LYON COUNTY - It was a quiet morning at Wayside Rest Park in Marshall.
A little too quiet, as far as Sue Morton was concerned.
"There's nothing flying, not even any crows," Morton said, as she crunched through the snow, binoculars hanging from her neck. Somewhere back in the trees a chickadee called, but it wasn't a very auspicious start for the Marshall area Christmas Bird Count.
Photo by Deb Gau
Beth Collins and Sue Morton, two of the area volunteers taking part in the Marshall Christmas Bird Count, scanned the trees outside the visitors center at Camden State Park. Rain and snow on Saturday meant many birds were in hiding.
While freezing rain, fog and snow Saturday didn't deter volunteers, it made the birds harder to find.
"You couldn't see half the time," joked volunteer Lee French, when volunteers met for lunch.
"Some days, every bird is a challenge to find," said volunteer Beth Collins.
Area residents participating in the bird count headed out to locations around Lyon County on Saturday, with a mission to count and identify every bird they saw. The information collected in local bird counts is used by the Audubon Society to learn about bird populations and movement patterns. Bird counts in the Lac Qui Parle, Marshall, Cottonwood and Lamberton areas were all held this week.
Although there were still plenty of birds to be found, in some ways the weather this weekend was disappointing, count participants said. Frozen lakes and rivers meant it would be unlikely to see waterfowl. Roads at Camden State Park, usually a good place to find pileated woodpeckers and many other bird species, were closed due to ice.
In last year's milder conditions, Morton said, counters were able to spot around 35 different species of birds. Until the recent snowstorm, Morton said, "I thought we'd have at least 40 this year, because we had open water and mud flats."
Count participants covered an area with a 7-mile radius from the intersection of Lyon County Road 7 and County Road 20. That includes the cities of Marshall, Lynd and Russell, as well as habitat areas like Camden Park, Garvin Park, and the Black Rush Lake waterfowl management area.
Despite a slow start, Morton and Collins were able to find many birds by observing bird feeders in Lynd. A drive through the neighborhood revealed sparrows, juncos, cardinals and more.
"So, we have 11 species just here in Lynd," Morton said, tallying up. "I love people that have bird feeders."
During wintry weather, birds are likely to go where there's a ready food supply or open water. Morton said four of the dozen volunteers participating in the Marshall bird count were watching their own backyard feeders.
Later, Morton and Collins took to the gravel roads in Lynd Township, searching for open-country birds like snow buntings and horned larks.
Snow buntings fly south into Minnesota in the winter, but they can be elusive, Collins said. The birds are black and white during breeding season, but in the winter they develop mottled brown markings.
"It's amazing how well they blend in" against a snowy field, she said.
The two birders were lucky, however. A whole flock of snow buntings, plus a pair of purple finches, flushed from the side of the road they were traveling on. They made a second pass through the area to try and get a better count.
During lunch in Marshall, volunteers compared notes. While some kinds of birds were scarce that morning - pigeons were one example - area residents reported species ranging from pheasants and crows to redpolls, robins and chickadees. More than 100 birds, mostly sparrows, were spotted in a single Marshall backyard.
Rain or shine, the thrill of the hunt was a big part of the fun, bird count participants said.
"It's kind of the luck of the draw. You never know what you're gonna get," Collins said.