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Orange-crowned warbler

An orange-crowned warbler was spotted during Ebird Global Big Day.

This past weekend, the Bismarck-Mandan Bird Club participated in the Ebird Global Big Day. A group of 12 hearty souls started their day in General Sibley Park. The calm frosty morning allowed for the serenading sounds of birds to echo through the woods loud and clear in hopes of attracting a mate.

Another vehicle participated by canvassing the favorite haunts in Morton County before heading east to the local favorite Long Lake National Wildlife Refuge. Amazingly, a third enthusiastic birder began in the southeast corner of the state and birded across the southern tier of counties, not realizing that all three groups would serendipitously end at the refuge at sunset.

Ebird is a popular internet reporting tool developed by Cornell University which uses GPS to pinpoint where people look for birds and allows them to record the date and time, distance covered and catalog all the birds observed. This is an immensely powerful database being built by citizens that has a multitude of uses.

Cornell University, in an effort to promote birding to new and old birders alike, planned a Big Day for May 4. Using all the submitted data nationwide, the database built would give a telling snapshot of migration throughout the country for all species. Complex visual maps could be built to display bird migration by tabulating species reported throughout the country at a point in time, and these images could follow through the entire migration north and south.

Some species are already through North Dakota and setting up territories for the summer. Yet other species are just now hitting the Gulf Coast and will arrive here in a few weeks. 

Unfortunately, these birds don’t all make it to their summer homes. Given the cold mornings recently, some birds are forced to forage on the ground in search of food. Having no time to watch their back for predators, they are frantically looking for their next morsel wherever it may be. For some, that next morsel may be found by perching on cattails in the water and skimming insects off the surface.

In Sibley Park, one of my co-birders pointed out a tiny bird in big trouble. I was quite saddened to see one of my feathered friends, an orange-crowned warbler struggling to get out of the water in some dense vegetation. Somehow, it had attempted to pick up a meal and fell into the water.

Immediately, the wet feathers did not allow for flight. The little gem struggled to get out of the water, but didn’t have the strength to climb up on the branches. Additionally, the thick vegetation didn’t allow for it to swim to shore.

My comrade waded in thigh deep to rescue the little guy from the cold water. We gently held the bird in our hands in hopes it would dry out a bit but sadly this did not happen. I am sure since it was soaked to the core, the cold temperatures immediately forced hypothermia to set in, and the bird faded away within minutes. Sad to see it go. And this happens millions of times over.

The next time you observe that robin attempting to build a nest on your entry way light, imagine the arduous journey it has survived to make your yard its home.

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