“Painted Bunting, Painted Bunting!” Neil Clark whispered excitedly. There it was, a male Painted Bunting perched within the high grass, its brilliant rainbow–colored plumage standing out against the grey overcast skies. We managed to snap a few photographs for documentation just before it disappeared into the dense shrub.
The overwintering Painted Bunting was a nice addition to our birding groups’ species list during the Thibodaux area Audubon Christmas Bird Count (CBC), held January 2, 2017. The Thibodaux area count was just one of thousands conducted across the Americas this season from Dec. 14 thru Jan. 5 as part of the National Audubon Society’s Christmas Bird Count. The annual event, now in its 117th year, is the nations longest-running citizen science project. The data collected over the past century has allowed Audubon researchers, biologists, and other conservation agencies to assess long-term bird population trends.
High winds and occasional downpours during the Thibodaux area CBC didn’t stop the 16 volunteers from scouring the area’s designated 7.5 mile radius for birds. The volunteers split up into groups to cover 10 sections within the count circle and recorded a total of 103 species for the day.
One of the thrills of participating in a CBC is finding an unexpected species. Dr. Erik Johnson, Director of Bird Conservation for Audubon Louisiana, experienced that thrill during the Thibodaux area count. While surveying a remote back road, Johnson caught a glimpse of a warbler whose coloration didn’t quite look right. “That’s an awfully dark throated Black-and-white Warbler…wait…no way!” he exclaimed to himself as he made the identification. The bird was actually a male Black-throated Blue Warbler, which is very rare to find wintering in Louisiana. Most Black-throated Blue Warblers migrate from their breeding grounds in the northeastern United States and southeastern Canada and winter in forested habitats of the Greater Antilles from Puerto Rico to Cuba, Jamaica, and along the Yucatan coast.
At the end of the day the Thibodaux CBC volunteers counted over 11,000 individual birds and contributed valuable data that will help scientists determine species population trends and guide future conservation strategies.