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Willmar's long tradition continues with annual count

WILLMAR -- This weather really is not for the birds, but it was quite a bit better when 23 volunteers continued a long-standing tradition in the Willmar area by participating in the National Audubon Society's Christmas Bird Count.

The volunteers spotted 48 different species and a total of 3,991 individuals during the Dec. 19, 2009 count, according to a recent report by coordinators Joel Halbritter and Joel Schmidt.

The 23 volunteers included 16 who went afield with binoculars in hand, and seven who kept watch at their bird feeders.

The coordinators reported that the 2009 count brings to 100 the total number of species seen over the 49-year history of the Christmas Bird Count in the Willmar area.

This year saw a new species added to the list of birds observed: a Eurasian collared dove. The birds are native to Asia but were introduced to the Bahamas in 1970, spread to Florida and have been expanding their range in North America ever since, according to the National Audubon Society.

The number of birds counted is slightly above the average, but counts vary from year to year. This year's count came after a cold snap that had pushed many of the migratory waterfowl out of the area, the coordinators noted. Only eight Canada geese were observed, whereas in some years they can number in the hundreds.

To be sure, the volunteers spotted lots of the familiar species, everything from pheasants and turkeys to backyard regulars like sparrows and robins.

The volunteers were also rewarded for their efforts with the opportunity to spot pileated woodpeckers, red-tailed hawks, bald eagles, northern flickers and this year, lots and lots of cedar waxwings. Exactly 638 of the distinctive, masked birds were seen.

The National Audubon Society has been conducting the Christmas Bird Count for 110 years. The count is credited with helping identify trends in bird populations, and the spread of introduced species.

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

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