Mother Nature hinders bird count

A combination of deep snow, sub-zero temperatures, and a bitter wind meant the annual Christmas bird count was an abbreviated affair this year.
The Rainy River Valley Field Naturalists participates in the annual survey and submits its findings to the Nature Conservancy of Canada, where they are included in the national statistics.
This year’s count was scheduled for Sunday (Jan. 2), but it turned out Mother Nature was in an unco-operative mood and most people chose to stay home instead.
Consequently, only four adults and three children braved the elements. And since so many of the side roads still were choked with snow, the small group only were able to cover a fraction of the territory usually surveyed.
“We didn’t have enough people, nor enough time to cover the entire circle this year,” noted RRVFN board member Ilka Milne. “But we had a good result, considering the limited coverage.”
There also were some interesting sightings.
Milne said the group counted a total of 1,344 birds, representing 27 different species. But she admitted being disappointed that not a single Great Gray Owl turned up—given reports of late that a number have moved into this area from their traditional territory further north.
“It was frustrating, considering the number that were around a week ago, that we didn’t turn up a single Great Gray [owl],” Milne remarked.
But she was happy to report several sightings of northern hawk owls and one boreal owl.
Milne speculated the Great Gray Owls have pushed even farther south in search of the mice and voles that comprise almost exclusively their prey. She reported some have been seen recently in the Duluth area.
Perhaps the highlight of this year’s count was the number of common redpolls sighted—562.
“That’s more than double the previous highest count,” Milne noted.
Another item of interest was the report of a willow ptarmigan in the Alberton area on Boxing Day. But since it was sighted a week before the count, it was not entered in the official tally.
Milne said this area is a considerable distance from where willow ptarmigan usually are found, but considering the report came from someone she described as a reliable source, she took it seriously.
The RRVFN next is planning an ice-fishing outing to Nestor Falls on Jan. 15.