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Bird counters brave -22F to find 30 species

Volunteers and staff from the Des Lacs National Wildlife Refuge braved one of the coldest mornings of the winter at -22 degrees F to take part in the 109th National Audubon Society Christmas Bird Count, held December 15, 2009, in Kenmare.

1/06/10 (Wed)

By Caroline Downs 

Fewer than half the
average total birds seen
Volunteers and staff from the Des Lacs National Wildlife Refuge braved one of the coldest mornings of the winter at -22 degrees F to take part in the 109th National Audubon Society Christmas Bird Count, held December 15, 2009, in Kenmare.
 
30 species of birds were observed during the day, six fewer than the record total of 36 species. However, the total number of individual birds, at 2,090, was less than half the count’s average of 4,686.
 
Perhaps the most unusual sighting of the day was of a single northern flicker. The northern flicker was recorded during one other bird count, in 1980.
 
Another fairly unusual winter visitor to the area was the common raven, with one of those spotted. Ravens have only been observed four times during the Christmas bird count in Kenmare, with three seen in 2005.
 
Two northern goshawks were noted during the 2009 count, tying the maximum number seen in 1975. A goshawk has been included on the Des Lacs count 10 times.
 
A new record was set for common grackles, with 15 observed. Grackles have been counted 11 times over the years, but the highest number seen previously was in 1975 when four of the birds were documented.
 
Another record was broken for sharp-tailed grouse, with 284 individual birds. That grouse species has been included in the Des Lacs count 47 times, with a previous high mark of 188 seen last year.
 
Participants discovered a dozen robins remaining in the area, despite the subzero, wintry conditions. Robins have actually been counted 21 times over the years, with the high mark at 21 birds during the 1971 count.
 
Two great horned owls and two snowy owls were seen, but no waterfowl or raptors other than the goshawk. Along with the grouse, volunteers noted seven gray partridge, 64 ring-necked pheasants and 26 wild turkeys for upland game bird species.
 
The majority bird counted was the horned lark, at 796 individual birds. No common redpolls were reported for the 2009 count, even though redpolls were the most numerous bird seen during last year’s count. Horned larks have numbered in the thousands and tens of thousands during former winters, with a high of 51,697 seen in 1961.
 
Other frequently-seen birds during the 2009 count included the Lapland longspur at 190 birds and the snow bunting at 303 individuals. Those species were last seen in record numbers in 1961, numbering 5,551 and 55,839 respectively.
 
The 10 field participants drove a total of 235 miles and covered 2.25 miles on foot as they searched the area for winter bird species. Snow cover ranged from one to six inches, and winds were light for the day, at nine miles per hour. After the morning’s subzero low reading, the thermometer climbed to 4 degrees F for the afternoon high.
 
Two volunteers reported birds observed at feeders in their yards that day.
 
The official count period designated for the nationwide Christmas Bird Count event is the period between December 14th and January 5th. The count is conducted at more than 2,000 locations across North America each year. It began in New York during the late 1800s and has grown into a fun Christmas tradition, with Lostwood National Wildlife Refuge joining the event and holding an initial bird count in December.
 
The count provides a means of tracking trends in population size and distribution of several bird species. The Des Las count in Kenmare has been conducted nearly every year since 1939.
 
The Great Backyard
Bird Count is coming
Officials at the Des Lacs NWR encourage local residents to consider participating in the 13th annual Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) scheduled for February 12-15, 2010. This count is sponsored by the National Audubon Society and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology for residents of the United States and Canada. Individuals can report the birds they see from their windows or balconies, in local parks, or in their own backyards.
 
People of all ages and levels of bird-watching experience are invited to spend at least 15 minutes watching birds in one place, then report their results online at www.birdcount.org. The website provides simple instructions for the event, along with tips for identifying bird species. Checklists of birds expected to be seen in this region of the state can be downloaded by providing a zip code or community name. Participants can also submit digital photos taken during the GBBC dates and even post a video for YouTube about their bird counting experiences.
 
In 2009, volunteers reported 619 different species and submitted 93,600 checklists for the GBBC. The reports tracked the locations of several familiar bird species and also called attention to a mass movement of pine siskins across the eastern United States because of seed crop failures in their usual wintering grounds in Canada and the boreal forests.
 
More information about the Great Backyard Bird Count, along with maps and species lists for North Dakota, can be found at www.birdcount.org.