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Fowl play in Duluth

When 57 people left their houses at dawn last Saturday to participate in the annual Christmas Bird Count, they knew they would probably discover unusual birds in the region because it has been so warm.

When 57 people left their houses at dawn last Saturday to participate in the annual Christmas Bird Count, they knew they would probably discover unusual birds in the region because it has been so warm.
But they never imagined they'd break as many records as they did.
Five new species never before reported on the Christmas Bird Count were identified on Dec. 15 -- the ring-necked duck, hooded merganser, long-eared owl, Dunlin and a greater scaup.
The birds were all found within the official Christmas count area -- a 15-mile diameter circle stretching across Duluth with its center at Hawk Ridge.
Not only that, participants found more species than had ever been counted before -- 74.
"The most (species) we've ever gotten before is 62," said Laura Erickson, a well-known Duluth birder who was on the count.
Jim Lind, who was this year's compiler for the Christmas bird count, said the average number of species that have been counted in Duluth in mid-December is 54.
But the record-breaking day doesn't stop there. There were record highs for 12 species of birds and eight tied records as well. In short, it was an incredible day of counting for Duluth birders.
It was easy to see the barely contained excitement of the participants as they gathered at Peder Svingen's home last Saturday night to compile the count after trudging for hours through the streets, alleys and shorelines of Duluth, binoculars in hand.
Fifteen teams had spent from dawn to dusk looking for birds in their specific areas, which ranged from the harbor and Park Point to the back roads in rural Duluth as well streets and alleys in Duluth.
It had been a seemingly quiet day -- overcast, gloomy and unseasonably warm.
"I've never encountered so many joggers," Erickson said. And, as she looked around the room where the counters were gathered, she said she noticed something else.
"There's never been so many pairs of tennis shoes. There was even a pair of sandals. Usually, they're all Sorels," she said.
That, more than anything else, indicated the unusual nature of this count, she said, laughing.
As the counters settled in for the final tallying, records in hand, there were speculations that the cardinal record had been broken again this year, and talk that someone had found a dunlin, a shorebird never before seen in Duluth, on Dec. 15.
"There is a real competitive edge to this," Erickson said. "Everybody is really happy when they see more of anything than anybody else. And if you've spotted the only one of something, that's always a thrill."
There were plenty of thrills to be had that day.
The cardinal record was broken. Twenty of the beautiful birds were seen this year, as compared to a record-breaking 17 last year.
White-breasted nut hatches made a strong appearance, too -- there were 160 counted as compared to the record 98.
The list goes on and on:
* American crow, 968, previous record, 747.
* Blackcapped chickadee, 2,555, previous record, 2396
* Common merganser, 46, previous 42
* Common goldeneye, 415, previous 145
* Bufflehead, 15, previous 7
* White-winged scouter, 3, previous 1
* Lesser scaup, 14, previous 2
* Green-winged teal, 2, previous 1
* Mallard, 1,862, previous 1,807.
* Canada goose, 749, previous 119.
Not only that, eight species tied previous records.
These figures are not the final tally, either, Lind said. Some reports from backyard feeders haven't been received yet.
There were unusual species that were found for this time of year as well. The common loon, wood duck, harlequin duck, merlin and northern mockingbird were among those counted, Lind said.
The primary reason for this record-breaking day is probably because it has been so warm, he said.
Not only is there plenty of open water in the harbor, which explains the large number and variety of water birds identified during the count, but the temperatures have been mild, so that land birds have not been forced out of the region because of brutal temperatures.
There was even one warbler counted -- Kim Eckert, who is known for his great ability to find any warbler in the neighborhood, found one yellow-rumped warbler during the count.
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Erickson said she and many birders were glad to see that two snowy owls were counted in the harbor.
Peder Svingen, who led the team that counted at the harbor, said these owls looked like healthy birds, unlike the injured or starving individuals who arrived earlier this fall.
But there were some disappointments as well. There were far fewer pine siskins this year, and red polls were few and far between. The rock dove numbers were down, and the cedar and bohemian waxwings did not make a big show.
The Duluth count didn't find any brown creepers, either, although Larry Weber, who was on the Carlton count, said four were found there. The brown creeper was also found in Two Harbors, Lind said.
The warm weather also brought out the large number of counters, he said. It wasn't record-breaking, but "there was a bit of a buzz before the count. People were excited about it," he said.
Many of the birders also participated in other regional counts.
The Two Harbors count, held the next day, identified 44 species, tying previous records. There were a fair number of unusual species found there, too, he said.
And on Monday, the bird count moved to the Sax-Zim bog out by Meadowlands. The counters broke the record by one species, he said, and also tallied unusual species for the area.
Now that the Christmas bird count is over, don't assume that area birders will sit at home. Birders are curious people and keep in constant contact about what unusual birds have been seen where.
There are some winter activities for birders as well, he said.
The Cornell Lab of Ornithology holds a nationwide backyard bird count on one weekend in February. "And I think they have a program where people can watch their feeders throughout the year."
For more information about Cornell's backyard bird count, visit the Web site at http://birds.cornell.edu/ .
The next organized Duluth event is in May, when the Duluth Audubon Society holds its annual Big Day, a competitive event for local birders who go out and see how many different species they can identify.
For information about Big Day, visit the Hawk Ridge Web site at http://www.hawkridge.org .
To find out about the Christmas bird count in Minnesota, check the Web site at http:www.cbs.umn.edu/~mou/ .
To find out about unusual birds spotted in the region, call the Duluth Birding Report at 525-5952.
The Duluth Audubon Society is also a good source of information about birding. The next meeting is at 7 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 10 at Peace Church, 1015 E. 11th St.
The meeting is free and open to the public. For more information, call Tim Larson at 724-6963.
Joan Farnam is the Budgeteer community page
editor and can be reached at joan.farnam@duluth.com or 723-1207.

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