Letter to the editor: Bird count was a brrrr oneWhen Isabella Christmas bird count participants took to the woods Jan. 2, they experienced the second-coldest day in the 28-year history of the count, with the temperature starting out at minus-29 degrees and never topping 6 below zero.
When Isabella Christmas bird count participants took to the woods Jan. 2, they experienced the second-coldest day in the 28-year history of the count, with the temperature starting out at minus-29 degrees and never topping 6 below zero. One might assume the cold weather deterred our counters, thus explaining the low total number of birds reported—572, barely half the count average. That was hardly the case, though, as our 36 counters proved their cold weather mettle by racking up an above-average number of miles and hours on foot and by car.
Since the wind wasn’t a factor, it seems the birds weren’t out there this year. Of our count’s 15 most common species, only three were tallied in above-average numbers: downy woodpecker, common raven, and American goldfinch.
How slow was it? On average, our counters tallied about a bird every ten minutes, barely surpassing the record low rate from two years ago and only about a third of the average rate for all Isabella counts of 18 birds counted per party hour.
That’s not to say the count was all dull. For one, 24 species were tallied, compared to our count average of 21. They included northern hawk-owls, great gray owls, a golden-crowned kinglet (only the third one for our count), and a gray catbird — an Isabella count first.
Lawson and Lynden Gerdes stumbled upon the catbird feeding on deer and beaver carcasses at White Wilderness Sled Dog base. While this was exciting news for our count, the catbird story did not end happily, at least for the catbird. When the couple returned the next day to photograph the bird, they found it dead in the snow, perhaps a victim of a second consecutive night of near 30-below temps. Indeed, Robert Janssen’s book, “Birds in Minnesota,” suggests that few of the catbirds that attempt to overwinter in Minnesota are successful.
The downy woodpecker forage tree study received quite a boost, with the number of documented forage trees rising from 29 to 79. At that rate, we could have a meaningful sample size in several more years. The preliminary results are intriguing, but I won’t reveal them yet because I don’t want to influence future data collection. Thanks to everyone who participated in the study, though.
Thanks to everyone who participated and contributed to another successful Isabella Christmas bird count.
From Steve Wilson