Sunday, December 18, 2016

Christmas Bird Count 2016

I was worried about this year's Christmas Bird Count, which was held yesterday in our area (the "Faribault circle"), as the weather forecast was terrible: 6-9 inches of snow were predicted to fall by morning and then the temperature was expected to plummet, along with brisk winds and blowing snow causing more headaches as the day went on.

However, the snowfall wasn't as heavy as predicted; it had stopped by the time it was getting light, and Northfield-area snowplows did an excellent job of getting the roads clear enough for reasonable safety. So my frequent CBC companion Dan Kahl and I set out in his trusty Subaru (with emergency supplies in the back, just in case). Here's what it looked like on 110th Street southeast of town.

Kind of bleak, eh? You might not expect to see much bird life, but in fact we came back with a higher species count than I've recorded here in the past: 25 species (see full list at the bottom of this post).

On that very road, we saw two pairs each of three ground-feeding birds that I've not often seen, though they are not uncommon: lapland longspurs, snow buntings, and horned larks. Lapland longspurs and snow buntings breed in the Arctic and are only here in the winter, while horned larks can be found in most of the U.S. year-round. In the photos below you can see some corn kernels that no doubt attracted these seed-eaters to the side of the road.

Lapland Longspurs

Horned Lark

Here's another shot of the rural landscape. I love the patterns of bare hedgerow and grasses against the snow.

Though we had a slow start to winter this year, strong cold in the past week caused ponds and streams to ice up quickly. The large pond south of Superior Drive in Northfield had just a few open areas of water left, and in one of them we saw two Canada geese, a mallard, and two American coots. The coots were a surprise, as they don't generally winter here, but perhaps they were lulled by the extended fall we had until recently.

American Coots (rear and right) with Canada Geese

I was also excited to identify a rough-legged hawk -- another Arctic-breeding bird that winters in southern Canada and much of the U.S. The prominent black patches at the bend of the wings helped identify this rather pale hawk.

Here's our full list for the day:
  • Canada Goose - 19
  • Mallard - 100+ - seen all at once, criss-crossing the sky in many skeins, wings beating fast
  • Rock Pigeon 5
  • Mourning Dove 3
  • Bald Eagle 6  - including a group of 5 circling together, 3 adults and two juveniles
  • Red-tailed Hawk - 1
  • Rough-legged Hawk - 1 
  • Red-bellied Woodpecker - 4
  • Downy Woodpecker - 7
  • Blue Jay - 1
  • American Crow - 14
  • Horned Lark - 2
  • Black-capped Chickadee - 11
  • White-breasted Nuthatch - 4
  • American Robin - 1
  • Cedar Waxwing - 20
  • House Sparrow - 20
  • House Finch - 10 (I wonder if I captured them all -- it might have been a few more)
  • American Goldfinch - 2
  • Lapland Longspur - 2
  • Snow Bunting - 2
  • American Tree Sparrow - 4
  • Dark-eyed Junco 30
  • Northern Cardinal - 6
No starlings, pheasants or turkeys!