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A group of Canadian geese and trumpeter swans share some open water within Lake Carlos State Park on Saturday morning. (Contributed photo by Ben Eckhoff)

Birds of every color

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outdoors Alexandria, 56308
Alexandria Minnesota 225 7th Ave E
P.O. Box 549
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From the common black-capped chickadee to bald eagles, trumpeter swans and barred owls, Lake Carlos State Park is the place to be for area bird watchers throughout these winter months.

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A total of seven field observers with Ben Eckhoff, the area naturalist at Carlos State Park, found that out first hand at the fourth annual Lake Carlos Christmas Bird Count this past Saturday. Frigid temperatures kept others away who had signed up to take part in the count, but it didn’t keep the birds from coming out once the sun started to warm things up a little in the late morning.

“If it’s really cold, you’re going to see more birds in that 9:30 to middle of the day time,” Eckhoff said. “That’s when the sun is out and they’re out feeding.”

A tally of the bird species seen and the number of each species is kept during the count and then entered on the Internet and submitted to the Minnesota Ornithologists’ Union and the Audubon Society. The data is then used to determine migration patterns, species population health and other tools to help manage the birds.

The variety of birds that were found on the count on Saturday is an indication of the opportunities for bird lovers right here in Douglas County. A total of 58 trumpeter swans, 103 Canadian geese and 200 mallards shared the open water found in the park where the Long Prairie River comes out of Lake Carlos. A total of 34 wild turkeys, four bald eagles, three pheasants and one red-tailed hawk were also observed.

Black-capped chickadees were the most prevalent of all the birds seen. A rough-legged hawk, drake wood duck, American robin, American coot and a common raven were also some of the highlights. American goldfinches and purple finches were spotted, along with popular woodpecker species like the downy, hairy and red-bellied woodpeckers.

All of these call this area home if the food and habitat are there for them during the winter months. The early snow and frigid temperatures have limited the numbers of northern migrants like the common redpoll and dark-eyed junco that bird watchers enjoyed the last couple of winters. But that can change quickly.

“Things can change as food changes up north and if they run out of pine and spruce cone crop,” Eckhoff said. “Those large flocks of redpolls could move this way, along with the juncos. That’s the nice thing about here is you might not have them today, but in three weeks you could have them.”

Eckhoff estimated there are probably 30 species of birds that are spending portions of their winter in the park now. As many as 150 species will call the park home throughout the year.

“There’s a variety of habitat that is going to hold different species of birds,” Eckhoff said. “There’s the tamarack bogs with lots of dead trees. There you’ll have the different types of woodpeckers. We do have some feeding stations set up for people to see like the purple finches and the gold finches. Then the owls are another big opportunity at the park, just with having the small mammals for them to hunt. I’ve seen the barred owl probably about seven or eight times in the last three weeks at the park. We haven’t seen them in the park, but there’s been quite a few snowy owl sightings in the area in the last three weeks. There’s always the potential for that.”

Owls are typically spotted late in the evenings as they look for prey and again right away in the morning as they go back to roost. The woods come alive with song birds as the day warms up. Evergreen shelterbelts and other areas of thick cover provide protection from the cold and are the areas to seek out some of the more common birds.

The best way to see all of these species is to take time to look. Move slowly and simply stop and watch to let the forest come to life.

“Most of the birds that are here, they’re small enough that if you’re moving fast, you’re not going to notice what’s moving,” Eckhoff said. “If you just stop and let yourself tune in to what’s around you, you’ll be amazed at what’s there after watching for 10 to 15 minutes.”

DID YOU KNOW?

This year was the fourth

annual Lake Carlos Christmas Bird Count. Area Naturalist Ben Eckhoff said the program is always looking to welcome in more participants. Anyone interested in taking part in the count next year can

contact the park at (320) 852-7200 to get their

name put on the contact list. The fifth annual count will likely fall on the first

Saturday in January, 2015.

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