The 35th annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count at Itasca State Park Dec. 17 had the highest numbers of species seen in the count's history, according to park naturalist Connie Cox.
There were 32 different species reported, including some rare sightings. A total of 64 different species of birds have been reported over the 35 years of counting.
"We are happy to report seeing 19 evening grosbeaks," Cox said. "They have been absent from Itasca State Park bird counts for the past five years. Typically seen on every count year, the evening grosbeak dropped from our counts in 1999 and also from 2013 to 2017."
A great horned owl was also heard for the first time since 1998. This year also set a record for bald eagles, with 12 sighted, and pileated woodpeckers with 14.
The first bird count at Itasca State Park was held in 1972. Counts continued until 1982. After a long absence, the counts resumed in 1995. This year's Itasca total bird count was the sixth highest at 1,141 individual birds. The years with higher individual bird totals were reported in the 1970s.
"The weather was mild with a morning low of 10 degrees," Cox said. "It was a calm, sunny day with temperatures hovering around 30 degrees. That was nice for birds and counters alike. The mild conditions did make it harder to spot birds. Many birds were reported feeding heavily in the tops of conifers."
Great showings were witnessed in the following species:
• Red-breasted nuthatches with 90 birds, the third highest in count history.
• Pine grosbeaks with 84 birds, the fourth best count for pine grosbeaks.
• Hairy woodpeckers with 17, a number consistent with 1970s counts.
• Black-capped chickadees with 282 birds. That is the fifth best year and comparable with numbers seen in the early 1970s.
• White-breasted nuthatches with 41 birds, their fifth best showing.
• This was the third-best year for the number of wild turkeys reported on an Itasca count with 22 birds. Wild turkeys were first seen in 2008 and have been reported nine out of 11 years since.
• The red-bellied woodpecker was again reported on this year's count. The bird first appeared on counts in 1998. It was seen again in 2008 and 2011 and has appeared every year since 2014.
Rare sightings include the following:
• An American robin was seen by Preacher's Grove. This is only the second sighting in Itasca State Park count history. The only other sighting was three birds recorded in 1975.
• A small group of five Bohemian waxwings was reported. This is only the second sighting in count history. The other sighting was in 1976 when eight birds were reported.
• A solitary red-tailed hawk appeared on the count. This marks only the fourth sighting of this species out of 35 years. The other sightings of the red-tailed hawk were in 2012 (two birds), 1998 and 1972 (one bird each).
Bemidji Christmas Bird Count
The Bemidji Christmas Bird count was held Dec. 15.
"We had temperatures up to 47 degrees in the afternoon," bird count compiler Doug Johnson said. "The 19 participants saw a high number for the count circle of 44 species. This was our 41st annual count since 1978."
New high numbers for the count were recorded for wild turkeys (38), trumpeter swans (26), and red-breasted nuthatches (114).
"Rare birds seen on the count included a new species, a late lingering gray catbird seen near Nary in Hubbard County and a rare-for-Hubbard-County boreal chickadee seen in dense spruce and pine on White Cedar Road in the northern part of the county," Johnson said.
"Good numbers of pine siskins and common redpolls were seen, and pine grosbeaks were near their peak numbers with 65 seen and counted."
2018 Itasca State Park Audubon Christmas Bird Count Summary:
Ruffed Grouse: 18
Black-capped Chickadee: 282
Wild turkey: 22
Red-breasted nuthatch: 90
Bald eagle: 12
White-breasted nuthatch: 41
Red-tailed hawk: 1
Brown creeper: 1
Rough-legged hawk: 6
American robin: 1
Rock pigeon: 60
European starling: 24
Great horned owl: 1
Bohemian waxwing: 5
Barred owl: 1
Pine grosbeak: 84
Red-bellied woodpecker: 1
Purple finch: 8
Downy woodpecker: 6
Common redpoll: 101
Hairy woodpecker: 17
Pine siskin: 65
Pileated woodpecker: 14
American goldfinch: 17
Woodpecker species: 1
Evening grosbeak: 19
Northern shrike: 2
House sparrow: 25
Gray jay: 5
Blue jay: 105
Black-billed magpie: 5
American crow: 25
Common raven: 75
Crow/raven species: 1
Total species: 32
Total birds: 1,141