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Anna Martineau Merritt of Misty Pine Photography sent the News-Chronicle photos of these two birds, usually spotted during winter months. The snowy owl is sometimes seen in Minnesota although it's more common to our northern neighbor, Canada. The black-capped chickadee, once voted Minnesota's favorite bird in a Department of Natural Resources poll, is much more common. Its call is familiar to most Minnesotans. Photos: Anna Martineau Merritt

Bird is the word for some this Christmas

outdoors Two Harbors,Minnesota 55616
Lake County News Chronicle
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Bird is the word for some this Christmas
Two Harbors Minnesota 109 Waterfront Dr. 55616

Jim Lind of Two Harbors remembers when he first got into birding. His dad used to feed birds at their cabin, and the little creatures sparked his interest. So he went to the Two Harbors Public Library and picked up a book on birds.

The passion never waned, and now that he's an adult he's the director of the Christmas Bird Count in Duluth and Two Harbors.

"It's a social event for a lot of birders, it's kind of a highlight of the year," Lind said.

The Christmas Bird Count is a program of the National Audubon Society. According to its website, the nationwide count was initiated in 1900 as an alternative to the popular practice of Christmas Side Hunts, during which hunters would form teams and spend the day hunting. At dusk, the team that had slain the most animals would win. Conservationist Frank Chapman proposed the bird census as an alternative, and the practice has been popular ever since.

Laura Erickson, a well-known Minnesota birder, author and radio personality, has volunteered for the Christmas Bird Count for years.

"I've always loved birds. From the very beginning, I did Christmas Bird Counts wherever I lived," she said.

Bird counters usually start early, hitting the ground at about 7 a.m. on their assigned tract of land.

"You're out birding all day, recording everything that you're seeing and hearing," Lind said.

The birders then reconvene in the afternoon or evening, sharing their data with the director and enjoying a hot meal together. Though the tracking sheets look complex and the identification of bird calls is far from easy for most folks, everyone is welcome on the Count.

"It goes the whole spectrum...from total beginners to experienced birders," Lind said. Novice birders are paired with those who are more experienced.

Once the bird count data is collected, it's sent to the National Audubon Society for analysis. According to its website, the society uses the data to track nationwide trends that then inform its conservation recommendations.

But Lind and Erickson agree that it's not just about serious conservation initiatives; bird counts are a lot of fun, too.

"I think it's really cool to just be out there freezing our tails off and see all the birds that are out there naked as jay birds. If you took a chickadees temperature at (30-degrees below zero Fahrenheit)...their blood is coursing through their arteries at 140 degrees. That's a miracle. It's one of those everyday miracles that you take for granted unless you're standing out there...your face getting stiff from the cold...and you see all these little birds taking it like it's no big deal," Erickson said.

Local birders--or wannabe birders--have the opportunity to join two upcoming Christmas Bird Counts. The first is this Saturday at 7:30 a.m. Contact Lind at 834-3199 or if you'd like to join. The next count is on Saturday, Dec. 30 in Isabella. Just contact Steve Wilson, or 753-6110 for more information. The bird count is free for the first time this year.

"It's really fun. It's an adventure," Erickson said.

LaReesa Sandretsky
LaReesa Sandretsky is a Two Harbors High School graduate and Duluth native who began working at the News-Chronicle in 2012 as a reporter. She took over as editor in 2014. She covers County Board, including the Lake County broadband project.
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