I went on my first Christmas Bird Count on Monday. Deb my Minnesota birding/blogging friend from Sand Creek Almanac invited me to join her group in Pine County where she lives. Since the day would be starting very early, I drove up the afternoon before and stayed in a hotel so I could get to the meeting spot by 0700. Steve Weston and Jim Ryan, two very experienced Minnesota birders were the other two members of our group. I can't remember the counts but I believe we came up with 20 bird species. We spotted a flock of about 50 White-winged Crossbills eating cones in a tamarack bog. A single Snow Bunting right outside the car gave me the best look I've ever had of this beautiful bird. We saw many species that I expected we'd see: Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers, Red and White-breasted Nuthatches, Goldfinches, Purple Finches, Black-capped Chickadees, Starlings and about a bazillion Blue Jays. Bald Eagles, crows and many Ravens were counted. One farm house on our route had three surprises. The first was a female Red-winged Blackbird, very common in summer but unusual in winter. The second was a male Cardinal. Cardinals aren't very common that far north in Minnesota. The third bird was a total surprise. Jim spotted a Towhee fly away from a platform feeder to a dogwood thicket. Both Steve and Deb were able to get looks at the female. I missed it! By field marks it was id'd as a female Eastern Towhee- VERY unusual here in winter. I wasn't able to get my binoculars on her. I was disappointed but I asked Deb to write down the directions back to the farm and I made plans to return the next day. It was a fun day of birding but I knew I wouldn't want to drive two and a half hours back home after a long day so I went back to the hotel. Actually I really wanted to watch the Vikings play Chicago on Monday Night Football! I was exhausted and falling asleep before half-time. I was just about to turn off the light (the Vikings were losing anyway) when an enormous bus-load of high school hockey players checked into the rooms on both sides AND across the hall from mine! It sounded like stampeding elephants and slamming doors untilpast midnight! Grrr...
Tuesday morning I checked out and headed up to Hasty Brook about 25 miles away. I planned to fill the feeders and have a look around. I was thrilled to see that our Good Neighbor Mark had plowed out our driveway! I quickly filled the feeders and hustled back the the warmth of the car- it was six below zero outside! I plugged the directions from Deb into my Garmin and headed back to the Towhee farm to see if I could get a look. It was COLD waiting for that bird with the window open and the car turned off. I spent and hour and a quarter sipping coffee and trying to keep my toes and fingers from going numb when finally the Towhee popped up in the brush! I got my binoculars on her to get a good look and then started firing off pictures. I was so excited to see the Towhee. I've never seen one here in Minnesota. My lifer was last spring in West Virginia with the Flock.
I headed home looking forward to seeing how the photos turned out. When I got them on my laptop I got out my Sibley to help me reinforce the field marks. The longer I looked the more I thought the bird looked like a Spotted Towhee and not an Eastern. I sent the pictures off to my birding mentor Hap in New Hope to see what he thought. Hap agreed! It was a Spotted Towhee!! LIFER!! I forwarded the photos to Steve, Deb and Jim and all agreed it was a Spotted Towhee- a Pine County record in Minnesota!!
I wonder what 2010 will bring?
I hope you all have good health and much happiness and peace in the New Year and
I thank you all for your friendship and kindness here. yYu've all made this blogging adventure so much fun.