With one Christmas Bird Count to go, at Denbigh Experimental Forest Jan. 5, the numbers of birds counted has broken some records in the Minot region. Counts have been conducted at Garrison Dam, the City of Minot and area national wildlife refuges among other places. The counts are held each year as part of a national survey conducted by the Audubon Society.
"It seems like almost everyone, every place is having record high counts for numbers and species," said Ron Martin, Minot, a longtime bird watcher. "Garrison Dam had 67 species, a new record. Fargo had a new record of 68 species. Sixty-two species at Grand Forks was an all-time high, Bismarck, too, with 60."
According to Martin, the Minot Christmas Bird Count tallied 47 different species, topping the old mark of 46. At the Upper Souris National Wildlife Refuge 38 species of birds were sighted Dec. 21, fourth highest on record. Bird numbers at Lostwood NWR were high too.
A cardinal is a rare sighting in Minot. This one was photographed by David Lindee of Minot in the backyard of his home on 21st Street Northwest. The bird was taking advantage of food spilled from a feeder.
"We don't have all the numbers yet, but we had a great time and saw a lot of different varieties," said Karen Smith, a participant in the Dec. 19 count. "Probably the only thing exceptional or unique was the northern goshawk, red crossbill and white-winged crossbill. To see both species of crossbills together was probably the most unique thing of all."
The 2012 bird count may go down as the year of the crossbills in North Dakota. In Minot 93 red crossbills and 70 white-winged crossbills were observed. Common redpolls, which have not been very common in recent years, dominated the Minot count with a total of 2,035 observed.
"It is the invasion of the red crossbills and white-winged crossbills," noted Martin. "Both are down from the north. We had common redpolls in huge numbers. There's always some but this is a really good year for them. We also had a white-throated sparrow and a pine grosbeak which we hadn't gotten for years."
Snow buntings were plentiful during the recent counts, including some flocks numbering 1,000 or more birds. Noticeably lacking was the amount of raptors - hawks, owls and eagles.
Two bald eagles and a few hawks were sighted during the J. Clark Salyer NWR count Dec. 20, fewer than expected. That was also the case at Lostwood NWR.
"The only raptor that we saw was a northern goshawk," said Smith. "That seems unusual. No owls, eagles or merlins."
"It was not particularly good for raptors," agreed Martin. "The later counts had good numbers of snowy owls. They were moving real late."
One snowy owl and six eastern screech-owls were sighted during the Minot count. For the second year in a row, a killdeer was seen during the Garrison Dam count. Killdeers usually vacate the region as soon as cold weather arrives. Another bird that prefers a warmer winter climate is the kingfisher, but a kingfisher was included in the Garrison Dam survey.
"Certainly some of the higher numbers is due to open water," said Martin. "Moorhead had sugar beet ponds open. Grand Forks had open water on lagoons and picked up some waterfowl. It was also a good year for winter finches than come down from the north, the best in a long time."
Perhaps the most colorful sighting was a cardinal that visited the feeders of David and Ellin Lindee in northwest Minot. It was the first cardinal sighting in many years of Christmas Bird Counts.
"It surprised us. We hadn't seen one before," said David Lindee. "It was just one, for one day. We've been watching every day since."