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2006: The year of the birder

A fitting close to this year might be to tie up a couple loose ends and prepare for yet another calendar year of productive birding.

Many of the Audubon Christmas Bird Counts in the state have been accomplished already and, as of this writing, some notable highlights follow.

On Dec. 16, Fargo-Moorhead did not make it to 50 species, falling two short of their goal with 48. Nineteen people participated in the count which produced three new species for the count day: American Coot, American Black Duck and Eurasian Collared-Dove. A new high was set for Canada Goose numbers with 4,285 counted, most at Moorhead's Crystal Sugar lagoons. Who says geese fly south for the winter?

Jamestown's counters found 50 species on Dec. 15. The 17 birders happened to find eight different species of diurnal raptors (eagles, hawks and falcons).

Grand Forks-East Grand Forks' count was held on Dec. 17, and on that day 18 birders were able to find 46 species. Two new species for count day were recorded: Brewer's Blackbird and Cooper's Hawk.

Up at Icelandic State Park near Cavalier, 40 species were spotted by the 10 participants. Included on the list were two new species for them as well: Common Goldneye and Townsend's Solitaire.

Out in Bismarck-Mandan, 47 species were tallied on Dec. 17. They also scored a new species for count day, a Brown Thrasher.

A few years ago it was a common notion among North Dakota birders that finding 300 species in the state during one calendar year was impossible. That was disproved a couple years ago when a handful of people put that myth to rest for good and the standard was set at 307. That was until this year. As of this writing, with only 10 more days in the year, Ron Martin of Sawyer, N.D., has found an incredible 326 species. His traveling partner, Corey Ellingson of Bismark, is right behind him with 322. What's more, Dean Riemer, West Fargo, has totaled 302.

Martin is perhaps the most accomplished bird watcher in the state; easily the most traveled of late. He estimates that he has covered in the neighborhood of 40,000 miles of North Dakota roads this year.

It seemed to be quite a special year for birders in the state anyway. Martin said, "It went better than expected and it was a really good year for vagrants (birds not in their usual range)." The three best rarities according to him were Anhinga, Broad-tailed Hummingbird and Black-throated Gray Warbler.

When asked what the secret is to finding that many birds in a year Martin said, "Spending lots of time in the field, preplanning trips, and knowing where you need to be at what time of the year."

Once this Big Year is over, Martin plans on tallying up miles, hours, and nights spent away from home. Those final figures will undoubtedly amaze the casual observer. While some may even question his sanity, no one can dismiss the huge effort it takes to accomplish something like this.

The last bird on Martin's list: A Gray-crowned Rosy-finch. This spectacular bird of Rocky Mountain alpine zones showed up in Rogers, N.D., about two weeks ago and is still there as of Dec. 21.

Anyone wishing to start a list of rare state birds could hardly pick a more stunning species. For information about this particular sighting, plus any other North Dakota reports, I would urge you to email me or consult the following Web site: