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Northland Nature: Cloquet-Carlton Christmas Bird Count tallies 35 species

Retired teacher Larry Weber, a Barnum resident, is the author of several books, including “Butterflies of the North Woods,” “Spiders of the North Woods,” “Webwood” and “In a Patch of Goldenrods.” Contact him via Katie Rohman at krohman@duluthnews.com.

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A blue jay sits in a tree on a winter day. Blue jays were common birds in the recent Cloquet-Carlton Christmas Bird Count. Contributed / Larry Weber

Each year as we reach mid-December, we go through many happenings in our lives. This is the time of the holidays and winter solstice. Not quite as well-known, but just as regular of a feature to the year’s end, is the Christmas Bird Count.

Though “Christmas” is part of the name, it does not have any other connection to this winter holiday. The name is a reference to this time of year when the count is conducted. It can take place any day from Dec. 14 until Jan. 5 — a 23-day period.

Begun about the year 1900, the counts have spread out to include hundreds of counts in all of North America. During a chosen day, volunteers look for and count the species of birds seen within an area and how many, and results are compiled. The area surveyed is a circle with a 15-mile diameter — nearly 180 square miles.

The local Cloquet-Carlton CBC done entirely within Carlton County was begun in the 1980s, continuing for more than 30 years.

I see this count as a way of finding out what kinds of birds are present with us at this time of winter. The counters select a part of the given area and canvas it either by driving or on foot. In addition, birds are observed and tallied by staying at home and watching feeders.

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Getting out before sunrise or after sunset, owls are also listened for. The three days prior to count day and the three days after are designated as count week and birds seen on these days can also be included. The totals of this counting gives us a good idea of the birds here in winter. Birds present are likely to be those that live with us all year (permanent residents) or those arriving and staying here for winter (winter visitors).
The Cloquet-Carlton Christmas Bird Count was held Dec. 30. The day was delightful for winter birding. Temperatures ranged from a low of 10 below zero to a high of 15 degrees. Clouds prevailed all day and winds were calm. These conditions make for good hearing of active birds.

The snowpack was about 10 inches of new snow. Limited walking could be done in woods, but we were able to move about by walking roads, skiing and snowshoeing. Much of the new snow of a foot to a foot and a half was hanging on conifers, making for a beautiful scene as well.

When the dozen counters tallied results late in the day, a total of 35 species and thousands of individuals were recorded: wild turkeys 84, ruffed grouse 2, bald eagles 14, rough-legged hawks 2, rock pigeons 130, mourning doves 49, red-bellied woodpeckers 9, downy woodpeckers 33, hairy woodpeckers 35, pileated woodpeckers 19, northern shrikes 5, brown creeper 1, blue jays 127, crows 66, ravens 80, black-capped chickadees 528, red-breasted nuthatches 68, white-breasted nuthatches 30, starlings 203, house sparrows 25, robins 2, varied thrush 1, Bohemian waxwings 203, cedar waxwings 3, pine grosbeaks 570, house finches 14, pine siskin 69, common redpolls 527, goldfinches 71, white-winged crossbills 241, cardinals 7, snow buntings 7, juncos 36, song sparrow 1, horned larks 2.

Most of these birds are regulars in winter and the numbers are about normal. But the number of pine grosbeaks, common redpolls and white-winged crossbills were far beyond the usual. Varied thrush, song sparrow and horned lark were unexpected wintering birds.

We have much of winter ahead of us, but thanks to the CBC, it is nice to know we have plenty of avian company.

Larry Weber
Larry Weber

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