Submitted by Howard Towle
Summary: The 2015 Excelsior Christmas Bird Count was held on Saturday, December 19. Conditions were reasonably pleasant with temperatures ranging from a low of 10 to a high of 28 and only a light breeze. The previous warm weather of the fall and early winter resulted in many lakes being partially open and most moving water being completely open. No snow cover made traversing trails far easier than on a normal count day.
The final count of species for the day was 58, a number that was exactly on the 20-year average. However, the count was anything but average. The total number of birds counted on the day was 23,356. By comparison, the total count last year was 5366 birds. The high total count was reflected in the observation that 7 species equaled or surpassed their highest count in the history of the Excelsior CBC. Another 11 species recorded their second highest total in count history. Considering that this count is in its 66th year, this is a pretty remarkable record.
Particularly notable were Common Mergansers – 13,030 were observed on Lake Minnetonka as they staged for their journey south. This exceeds the previous high of 7500 for this species and is, as far as I can tell, the highest count in Minnesota birding history away from Lake Pepin. Other species that were seen in record numbers included Bald Eagle (78), Red-tailed Hawk (53), Merlin (2), Red-bellied Woodpecker (84), Northern Flicker (9) and Pileated Woodpecker (19). Near record numbers were found for Trumpeter Swan (116), Ring-necked Duck (56), Common Goldeneye (415), Hooded Merganser (20), Wild Turkey (120), Ring-billed Gull (223), Great Horned Owl (13), Downy Woodpecker (171), Hairy Woodpecker (75), Eastern Bluebird (8) and Townsend’s Solitaire (3). On the other hand, winter finches were relatively scarce on the count. We didn’t record a single Purple Finch, only a single Pine Siskin and single Snow Bunting, although Common Redpolls were reported in three territories. Red-breasted Nuthatches were also quite rare; only a single bird was found at Carver Park.
Sixty-seven participants took part in the count this year: 7 as feeder-watchers, 21 through the program at Carver Park Reserve and 39 other field observers. Next year’s count will be held on Saturday, December 17, 2016.
- The 13,030 Common Mergansers were counted by Dick Sandve, Bonnie Mulligan and Charlie Greenman who have been doing the Excelsior CBC together for many years. I’m sure everyone is wondering if it wasn’t really 13,029 or 13,031. Bonnie commented to me that they probably undercounted them as many were far out and obscured by mist rising from the lake.
- Three Townsend’s Solitaires were found by Joel Claus and Joe Lindell at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, as well as a flock of 25 Common Redpolls. Joe who is new to the count this year noted that both species were lifers for him – now that’s a nice CBC.
- The team of Renner, Martha and Abigail Anderson, Doug Kieser and Michael Manning covering the Blue Lake Water Treatment Plant and surrounding area found the count’s only Gadwalls (108), American Black Duck (2), Northern Shoveler (5), Ring-necked Duck (56), Lesser Scaup (1), Bufflehead (3), and American Coot (16). They also found the count’s only Belted Kingfishers (2) and Snow Bunting (1), and saw a flock of 25 Common Redpolls.
- Other species that were reported in only one territory included Eastern Bluebird (8) and Red-breasted Nuthatch (1) found by the hardy crew at Carver Park under the direction of Kirk Mona; Sharp-shinned Hawk (1) found by Joel Claus and Joe Lindell; Rough-legged Hawk (1), American Kestrel (1) and Song Sparrow (1) found by Jerry Bonkoski in the Shakopee area, Northern Shrike (1) found by Laura Hanson, Nathan and Barb Cooley and myself in Chanhassen (really expected way more shrikes given the weather); Red-winged Blackbird (1) found by count newcomers Ken and Susan Schumacher west of Chaska; Common Grackle (1) spotted by Dennis Yockers, Sue Grant and Ken Larson in suburban Minnetonka; and a single Pine Siskin found by feeder watcher Kimberlie Dewey, who is also new to the count. Our feeder watchers seem to turn up one or two birds every year that are not found elsewhere.
- Eight species were found in every one of the 15 territories in our circle. Downy Woodpecker, Blue Jay, American Crow, Black-capped Chickadee, White-breasted Nuthatch, Dark-eyed Junco and Northern Cardinal. The eighth is a little more surprising: Red-tailed Hawk. In the 70’s and 80’s these birds were found in only small numbers, if at all. They have clearly adapted to our urban culture well.
- Five count-week birds (birds seen three days before or after the official count day, but not on the count day) were located this year. Up to three Short-eared Owls were found hunting in a field off Canterbury Rd on the southern edge of the count circle by Brad Abendroth, 5 Northern Harriers were seen by several observers looking for the owl in the same field and Golden-crowned Kinglets, Yellow-rumped Warblers and Purple Finches were seen by John Cyrus at Carver Park.