For the Birds Radio Program: Year Lists
Keeping a year list makes even the most common birds exciting for a while.
(Recording of a Rock Dove)
The Rock Dove is by far the most abundant bird in Duluth–4,593 were counted on the Christmas Bird Count December 20. So naturally birders don’t get excited about seeing them, except once a year. On January first, when listers get to start a brand new year list, even pigeons, starlings, and House Sparrows look good, at least for a little while.
Year lists are fun and easy to keep, especially in winter when birds are few and far between. On the Christmas Count, 54 species were seen in Duluth, including a Brewer’s Blackbird whose ID was confirmed a couple of days after the count. Although it would probably be impossible for a lone birder to find that many species here in a single day, a lot of birders spend January first searching for rarities, trying to get a good start on the year list. A few very rare birds have been seen in Duluth at least through last week–no doubt people will be trying to get them on their 1987 lists tomorrow. The Great Black-backed Gull seen around the harbor and at the Duluth landfill has been hard to find–you have to check out every single gull flying around, swimming in the lake, and feeding at the dump, to have even a chance of seeing it. It seems to spend a lot of time in Wisconsin, so even with a diligent search you might not get it. There are a couple of Iceland Gulls around too, which have been easy for most out-of-towners to find, although Iceland Gulls aren’t as easy for beginners to identify as Black-backs. With luck, it may be possible to see four or even five species of gulls in town tomorrow, counting the less rare Thayer’s and Glaucous Gulls and the ubiquitous Herring Gull.
A Northern Hawk-Owl has been sighted on several occasions since the bird count–on Lester River Road about two miles north of Superior Street, and hunting in the fields west of there. But a lot of people have searched the area and missed it. This attractive species of the northern coniferous forests is both diurnal and fairly tame, so if you do manage to locate it, you have a real treat in store. The Hawk-Owl is one bird that few people in the United States outside of northern Minnesota ever get to see. As a matter of fact, a lot of serious birders come here to list this bird during winters when one turns up. Another one was seen in the Sax-Zim Bog area in a field along Highway 53 about a mile and a half north of Cotton. Two Black-billed Magpies were also seen in that vicinity during a Christmas Bird Count, along with some White-winged Crossbills, so I imagine a few birders will head up there after listing the gulls tomorrow.
Feeders in Duluth are still getting Boreal Chickadees and Gray Jays in bigger numbers than usual. But most people have to look hard to find Evening Grosbeaks, and other northern finches are less abundant than normal, too. All in all, working on a year list might be an interesting way to spend some of those frigid, bright blue January days. If the list grows too slowly, you might start tallying all the southern birds you hear your neighborhood starlings imitating.
(Recording of a European Starling)
This is Laura Erickson, and this program has been “For the Birds.”