For the Birds Radio Program: Christmas Bird Count Summary, 1989

Original Air Date: Dec. 28, 1989

Duluth broke its all-time record for species seen on the Christmas Bird Count, with a lot of great birds.

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Christmas Bird Count

(Recording of a Golden-crowned Sparrow )

1989 will long be remembered among Northland birders as the year Duluth set a new species total record for its annual Christmas Bird Count. We managed to find 59 species, breaking the old record of 57. This year’s total included such uncommon but somehow regular birds as Hoary Redpoll, Cardinal, Robin, and Varied Thrush. Late Juncoes, Brown Creepers and Golden-crowned Kinglets along with a few Canada Geese, Bufflehead, and one Black Duck stuck out the awful cold. There was an Iceland Gull at the Duluth Landfill, along with Glaucous, Thayer’s, Herring, and Ring-billed Gulls.

Minnesota’s second Golden-crowned Sparrow ever was seen at the feeder it’s been visiting for a month, but a couple of birds we were counting on didn’t stay where they were supposed to—the Black-backed Woodpeckers that have been hanging around Eagle Lake disappeared a couple of days before the count, and the Peregrine Falcon that’s been in the Duluth-Superior Harbor apparently spent the day on the Superior side, just outside the legal count circle.

I woke up at 4:30 on Count morning, and breathed a sigh of relief when I looked at the zero on my thermometer–the weather service had been predicting 15-20 below. I like to start a Christmas Bird Count day with an owl or two—the usual method is to drive along country roads, stopping now and then to listen and hoot to see if one will answer. But this morning I decided to just walk around my neighborhood, since a Great Horned Owl’s been hanging around. It’s peaceful at five in the morning—especially after a cold night when most people bring their dogs indoors. The soft tinkle of wind chimes could occasionally be heard, even with little more than a breeze to stir them. The stillness was suddenly broken by a sharp stacatto whistling—and before I could whistle back, something else did. Suddenly all around me two little Saw-whet Owls were calling back and forth, changing positions often enough to make my head spin. They didn’t fly in where I could see them—they were too busy calling to one another. After several minutes spent enjoying their concert, I walked on. After another half-mile or so, I suddenly heard another Saw-whet. This one flew by under a street light, and disappeared into the darkness before I could get him in my new binoculars. So even though I managed to count three Saw-whet Owls for the Christmas Bird Count tally, I’m still missing them on the list of birds I’ve seen through my Zeisses.

I was pretty much froze by seven, so I stopped by a convenience store and got a cup of hot chocolate—that kept me going all morning. I met my group at 7:15 and we quickly tallied 10 goldeneyes and 4 mallards at the mouth of the Lester River, and then checked out the houses on the east end of Superior Street. Some people had set up a huge wooden Pileated Woodpecker in a tree, just above a big suet bag, and suddenly a real pileated flew in. It was a female, with a black mustache mark and red crest beginning above her forehead. A couple of seconds later I looked again, this time at a male, with red mustache and red crest beginning right at the base of the beak. We all got to thoroughly enjoy these spectacular birds before we hiked on. I told my group to keep their eyes peeled for a shrike, since I needed that one for my Zeiss list, and almost immediately Charlene Miller pointed one out at the top of a tree. We all had a lovely time, enjoying each other and the winter birds, and hardly felt the cold. The Christmas Bird Count is one tradition I hope I never have to miss.

(Recording of a Saw-whet Owl)

This is Laura Erickson and this program has been “For the Birds.”