Christmas count weather will be for the birds

Linda Jenzen (left), her daughter Erynn and Merrill Frydendall look for birds in the trees surrounding the Rapidan Dam Park during a previous bird count. Cold temperatures are expected for Saturday's bird count, but that won't stop local birders from going out. File photo

(This story has been updated to include information about a rescheduled event.)

NORTH MANKATO — Predictions warning of heavy snowfall over the region have prompted organizers to reschedule a bird count in the Mankato area.

Volunteers gathering data for the National Audubon Society 2016 Christmas Bird Count will now meet 7:30 a.m. Sunday at 589 Forest Heights in North Mankato.

Henderson area birders may participate in Ney Nature Center's count Saturday by exploring selected areas within a 7.5-mile radius of the nature center. All levels of bird enthusiasts are needed for the 20th annual event.

Big mittens are likely to be as appreciated as much as high-power binoculars by participants in area Christmas bird counts. Temperatures below zero are predicted for Saturday, which is when some area residents gather information for the National Audubon Society.

"We've been out in much colder weather," said Merrill Frydendall, longtime member of the Mankato Bird Club.

People from the area who enjoy identifying birds may join volunteers throughout the country in the Audubon Society annual count that kicks off Wednesday and continues through Jan. 5.

Local Christmas bird counts are planned in Mankato and Henderson. Anyone willing to rise early and arm themselves with binoculars, bird guides and checklists may join in.

Newcomers to birding are welcome and should not let the frigid weather frighten them away from the hobby.

"Heavy coats will be necessary, but we really don't do that much walking," Frydendall said.

"We do check out Willams (Nature Center), Minneopa State Park and Sibley Park, but more of our time is spent driving around, looking in neighborhoods and at fields."

Novices, before they venture out, may want to download smartphone apps to help them identify bird calls.

Frydendall suggested a camera as a helpful tool for lucky participants who need to document a rare sighting. He warned that some standard birding equipment may not work properly when subjected to icy temperatures.

"The problem with cold weather is that binoculars steam up. Then you have to wait for them to clear."

Chad Heins is the compiler of the avian information collected from within the Mankato group's circle.

Youths are welcome to join in and, in fact, are much appreciated.

"Kids have better eyes for spotting birds. It doesn't matter if they don't know what kind of bird they are seeing," Heins said.

Bird lovers who plan to keep an eye on visitors to their backyard feeders may make arrangements with Heins to submit their lists. Observations from bird-feeding stations will be accepted if the data are from a spot within the circle.

Last year 45 species were spotted within the Mankato-area circle that includes Rapidan, Eagle Lake and North Mankato.

A chance to document a rare sighting is what brings birders out in the cold.

Heins said he started owling at 4 a.m. on Christmas Count Day 2015. By 5:30 a.m., he had spotted his Bird of the Day — a little saw-whet owl.

"It's a northern owl that comes through normally between November and January. They are hard to find because they don't want to be seen. They hide back and away."

Participants in Mankato Bird Club's event may call ahead to 388-9963 or 388-7249.

A naturalist will be available at the Ney Nature Center between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. Saturday to answer questions and to help direct volunteers who plan to count outside of the radius of the center's count.

To receive a packet of information along with a tally sheet to record data, call the center at 248-3474.

Heins said he will accept reports of rare sightings made on other days besides Saturday and is interested in numbers compiled outside of his area; however, he can't use the data.

"That would be cool, but they wouldn't count."

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