For a second straight season the 122nd Christmas Bird Count in Indiana was negatively impacted by Covid 19. In addition, many compilers mentioned very challenging weather conditions, including prolonged rain and high wind on count day. Despite these obstacles, Indiana counters once again achieved remarkable results.
Forty-five Indiana counts were held this year (up one from last season), reporting 153 species of birds (down eight species from a year ago). The extensive list of rarities included two new additions to the state’s CBC list - Forster’s Tern and Tennessee Warbler. Other rarities included Pacific Loon, Lesser Yellowlegs, Prairie Falcon, Northern Rough-winged Swallow, Barn Swallow, Nashville Warbler, and Western Meadowlark.
Despite the challenges this season, Hoosier counters established new record high counts for 14 species, including Tundra Swan, Northern Pintail, Green-winged Teal, Common Loon, Double-crested Cormorant, American White Pelican, Turkey Vulture, Whooping Crane, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Eurasian Collared-Dove, Barn Owl, Red-bellied Woodpecker, American Kestrel, and Yellow-rumped Warbler. Species found in unusually low numbers included Eastern Screech-Owl, Snow Bunting, and Savannah Sparrow.
Goose Pond’s 100 species was the only count to reach the century mark this season. Other high totals came from Western Gibson County (97), Oakland City (96), and Sullivan County (92). A total of 781 field observers and 169 feeder watchers contributed to the 1970 total party hours, 308 hours of feeder observation, and 97 hours of nocturnal birding (most of these totals were substantially lower than last year).
By recent standards, goose and swan totals were lower than expected. The top Greater White-fronted Goose counts came from Terre Haute (629), Gibson (616), and Willow Slough (561). Gibson also had the high Snow Goose total (116,167), followed by Knox County (8280) and Goose Pond (2559). Sixteen Ross’s Geese were found by Gibson (6), Knox County (5), Oakland City (3), Goose Pond (1), and Willow Slough (1). Only four circles contributed to the 23 Cackling Geese. It was a record season for Tundra Swan (241), with big help from Muscatatuck (102) and Gibson (59).
It was a remarkable year for ducks, with new record highs set for Northern Pintail and Green-winged Teal, as well as near record totals for several other species. Posey County provided 32 of this year’s 60 Wood Ducks, while Gibson found the bulk (1188) of the season’s 2703 Gadwall. Posey County also had impressive counts of American Wigeon (85) and Canvasback (80). The four Blue-winged Teal this year came from Elkhart (3) and Goose Pond (1). Big contributors to the record 2685 Northern Pintails included Posey County (1200), Gibson (971), and Goose Pond (191). Gibson (2019) was also nearly single-handedly responsible for the new record Green-winged Teal total (2685).
The Lesser Scaup total (1341) was the highest in 51 years, thanks in no small part to a big flight day on the Dunes East count (964). Inland counts, Indianapolis (4) and Elkhart (3), had the only Surf Scoters. Indy also found the only “count day“ White-winged Scoters (4), while Dunes East had one “count week.” Gnaw Bone found the lone Black Scoter, while Dunes East tallied the only Long-tailed Ducks (5) of the season. Other duck totals of note included Elkhart’s 137 Common Goldeneye, 386 Hooded Mergansers from Gibson, and nice Ruddy Duck counts by Elkhart (75) and Knox County (65).
Goose Pond had an impressive 35 Northern Bobwhite, while Willow Slough found 14 of the state’s 18 Ring-necked Pheasant. Though the 18 Red-throated Loons on the Dunes East count was a typical count, Lake Monroe’s ten was a remarkable for an inland count. In fact, it was a huge day for loons on Lake Monroe; their 417 Common Loons raised the state’s new record total to 477. In addition, they found Indiana’s seventh CBC Pacific Loon (the first in ten years).
Dunes West had the season’s lone Red-necked Grebe (count week). A record high Double-crested Cormorant count (366) was set thanks to Goose Pond’s 288. Gibson reset the bar for American White Pelicans with their remarkable count of 500! Vultures were widespread and abundant, with 850 Black Vultures and a record high 1372 Turkey Vultures tallied. Big Oaks had four of this season’s seven Golden Eagles, with singles added by Goose Pond, Pokagon, and Whitewater. It was yet another record season for Bald Eagles with 402 counted across the state. Goose Pond (41) and Willow Slough (21) had the top Rough-legged Hawk totals.
The record high 33 Whooping Cranes came from four circles - Goose Pond (23), Gibson (7), Knox (2), and Muscatatuck (1). Oakland City found Indiana’s second CBC Lesser Yellowlegs, and the season’s lone American Woodcock. Landfills in the Bremen and Elkhart circles once again scored big on gulls. All five of this year’s Iceland Gulls were added by the Bremen Count. The record high 12 Lesser Black-backed Gulls came from Bremen (8), Dunes East (2), and Lake Monroe (2). The Bremen (1) and Elkhart Landfills (1) also provided the only Glaucous Gulls, an increasingly elusive species. Dunes East had the only Great Black-backed Gulls (4) of the season. Lake Monroe’s remarkable Forster’s Tern was a state CBC first.
The 166 Eurasian Collared-Doves counted across 12 circles established a new high. Nine Barn Owls from Oakland City (5), Pike County (2), Goose Pond (1), and Spring Mill (1) was also a record high total. In contrast, this season’s 50 Eastern Screech-Owls was a stunningly low number. Snowy Owls were found on the Gibson (1), Dunes East (cw), and Muncie (cw) counts. Long-eared Owls continue to be elusive; only Lafayette’s count week bird was reported this year. Patoka Lake (2), Goose Pond (1), and Willow Slough (cw) discovered Northern Saw-whet Owls. The top Red-headed Woodpecker counts came from Lake Monroe (56), Bremen (44), and Pokagon (38). Bremen also had an impressive ninety-nine Northern Flickers. It was another record-breaking season for Red-bellied Woodpecker (2464).
This year’s 905 American Kestrels also established a new CBC high, while 16 Merlins were spread across 12 circles. Oakland City found the state’s eighth CBC Prairie Falcon. Spring Mill had the lone Loggerhead Shrike. Northern Shrike was also scarce again this year with only two reported - Dunes East (1) and Terre Haute (cw). Terre Haute’s American Crow roosts also produced the bulk (45,985) of the season’s total (60,039).
Sullivan County found the state’s second CBC Northern Rough-winged Swallow (the first in ten years) and the fourth CBC Barn Swallow (the first in 19 years)! Thirty-two circles contributed to the 179 Red-breasted Nuthatches. The highest Brown Creeper counts came from Elkhart (29), Bremen (28), South Bend (21), and Topeka (20). Patoka Lake, Pike County, and Putnam County (cw) discovered single House Wrens. Other wren counts of note included Elkhart’s impressive 18 Winter Wrens and Ohio River’s 89 Carolina Wrens. The top Hermit Thrush totals came from White Water (10) and Terre Haute (7). Surprisingly, Bremen had the only American Pipits this season (23).
It was a superb year for warblers with six species represented. The biggest surprises were provided by the South Bend count, finding a CBC first - Tennessee Warbler, and the state’s second Nashville Warbler, 47 years after the first. Also of note, Fort Wayne found an Orange-crowned Warbler, and Topeka had a Cape May Warbler. There were three Palm Warblers this season, from Gibson (2) and Terre Haute (1). Yellow-rumped Warblers were widespread, recorded by 31 counts and in a record number (605).
Overall, sparrow totals were fairly typical. Knox County added seven of the season’s 22 Chipping Sparrows. Ohio River had the top Fox Sparrow count (16), while good White-crowned Sparrow totals came from Bremen (231) and Topeka (172). Goose Pond had an impressive 82 Swamp Sparrows. In contrast, this year’s Savannah Sparrow total (17) was the lowest in 17 years.
The big blackbird highlight was Willow Slough’s count week Western Meadowlark (the 17th CBC record and the first in 32 years). Most of the season’s 536 Rusty Blackbirds were provided by Oakland City (206) and Goose Pond (173). Goose Pond also recorded 23,204 Common Grackles. Common Redpolls were limited to northwest Indiana, with this year’s four birds added by Dunes West (2), Dunes East (1), and Southern Lake County (1). Only 17 Pine Siskin were tallied following last season’s big flight. No other “winter finches” were recorded this year.