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Christmas bird counts underway

A large number of Canada geese and ducks were present on open water at Lake Darling for the annual Christmas Bird Count.

FOXHOLM – It has provided vital information for 121 years. Annual Christmas Bird Counts are held throughout the United States and Canada between Dec. 14 and Jan. 5.

The Minot area’s first Christmas Bird Count was held Friday, Dec. 18 at the Upper Souris National Wildlife Refuge. It was one of the first cold days of the winter season with brisk wind and a temperature hovering near 10 degrees at sunrise.

“The wind usually keeps birds hiding, keeping a low profile,” said Ron Martin, Minot, avid birder and coordinator of area bird counts. “Sometimes it’s hard to find birds on a windy day like today.”

Martin was observing and counting waterfowl utilizing open water on Lake Darling, the centerpiece at Upper Souris NWR. He briefly looked away from his spotting scope to watch as two bald eagles rode the wind above the waterfowl, likely searching for wounded birds that would make easy prey.

Bird watchers participating in the Upper Souris count normally team up in a vehicle for the count, but not this year. Coronavirus precautions meant one person per vehicle to meet social distancing guidelines. One of those participants was Diana Dugall of Powers Lake.

Ron Martin, Minot, uses a spotting scope to enhance his observation during the annual Christmas Bird Count at Upper Souris NWR held Dec. 18.

“It’s freezing cold today with the wind blowing!” remarked Dugall. “It had been so nice. Today had to turn cold on us. Still, it’s a lot of fun. I just love the birds.”

Warm weather well into December, and open ground, held with it the possibility of enticing a few more species of birds to stick around despite the late date on the calendar.

“That’s true,” said Martin. “Like we are looking at right here. Quite a few waterfowl that are hanging around because there’s an open area on Lake Darling. Yes, there’s going to be a few stragglers hanging around this year, I think.”

Finding and seeing birds, other than waterfowl in predictable locations, was quite challenging however.

“The wind makes it miserable on the birders, for sure, and then the birds,” said Dugall. “They go to protective areas to stay out of the wind.”

When asked if she had observed any unusual birds through her spotting scope trained on a mixed flock of waterfowl, Dugall said, “We’re just getting started but there is a bufflehead out there. They are a beautiful little duck.”

The Upper Souris NWR count was the first on the list for the Minot area this Christmas season. Martin said he was pleased with the participation in the citizen science project that has been conducted by the Audubon Society for more than a century.

“We’ve got good participation this year,” said Martin, noting that bird watchers had dispersed to their assigned areas, or circles. “We’ve been doing this count since the 1970’s, continuously, so this is one of our longer ones.”

“It has a purpose,” added Dugall over the constant honking of Canada geese. “Every little bit helps out. These bird counts have been going on for, gosh, over a hundred years. It’s fun to be a part of it and read all the statistics afterwards, how one year compares to another and how the bird populations are doing.”

Results from Minot area Christmas Bird Counts will be compiled and forwarded to the Audubon Society along with results from other counts throughout the hemisphere. Anyone interested taking part in upcoming bird counts, regardless of experience, are encouraged to do so.

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