The sky was a dazzling blue, the weather windy and cold (high around 20 F) and the gravel roads slick with ice. Typical conditions for a Christmas bird count in northern Minnesota. I spent the day working the northwest quarter of our count circle with Jim and Steve; this was our third year doing the count together and they were great company as usual.
The day started off slowly, with only three species seen during the first hour. I think the wind kept most birds from moving around much. But things picked up, and by sunset we had tallied 24 species. Highlights included northern shrike, American tree sparrow, mourning dove (unusual in winter here), purple finch, ruffed grouse, snow bunting, and one bald eagle soaring high in the sky. Since we were not doing the area near my house, as we had in the last two years, I got to see some back roads and beautiful country that I hadn't been to before.
But strangely enough, the highlight for me was not a bird sighting, but a sheep sighting. That's right, sheep. We pulled into a farmstead where Steve had remembered counting English (house) sparrows a few years back. I normally don't go out of my way to see house sparrows, but anything to add another species to the list! As we drove up the drive, I saw a few cows and a pen of sheep, a couple white ones and a few brown ones with thick winter wool coats. Then something clicked in my head...the brown sheep reminded me of the ones we used to have...the name at the front of the driveway, a common surname, which was the name of the Lutheran pastor in town...who adopted our sheep last year...HEY, SOME OF THESE ARE MY OLD SHEEP! I recognized one we used to call Cotton Top, a brown sheep with a white patch on top of her head.
The pastor/farmer was not home, unfortunately. I would have liked to talk with him, thank him for taking care of our sheep, and talk gardening. There were vegetables everywhere in the porch of the old farmhouse. It looked like an interesting place.
By the way, we did count several English sparrows there.
I was suffering from a mild cold that day, just a slight annoyance if anything. But as soon as I arrived home, misery set in. Chills, aches, and a nose that would not quit. I think being out in the cold wind may have done it. So today I took a sick day from work, which is good because it is snowing hard and I'm sure the roads are bad. It's a good day to curl up in a rocking chair in front of the wood stove. And a great day for feeder watching; so far I have seen black capped chickadees, goldfinches, red breasted and white breasted nuthatches, and a hairy woodpecker.
That's just at the feeder. I had to go outside for something, and I heard a large flock of birds calling as they landed in the tops of the pines. Crossbills! We were hoping to see crossbills yesterday, but no luck, and now here they are! I didn't get a good look at them, nor am I experienced at distinguishing their calls, but as I learned yesterday, red crossbills are more likely to land in pines; white winged crossbills prefer spruces. So they are probably red crossbills.
As if that weren't enough, a northern shrike was perched in the birch tree above my feeders for a few minutes. I had never seen one so close!
I'm headed back to the hearth and feeders. There are still a few hours of daylight left.
UPDATE- I just saw the totals for the whole Pine County count. 34 total species, including one snowy owl and one boreal chickadee!
And, The Hermit saw a raptor flying over the swamp behind the house. I barely got a look, thought it might be a rough legged hawk, but he said it was flying like an owl....Hmmmm...I guess if I hear a great horned owl tonight, like I have recently, it would still count. And I saw one lonely pine siskin hanging out with the goldfinches.