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Willmar birders brave cold to keep count going

WILLMAR -- Cold temperatures and deep snow didn't stop volunteers from venturing out for the annual Christmas Bird Count in the Willmar area, but it probably kept some of the birds from showing up.

The volunteers spotted 43 species of birds and 3,353 individual birds, slightly above the average but down when compared to years with milder weather, according to the annual report by organizers Joel Halbritter and Joel Schmidt.

"The cold weather and deep snow surely affected our count numbers," they wrote in their report on the day.

Raptor numbers were down, as were waterfowl, no doubt due to the limited open water remaining at the time.

There were 30 volunteers participating in the count on Dec. 18. Seven kept count by watching their feeders, while 23 ventured into the field. They encountered temperatures between 9 and 13 degrees, and cloud-covered skies.

Their reward was the opportunity to spot many attractive birds, and add a new bird to the list of those observed here during the count. An Eastern Towhee was spotted this year for the first time during the Christmas Bird Count. Its identification brings to 101 the total number of species spotted in the Willmar area since the Willmar Christmas Bird Count began 49 years ago.

It's part of the National Audubon Society's annual count, which has a 111-year history.

Cedar waxwings were found in abundance this year, with 439 recorded. Northern cardinals, purple finches, and a variety of woodpeckers were among the colorful birds spotted.

The annual count is an opportunity to participate in science and have fun. As in previous years, Dave and Ardys Lais hosted many of the bird enthusiasts for lunch. Also, many gathered for fellowship and a meal at Calvary Lutheran Church at day's end.

The winter count provides a "snapshot" of birds in the area, and over time helps identify changes in bird populations. The long-standing tradition has documented the spread of non-native birds to the area and the northern migration of some species, such as the Northern Cardinal.

Tom Cherveny

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

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