Hot weather factored into recent Christmas bird count | Local news


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MANKATO – More than a thousand Canada geese and four dozen mallards have been spotted by Mankato’s faction of participants in the National Audubon Society’s Christmas Bird Count.

Local organizer Chad Heins said a large number of waterfowl chose to linger in Blue Earth County until December because they could continue swimming in lakes and ponds that were not not frozen.

Audubon’s 122nd Christmas Bird Count was scheduled for December 14 and ended on Wednesday. Recent tally data will be released after a full review and confirmation of all submitted results.

The “count day” for the Heins group was December 18th. From early morning until early evening on this hot Saturday, scientists from more than 20 citizens worked diligently to identify bird species in a designated field circle with a center near the intersection of Riverfront Drive and main street.

“The weather – a low temperature of 18 degrees and a maximum temperature of 22 degrees – was a factor (in numbers),” Heins said.

“There was hardly any snow on the ground, so we saw a total of two pheasants.”

Heins was not alarmed when he recorded such a small number of pheasants. Seasoned counters know that it takes a good snowfall to get birds in search of food; then they appear prominently along the roads.

Members of his group were able to add a species that had never been included on their count list.

“We saw a snow wren for the very first time,” he said.

Other unusual birds encountered included a ring-billed gull that had delayed its flight to the south and a short-eared owl – a species last appearing on Heins’ bird census list in 2005. Two Carolina wren have been sighted this year. The insectivorous species was on Mankato’s bird list in previous years.

Heins has little hope for Little Carolinas if they haven’t already migrated to a warmer location. They could not have survived the recent cold spells.

Team member Jim Amundson said freezing subzero temperatures resulted in a rescheduled bird count two years ago. The mild weather this year was a walk in the park for Amundson and his wife, Ruth. They found 38 bald eagles near open water in their assigned area which included sections of the Land of Memories park.

The couple’s sightings this year include a northern shrike, a bird that is on Amundson’s personal list of favorites. The species breeds in Canada and is nicknamed meat birds, he said.

“They’re songbirds that eat other birds and mice … They see Minnesota as their winter hunting ground.”

In the past, the Amundsons have had other bird watchers with them for the count. The COVID-19 precautions have had an effect on this year’s shared counting adventures, as it did in 2020 as well, Heins said.

There were no youngsters among the Mankato counters this year, Heins said. The future of counting depends on the older participants showing the ropes to the younger ones.

Heins will begin announcing details of the upcoming Christmas Bird Count in November.

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