Initial Christmas Bird Count Prognostication

Initial Christmas Bird Count Prognostication Not Promising

Submitted by Art and Barb Straub

Slipping in the main door of the NEY Center on a twelve-degree December Saturday, a familiar figure perched atop a stool at the rear of the building avidly observing the activity at the bird feeders outside the windows. None other than devoted Ollie Heitkamp, a veteran of more than 20 years of scanning for birds on the annual Christmas Bird Count at Ney’ was on duty. Neither snow, sleet nor sunshine has kept this conscientious gentleman from his early morning post. Experienced birders are aware that much heavy feeding occurs at dawn and dusk during the winter, before winds whistle through the trees and the earth is less noisy. “Whoops, a Cooper’s Hawk just tried to snatch a chickadee!” exclaimed Ollie, and sure enough, only the fleeting tailfeathers of the raptor graced the woodland, as tiny birds like woodpeckers, juncos, goldfinches and others suddenly found themselves engaged in other pursuits following the departure of the Cooper’s gray raid. This time, Big C’s talons were empty, but…time will find him back for another unwelcome visit soon. Remember, however, everybody’s got to eat!

Frances, foolhardy friendly Focus, was bridling at the delay, so bidding Ollie “adieu,” she was on her way. Had she known what a dud the day would be for her and her passengers, she could have stayed in the garage. One hundred ten miles later, few birds were on Frances’ tally sheet. However, having whisked north on Raven Road toward Belle Plaine, then taking a right turn, her motor hummed happily as she spotted thirty-five little bumbling bumps on 270th Street. This would be the main catch of the day for Frances, as 35 snow buntings took flight. Snowy breasts and dark backsides made them appear as a flying snowdrift …. darting and dipping alongside the shiny blue Ford. We are curious as to bird count reports from other participants. More on the CBC in late December.

Days and nights have been piercingly frigid the past week, but natural phenomena such as ‘sun dogs’ have lent beauty to the wintry skies for those willing to peep from parkas long enough to sense their presence. Yes, the god Zeus was out walking his dogs, at least that’s what the ancients thought was occurring, when two bright spots appeared on either side of the Earth’s Sun. Scientists tell us that the beautiful phenomenon occurs when the temperature is below zero, and, the two ‘spots,’ are 22 degrees on the left and right sides of the morning or evening sun, that is, dawn and close to dusk. The event is named the PARHELION, (wrap that around your tonsils) and is caused by sunlight refracting off ice crystals. We’ve always associated the event with predicting unusually cold weather, and that was surely true of the second week of December. Watch for December 24th Henderson Independent issue, “Trumpeter Swan Flies Home.”