Submitted by Howard Towle, Excelsior compiler
Nearly ideal weather conditions with bright sunshine, temperatures reaching into the low 40’s, and very little wind led to an excellent day of birding on Saturday, December 15, for the 67th Excelsior Christmas Bird Count. Through the efforts of a record number of participants, 76 field observers and 14 feeder watchers, a total of 59 species and 7,554 individuals were counted.
The 59 species were the most seen since 2007, when 62 species were recorded, and was slightly above our 20-year average of 57 species. The total number of individuals was also slightly above average for years in which Lake Minnetonka is frozen over and not hosting 100’s to 1000’s of Common Mergansers.
A few of the more unusual sightings from this year’s endeavors:
- A Carolina Wren visited the feeders of Barb & Denny Martin in Shorewood long enough to allow a photo, only the third observation in the last 58 years and the first in 15 years; the Martins also hosted the count’s only Fox Sparrow, a species seen in about half of our counts.
- Renner, Martha and Abigail Anderson and Michael Manning counting in the Blue Lake area south of the Minnesota River scared up a couple of hardy Wilson’s Snipe, the first since 2012 and a species found only four times in the past 20 years. This group also found 14 waterfowl species at Blue Lake WTP and Blue Lake, including a couple of Mute Swans that have only been recorded twice before on the count.
- Joel Claus, Joe Lindell and Alan Branhagen covering the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum found a single Eastern Bluebird, a species found only ten times in 58 years. This group also contributed the count’s only Sharp-shinned Hawks and one of two Song Sparrows found.
- Paula O’Keefe and her family found two Red-shouldered Hawks in Bloomington, a species found only three previous times in the past ten years.
- Bill Marengo heard and then located a Northern Saw-Whet Owl in the cedars at R.T. Anderson Conservation Area, the first since 2008 and only the third in the past 20 years. Bill and Esther Gesick located the other Song Sparrow for the count.
- Bob Heise, counting in the southwestern corner of our circle, came up with our count’s only Northern Shrikes and Rough-legged Hawks.
- Steve and Maria Duane found a late Hermit Thrush for the second time in four years. This was only the sixth Hermit Thrush in the past 58 years.
- The Carver Park crew found the count’s only Common Redpoll, a single bird, and also the count’s only Ring-necked Pheasants.
Several species were found in record numbers this year. The most notable was Northern Flicker. Seventeen Flickers were observed in six different territories and at three feeder stations, far surpassing the previous high of nine. Not surprisingly, Wild Turkeys also reached a record high number of 155 individuals.
Record high counts were also found for Red-bellied Woodpeckers (123) and Black-capped Chickadees (1,111), likely due to the excellent coverage of the area that we had this year. Pine Siskins were found in good numbers (114), the most since 2008, and 16 Red-breasted Nuthatches was the most since way back in 1995. Bald Eagles were seen in all but three territories and the total of 56 was the second highest, a great recovery for this once endangered species.
Ring-necked Pheasants continue to decline in our circle. Only two birds were observed this year at Carver Park, the lowest total in our history. By contrast, 300 pheasants were counted in 1978. We also struck out on Red-winged Blackbirds and Common Grackles, which are found more often than not. And only 14 Canada Geese were found compared to over 3,000 last year.