Saturday, December 28 was a challenging day for the annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count in the Marine and May Township area. Before dawn, the roads were clear enough for three birders to drive around listening for owls, but about 7 a.m. the ice began to fall.
By 8 a.m., when counting was set to begin, the roads and streets were completely ice-covered and treacherous. Needless to say, the birders could only count birds from their home windows. Later in the morning, seven birders did manage to drive and walk around parts of the territory. And in the afternoon, two birders drove the township roads on a continuing search.
The total number of individual birds counted was 544, much lower than the average of 988. And the total number of species counted – 24 – was also lower than the average of 31. While the overall results were disappointing, a highlight was a flock of four snow buntings, which were flying over a field near 185th Street.
Other birds seen (or heard) in the open areas were 7 Ring-necked Pheasants, 17 Wild Turkeys, 3 Bald Eagles, 6 Great Horned Owls, 17 American Crows, 1 Common Raven, 1 European Starling, and 102 American Robins.
Waterbirds were few, perhaps because of the large amounts of open water that the birders were unable to see: 17 Canada Geese, 2 Trumpeter Swans, 18 Mallards, and 3 American Black Ducks.
As usual, bird feeders in yards provided the largest numbers of birds: 9 Red-bellied Woodpeckers, 25 Downy Woodpeckers, 4 Hairy Woodpeckers, 7 Pileated Woodpeckers, 41 Blue Jays, 114 Black-capped Chickadees, 17 White-breasted Nuthatches, 42 American Goldfinches, 23 American Tree Sparrows, 57 Dark-eyed Juncos, and 17 Northern Cardinals.
The Audubon Society’s Christmas Bird Count takes place throughout the Americas between December 14 and January 5 each year. Tens of thousands of volunteers participate in this citizen-science activity. The Audubon Society and other organizations use the data collected to assess the health of bird populations and guide conservation efforts. The 2019 count was the 120th year of the national Audubon Society count. It was the 62nd year for the St. Paul Northeast Suburban count, which takes place in a 15-mile-diameter circle centered on Withrow. The Marine and May Township group counts birds in just a portion of this circle (from Square Lake Trail on the south to O'Brien Park on the north, and from the river on the east to Olinda Trail and Norell Avenue on the west). The 2020 Christmas Bird Count is on December 26.