10 million birds

Did you participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count?

There’s still time. (More on that below.) But preliminary numbers are in. As of 8:10 p.m. Friday (Feb. 26), more than 93,300 checklists had been submitted, 597 species had been reported, and more than 10.8 million individual birds had been counted.

Although they aren’t seen in big numbers in the Northland, the northern cardinal was the most-reported species overall in the United State and Canada. In Canada alone, No. 1 was the black-capped chickadee. The American crow was No. 3, and the bird count coordinators note that crows were seen in the highest numbers since the West Nile virus appeared in North America. The state with the most birds reported was Florida, and the city was St. Petersburg, Fla., but this was largely because of a roost of American topping (gasp!) 1 million birds in St. Petersburg. Is that really possible? How does one count 1 million birds? Count the wings and divide by two?

Tennessee, Connecticut, Kentucky, Missouri, South Carolina, West Virginia and the provinces of Manitoba, Nova Scotia and Ontario all had record numbers of checklists submitted.

I keep writing in the past tense, but it’s not over. Although the counting period was Feb. 12-15, if you kept a count but haven’t submitted your list, you still have a couple of days left. Monday is the deadline.

You can submit your list and learn much more about the results at the Great Backyard Bird Count’s Web site, here: www.birdsource.org/gbbc

Your bird photos and observations welcome before, during and after March 1 here: jlundy@duluthnews.com.

I am two

I missed an anniversary earlier this month: Mine.

This blog reached the two-year mark on Feb. 9, give or take a couple of days.

If those of you who have been with me from the start — all three of you — will indulge me, I’d like to revisit the original blog as a reminder of what I think this is about. But before doing so, I want to thank all of you have have commented, sent pictures, sent notes or just looked in from time to time. You’ve made it worthwhile.

OK, the rest of this is a rerun from 2008:

My name is John Lundy, and I’m a failure.

At least, I’m a failure when it comes to bird-watching.

I try. Oh, I try.

I start out so well: Tilley hat on my head, binoculars at the ready, Sibley bird guide in my backpack. I’ve listened to the CD of Minnesota Bird Songs. If I could only remember what I heard, I’d know if that call deep in the woods is a white-crowned sparrow or a rose-breasted grosbeak.

I hear something: Thweet. Thweet. Thweet.

It sounds nothing like what I remember from the CD. It sounds like something going thweet, thweet, thweet.

I catch a glimpse of something with wings high up in a tree. I manage to look at it through the binoculars, but it doesn’t pose for me like they do in the bird books. It’s about the size of a robin. It has a white patch on its wings. Its color is mud-splatch brown.

It flies. I look in the book. There’s nothing in the book that looks like a robin-sized, mud-splatch-brown bird with white patches on its wings.

A few winters ago, when great gray owls were everywhere, I couldn’t find one. People who weren’t even looking would spot them. I drove slowly up and down the narrow roads of the Sax-Zim bog, said to be thick with great grays. No owls.

I don’t want to be one of those competitive birders with a "life list" of hundreds of birds. I don’t want to drive 700 miles to Bland Prairie, Neb., to check out someone’s sighting of a Rocky Mountain spotted whatzit.

I’d just like to be a better bird-watcher than I have been. I’m fascinated by birds, and I’d like to know a little more about what I’m seeing.

If that also describes you, you’re invited to come along with me on this blog. Tell me about the birds you’re seeing in your backyard or on your drive to work. It doesn’t have to be exotic; if a chickadee entertains you, let me know. If you have questions, I’ll try to find someone who can answer them.

Just click on "comments" at the bottom of any of my entries. What you write doesn’t have to relate to what I’ve been thweeting about, as long as it has something to do with wild birds.

Experts are encouraged to participate. But be gentle. Remember, you were once a novice too.

Misplaced finch

The purple finch from the other day that I told you was photographeed at the Sax-Zim Bog … wasn’t. It was a purple finch from Park Point.

But this gives me the chance to show you a couple of pictures Tony Mitchell took of female purple finches that were at Sax-Zim. Take a look:

When it comes to telling house finches and purple finches apart, I have a hard time with the males. But it’s much easier with the females. Those white bars on the faces that you can see so clearly in Tony’s pictures won’t be found on the faces of female house finches.

Do you have bird pictures you’d like to share? Things you’ve observed? Questions? Send them to me at jlundy@duluthnews.com. And thanks.

A festive occasion

This year’s Sax-Zim Bog Festival attracted 120 birders, Michael Hendrickson reports on the Minnesota Ornithologists’ Union’s Web site. They came from 16 states, and Michael notes that after Minnesota the state with the largest number of participants was … Florida. Talk about reverse migration.

Michael listed all of the species seen — 39 different species, if I counted right. Among them: golden eagle, northern goshawk, great black-backed gull, northern hawk owls, black-backed woodpecker, hoary redpoll.

Here are three more pictures from the festival, again thanks to the excellent photographic work ofTony Mitchell.

From top, a northern shrike, a pine grosbeak and a purple finch:

Your pictures and stories received with delight at: jlundy@duluthnews.com.



Finally this morning, I heard a chickadee issue its two-note, slightly off-key "SPRING-time" call. And the rest of the day seemed to bear it out. It really started to feel like spring this afternoon.

We may be skeptical, but chickadees think spring early. What they’re really thinking about is the serious business of chickadees: Making more chickadees.

Here are two more of the pictures Tony Mitchell took during the Sax-Zim Festival of Birds during the past weekend. First, we’ll have another look at gray jays, then a northern hawk owl perched high on a tree. I’ve been told it has been quite a winter for northern hawk owls.


Report from Sax-Zim

Tony Mitchell reports that he attended the Sax-Zim Festival of Birds during the past weekend, and it was a winner. Among other things, he recorded eight "lifers" — birds he had never seen before: ruffed grouse, gray jays, northern hawk owls, boreal chickadees and pine grosbeaks at Sax-Zim Bog; red-breasted mergansers and common mergansers in Duluth; and a glaucous gull at the Superior landfill.

"Up at the bog we also saw purple finches, a northern shrike, pine siskins, redpolls, golden eagle, blue jays and black-capped chickadees," Tony writes. "The tour guides were great. The weather was pleasant and I met new friends from as far away as New Mexico."

The best news for the rest of us is that Tony shared some of his pictures, and they are splendid as usual. Miser that I am, I think I’ll save some of them for a day or two, but here’s a start with two of the birds that happen to be high on my personal wanna-see list:


Above and below, boreal chickadees.

And here are a pair of gray jays. I’ve seen pictures or paintings of gray jays in bird books without getting a feel for what they really look like. After seeing this picture, I’ll know what I’m looking for.

Your pictures and observations joyously received at: jlundy@duluthnews.com.




Cardinal comes for the count

Talk about perfect timing. The Wiitalas have lived in Duluth Heights for 14 years and saw a cardinal out their window for the first time this past weekend … just in time for the Great Backyard Bird Count. Kathy Wiitala took this picture, which was submitted by Mike Wiitala:

When you’re not used to seeing cardinals — and most of us in the Northland aren’t — suddenly seeing that incredible red framed by branches and snow takes your breath away. What a great entry to be able to include in the bird count.

And now for something completely different:

Elsie Sullivan noticed this story in the online edition of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel about a record sturgeon that was taken over the weekend on the Lake Winnebago system. Yes, I know this is stretching the definition of  a "wannabe birder" blog, but how can you resist a story about a 212-pound fish?  Here’s the link: www.jsonline.com/blogs/sports/84304997.html

The Associated Press ran a story today that offered additional information about the sturgeon, courtesy of a Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources fisheries supervisor named Ron Bruch:

  • The sturgeon, a female, was about 84 inches long, or about the height of Milwaukee Bucks center Andrew Bogut.
  • It may well have been more than 100 years old.
  • If it was that old, the sturgeon would have laid 11 million eggs in her lifetime, give or take a few thousand. That’s a lot of sturgeon.

Your pictures and observations gleefully welcomed at: jlundy@duluthnewscom.


Free food (for birds)

I made another entry in the Great Backyard Bird Count today. The snow brought greater numbers but not much more variety. In 30 minutes, looking out my window while drinking tea and eating ice cream, I saw:

  • 11 house finches
  • 1 blue jay
  • 1 red-breasted nuthatch
  • 1 white-breasted nuthatch
  • 1 dark-eyed junco

But I figured I was doing my little bit for science, and I called up the Web site to record my information. You can do so, too, but today (Monday) is the last day. Watch the birds for a minimum of 15 minutes, then go to this link: www.birdsource.org/gbbc

And here’s an added incentive: Print out your online submission and bring it to Wild Birds Unlimited (across Decker Road from the Miller Hill Mall in Duluth), and the folks there will give you 2 pounds of bird seed, free. The bird count ends today, but there’s no deadline for bringing your copy to the store.

Your photos and observations about birds are always welcome at: jlundy@duluthnews.com.

White spots

Karl Riggle of Zanesville, Ohio, sent this picture of a juvenile sharpshinned hawk looking for dinner outside of Karl’s home:

Karl notes the white spots acting as camouflage in the winter — and they’ve had plenty of winter in Zanesville, which is about 55 miles east of Columbus, Ohio. They’ve had more than 20 inches of snow in the past couple of weeks and it’s "dead cold like in your area," Karl writes. This photo was taken on Thursday, and his house is about a mile from the deep woods. Karl has seen a lot of this hawk and knows it is a young one because its eye is yellow and it has dark brown back feathers and a striped breast.  "[I] hope he finds some dinner soon although I don’t like him eating the birds we feed," he adds.

I didn’t see anything nearly as cool as a sharpshinned hawk, but I’ve participated in the Great Backyard Bird Count, which continues through Monday. I spent 15 minutes Friday afternoon drinking tea and staring out the window with a piece of paper and a pen nearby, which is all there is to it. During that 15-minute period I saw exactly two house finches. So I decided to go for another 15 minutes and saw two red-breasted nuthatches. I tried it for yet another 15 minutes and saw the same two nuthatches and two chickadees. Forty-five minutes: six birds.

But I submitted my report the the Great Backyard Bird Count, meaning I’m eligible for a prize. It’s really as easy as that. Here’s the link: www.birdsource.org/gbbc

Where it says "click here," click there. Then follow the directions. If you see as few birds as I see, you’ll be done in five minutes.

Backyard bird count

Here’s a reminder that the annual Great Backyard Bird Count is this weekend, Feb. 12-15. You can participate just by looking out your window — what could be easier than that?

And you’ll be helping several agencies keep tabs on the number and kinds of birds that are out there.

AND you will be eligible to win some birdcentric prizes.

All the information is right here: www.birdsource.org/gbbc