tree Sparrow (North Fork of the Illinois Bayou);  Eared Grebe, Sora, Spotted Sandpiper, and Palm Warbler, (Pine Bluff);  and Anhinga (Pond Creek NWR).  
    
In a normal year the Avocet at Lonoke or the Say’s Phoebe at Wapanocca/Shelby Forest or the Smith’s Longspur at Big Lake NWR or the Yellow Warbler at Hot Springs Village or the Dickcissel at Pine Bluff or the Yellow-headed Blackbird at Fort Smith/Moffett or the Summer Tanager at Fayetteville or the Evening Grosbeak at Sylamore Ranger District are great birds and would be in the running for top of the season.  But this was an exceptional year with all the above being present and for the second winter in a row a Tropical Kingbird at Pine Bluff being the bird of the year.
   
This year’s sponsors were: The Audubon Society of Central AR; Big Lake NWR; Buffalo River Partners Inc.; City of Hot Springs; The Disorganized Bird Club; Felsenthal NWR; Friends of Holla Bend NWR; Garland County Audubon; Holla Bend NWR; Hot Springs NP; Hot Springs Village Audubon; Lake Catherine SP; Mississippi River SP; Mount Magazine SP; North Central AR Audubon Society; Northwest AR Audubon Society; Ouachita-Caddo Bird Club; Ozark-St. Francis NFs; Tennessee Ornithological Society; Texarkana Audubon Society; Three Rivers Audubon Society; and Village Creek SP.        
  
It can never be said frequently enough:  All the compilers, co-compilers, and volunteers deserve a big “THANK YOU” for your hard work, especially for keeping COVID19 safe!

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