Another Christmas season has come and gone with the joys of family, fellowship and fun. With the Christmas also comes the Christmas Bird Count for birders.
The Bismarck-Mandan Christmas Bird Count took place on Sunday. Only five parties searched the area this year, with two parties being a lone individual. For the second year in a row, a big factor was the frigid temperatures, which, in the morning, was a downright bone-chilling -26 degrees. Thankfully the bright sunshine brought the mid-afternoon temperature up to -8, and there was little wind. This was the coldest bird count on record for Bismarck-Mandan, eclipsing -22 degrees in 2014.
The five groups fanned out over about 167 square miles — a 15-mile diameter circle centered at the Capitol building — and started tallying species.
One birder pulled up to a known roadside feeder and waited for birds. After five minutes had passed, everything was quiet. Within a few more minutes, a sharps-shinned hawk, the smallest of the woodland accipiter hawk family, came crashing in with a bird right in front of the car. The group of shocked birders was able to stare in amazement as the small hawk devoured its meal.
A group told me of another experience.
“We went to that feedlot on the east side of Lincoln and saw an incredible 100-plus Eurasian collared-doves, and perched all around were a northern goshawk, two bald eagles, a red-tailed hawk and yet another sharp-shinned fly-by as we were leaving.”
"The Killing Grounds," he dubbed it. With that many birds around, it provides a “feeder” for the carnivore avian species, too.
Participants were more than happy to escape the cold for a lunchtime tally. This year, the 45 tick-marks easily surpassed last year’s total of 42 species. With renewed enthusiasm, each party went back out into the brisk December air in the afternoon to add more species. The preliminary total as it stands right now is 53 species, which is slightly higher than the past 20-year average of 49 species, with the highest CBC count at 60 species checked off in 2013.
As the list of species that day was reviewed, few species seem to be noteworthy. A varied thrush is visiting a feeder daily, a golden eagle passed high overhead mid-day as it was mobbed by a magpie, and careful scoping picked out a northern pintail, cackling goose and snow goose sleeping on the ice. The resident exotic chukars are still present at fire station 4. Each of these species has been recorded a half-dozen or more times in recent years. A merlin was seen the day after the count, so is included as “count week” but does not add to the total.
Of course, we always look forward to the next Christmas Bird Count season, but until then we will certainly enjoy the birdlife that passes by, and reminisce about memorable birding experiences as the year drew to a close.