Since 2014, the Bush Lake Chapter has participated in the Christmas Bird Count (CBC), the longest running survey of American bird populations ever conducted. Chapter members and friends head out a week before Christmas and count all birds heard and seen around Bush Lake, Tierney's Woods, and area parks.
'Twas a slow day for birding, but a few hearty Chapter members ventured out on Saturday, December 17th, for our Annual Christmas Bird Count. Highlights included 4 barred owls, 1 Great horned owl, 96 chickadees, and 91 Canada geese!
Few birds, but the scenery was beautiful due to recent snow. Thanks to everyone that came out and those that submitted photos. Below is the summary of the 2022 Excelsior Area CBC, which Bush Lake is a part of. Courtesy Howard T., Excelsior Area CBC coordinator.
"The 71st edition of the Excelsior Christmas Bird Count was held on December 17, 2022, under weather conditions that were quite normal for this time of year. Apparently, we were quite lucky in picking a day between a snow event and the start of an arctic blast. Seventy-six field counters and 14 feeder watchers participated, including 24 counters working at Carver Park under the direction of Park Naturalist Kirk Mona, 12 counters from the Bush Lake Chapter of the Izaak Walton League coordinated by Paul Erdmann, and five counters from the West Metro Chapter of the Minnesota Master Naturalist organized by Mary Beth Pottratz. The combined efforts of all resulted in a total of 55 species and 7,562 individuals being observed. The 55 species was nearly identical to the 20-year average of 57 species for our count and considering the almost complete absence of winter finches is a respectable total. The 7,562 individuals counted was a strong total for a year when Lake Minnetonka is frozen, sending large numbers of Common Mergansers that stage there on their way south. By comparison, last year’s total was 5,758 individuals.
Some of the more notable sightings and other observations from this year’s count:
· Our total of 55 species was greatly aided by 15 waterfowl species made possible by continued open water at the Blue Lake Water Treatment Facility and Shakopee Mill Pond. We are grateful for the folks at the Blue Water facility for allowing access to our counters. Among the more unusual waterfowl species observed this year: a single Green-winged Teal for the second year in a row following a gap of ten years without a sighting; a single Wood Duck at the Mill Pond, the seventh in the past 20 years; and two Ruddy Ducks that were only the fifth in the past 20 years.
· A new record for our circle was an eBird report of a Common Raven flying over Purgatory Creek in Eden Prairie. Although new to the count, this was not a particularly surprising find, as ravens have been steadily moving south in the state over the past 10-15 years and are now quite regular at Crow-Hassan and Lake Rebecca Park Reserves.
· Another species which seems to be increasing on the Excelsior count, Merlin, was observed in two areas. This marks the fourth consecutive winter for spotting this falcon, but there were only four sightings in the previous 67 years of the count.
· Another rarity for the Excelsior CBC was a Chipping Sparrow visiting the feeders of Chris and Laurie Pelton in Minnetonka. This was only the second occurrence for this species in our count’s history, the previous sighting being from 2008. Song Sparrows were observed for the twelfth time in the past 20 years, but we struck out on White-throated Sparrows for only the third time in the same period.
· For the third consecutive year, only one Ring-necked Pheasant was found, again by the Carver Park crew. Pheasants used to be quite abundant on the count (301 were tallied in 1978), but they have been steadily decreasing in the past 15-20 years with increased urbanization in the circle. We’ve never totally missed on them, but I suspect it will happen in the near future.
· The only species on this year’s count that set record high numbers was Ring-necked Duck with a total of 86, exceeding the previous high of 68 from 2012. Trumpeter Swans continued to have strong showings with 312 individuals and reports from 10 areas; the high for this species was 323 in 2017, but before 1994 there were virtually no reports.
· The highest number for any species was 1,733 Mallards, which must have been finding enough open water to keep them happy. Among the passerines Black-capped Chickadees, not surprisingly, led the way 757 individuals. Cedar Waxwings had a decent showing with 474 being the highest total since 2015 when 768 were counted, and 24 Purple Finches was the highest total since 2002 when 36 were recorded.
· Near misses: only a single Rough-legged Hawk and a single Sharp-shinned Hawk were found by the Carver Park crew. Likewise, only a single Belted Kingfisher was located along the Minnesota River by Renner Anderson’s group. A single Common Grackle was found in the Hopkins area by Avery and Jon Blumenthal, the fourth in the past 10 years. And we barely scraped up two Pine Siskins, which was better than last year’s zero.
· Misses: every year there a few birds that don’t cooperate. Common Mergansers had all passed through, only the third time in 20 years we missed on this species. In 2015, over 13,000 were counted on Lake Minnetonka. Winter finches were not cooperative this year. We had no Common Redpolls at all, a species that we record on about 50% of our counts. And as mentioned above, we zipped on White-throated Sparrow for only the second time in the past 15 years.
I hope that everyone enjoyed the time spent helping on the count. The efforts of everyone are important and greatly appreciated. The CBCs are not primarily about finding rare birds; they’re about censusing birds in our environment over the years. A count like the Excelsior CBC with its history going back over 70 years provides important information about the changes occurring over time in our increasingly urbanized area. Thank you for participating and I hope you will join us again next year!"
In 2021, the highlights of the Bush Lake count were a Red-shouldered hawk (likely one of a pair that nests here in the summer) and a Northern shrike, which was spotted in the prairie on the south side of the lake. Steph also spotted Common redpolls on the south side of the lake. If you feed birds, keep an eye out for these sporadic visitors from Canada. Thanks to the brave souls that participated!
Below is the summary of the 2021 Excelsior Area CBC, which Bush Lake is a part of. Courtesy Howard T., Excelsior Area CBC coordinator.
"The 70th edition of the Excelsior Christmas Bird Count was held on December 18, 2021, under weather conditions that were quite normal for this time of year. Seventy-four field counters and 14 feeder watchers participated, including 25 counters working at Carver Park under the direction of Park Naturalist Kirk, ten counters from the Bush Lake Chapter of the Izaak Walton League coordinated by Paul, and nine counters from the West Metro Chapter of the Minnesota Master Naturalist organized by Mary Beth. The combined efforts of all resulted in a total of 56 species and 5,758 individuals being observed during the day. While 56 species fell far short of last year’s record-tying and state-leading 68 species, it was almost identical to the 20-year average of 57 species for our count. The 5,758 individuals counted was quite typical of years when Lake Minnetonka is frozen, sending large numbers of Common Mergansers that stage there on their way south. By comparison, last year’s total was 15,991 individuals, the second highest total ever for this count. This year there were a total of 20 Common Mergansers compared to last year’s total of 2,810; there were 146 Canada Geese compared to last year’s total of 2,012; and there were 1,863 Mallards, far less than last year’s total of 4,495.
Some of the more notable sightings and other observations from this year’s count:
· Renner and Martha found two Green-winged Teal south of the Minnesota River near Shakopee. These were the first on the count since 2010.
· The count’s only American Coot was found by the team of Dick, Charlie and Bonnie who have been doing the count together since Noah’s ark landed – well almost. Coots have been found on the count every year since 1991, so having only a single bird was noteworthy.
· Speaking of single birds, only one Ring-necked Pheasant was reported for the second year in a row by the Carver Park crew. Pheasant used to be quite abundant on the count (301 were tallied in 1978), but they have been steadily decreasing in the past 15-20 years with increased urbanization in the circle. We’ve never totally missed on them, but I suspect it will happen in the near future.
· For the third consecutive year, only a single Red-shouldered Hawk was seen, this one by the Izaak Walton group. This species has been seen on 10 of the past 20 years, but never more than one or two birds. The Izaak Walton crew also found the count’s only Common Redpolls, a group of 10.
· A Northern Saw-Whet Owl was found by Michelle and Rod at Carver Park, only the third one found in the past 20 years on count day. These cuties are probably more common than those figures would indicate at Carver, but their small size and reclusive nature make them a tough find.
· One of the most remarkable observations on the count came from feeder watcher Sue who photographed a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker in her yard. This was only the second sighting in the 70 years of the Excelsior count. Although a few sapsuckers linger in Minnesota every winter, they have been avoiding our count assiduously.
· Another uncommon bird on the Excelsior count, the Merlin, was observed by Nathan and Barb in the Chaska area. This marks the third consecutive winter for spotting this falcon, but only the sixth in the past 20 years.
· A Carolina Wren that has been seen nearly daily at the feeders of Bruce and Lori in Minnetonka cooperated on count day, providing only the third record in the past 20 years. With the warming climate in Minnesota, expect to see more and more of this southern species.
· A group of four Eastern Bluebirds seen at Carver Park was the fourth record in the past ten years. This is another species that we’re likely to see more and more of in Minnesota winters with milder conditions. The counts only Red-winged Blackbirds also were found at Carver Park.
· Two late White-throated Sparrows seen at the feeders of Paul in Chanhassen were the only reported on the count. We’ve only missed this species three times in the past 20 years, as a few usually stick around at feeders long enough for our CBC.
· A single Common Grackle was located by Ken in the Big Willow Park area, only the third in the past ten years.
· Another remarkable observation from a feeder watcher came from Denny and Barb, but unfortunately a day late for the official count. They observed and photographed a Rusty Blackbird in their Shorewood yard on Sunday, making it a ‘count-week’ bird. The last Rusty Blackbird on the count was also a ‘count-week’ bird seen in 1999. The last one with the sense to show up on count day was 30 years ago in 1990.
· No species on this year’s count set record high counts (which is a bit unusual), but Trumpeter Swan came close with a total of 310, the second highest number to 323 in 2017. Four Cooper’s Hawk observations equaled the highest count set six different times in the past 20 years. This is a species that seems to be adapting well to increased urbanization and urban feeders.
· Misses: every year there a few birds that don’t cooperate. No Northern Shovelers were spotted in the usually reliable Blue Lake area after a run of eight consecutive years. Buffleheads were missed for the first time in nine years. Note that part of the problem stems from our not accessing the Blue Lake water treatment facility during Covid times. Pine Siskins were conspicuously missing, although this is a species that we only find on about 75% of counts. No Song Sparrows were noted, a species that is seen on about 50% of counts.
And whether your name appears above or not, please realize that your efforts are important and appreciated. The CBCs are not primarily about finding rare birds; they’re about censusing birds in our environment over the years. A count like the Excelsior CBC with its history going back 70 years provides important information about the changes occurring over time in our increasingly urbanized area. Thank you for participating and I hope you will join us again next year!"