A bird's-eye view: Wild River Audubon Society counts the crows, numbers the nuthatches – isanti-chisagocountystar.com

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Updated: December 17, 2021 @ 12:45 am
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Joe Sausen has combined his love of photography and birdwatching. He snapped this picture of two pileated woodpeckers in his yard in North branch. The feeder weighs 30 pounds without the suet added. The female is at left and the male, characterized by the red markings on his face, is on the right.

Joe Sausen has combined his love of photography and birdwatching. He snapped this picture of two pileated woodpeckers in his yard in North branch. The feeder weighs 30 pounds without the suet added. The female is at left and the male, characterized by the red markings on his face, is on the right.
 For more than 40 years, the Wild River Audubon Society — with a membership that includes more than 200 households within Chisago, Isanti, northern Washington and southern Pine counties — has endeavored to discover as many birds as possible during its annual Christmas Bird Counts.
This year, its 47th bird-counting event, bird watchers will attempt on Saturday, Dec. 18 to make an accurate count of the many winged species in the area. This count encompasses a 15-mile circle that includes the Chisago Lakes Area, Taylors Falls, Franconia, and Almelund. Within each circle, participants tally all birds seen or heard that day—not just the species but total numbers to provide a clear idea of the health of that particular population. 
For 122 years the National Audobon Society has conducted Christmas Bird Counts across North America. The 12 decades worth of data collected is and has been used by ornithologists and conservationists to determine if any action is required to protect birds and their habitats.
For the Wild River Audubon Society, tallying their fine feathered friends first began officially in 1977, according to Joe Sausen, who compiles data for the bird counts. Fifteen species of birds have been detected every year: pheasant; pigeon; red belly, downy, hairy, pileated woodpeckers; blue jay; crow; chickadee; white-breasted nuthatch; tree sparrow and house sparrow; cardinal; goldfinch; and junco. 
According to notes that Sausen gathered two years ago, trumpeter swans were first seen in the area in 1992; a new high of 194 birds was witnessed in 2019. Evening grosbeaks, which were counted every year from 1976 to 1987, began to diminish in population to the point that only 19 birds were seen from 1988 to 1997. None of the yellow-and-black-colored birds were witnessed from 1998 to 2019, when they were counted in a Pine County CBC. 
In past years, according to Sausen, the group held a potluck meal and worked in carpools to tackle the daunting task of tallying the birds. As in many cases, Covid-19 has curtailed those activities; however, the tabulation goes on. Participants in the count can do so via a field assignment or as a home observer.
Many people request a specific area within the search grid, Sausen said. Those who do not request a designated search area are assigned to work as a team in a specific spot. They may be able to carpool with a family or in specific “pod” groups, but they must comply with current state and city Covid-19 guidelines, including incorporating social distancing and/or masking.
Sausen, a North Branch resident, said that in addition to the Wild River bird count, the Cedar Creek Christmas Bird Count will take place on Dec. 19. The Christmas Bird Count is unique in that the parameters of the compilation are more limited.
“Unlike the Great Backyard Bird Count that is held in February where there is no restriction on where the birds can be counted,” he said. “The CBCs are tightly limited to just the designated 15-mile diameter circle. It is important to maintain this accurate area for bird population comparison over the timespan that those counts have been completed.”
For people who participate at home and have an active bird feeder, the expectation is to count the maximum number of each species seen throughout the day. Home-based bird feeder counters have been especially needed during this pandemic year. 
“Once we know where (the bird-feeder counters) are located, they can count for as long as they want on that designated count day,” Sausen said. “As with other aspects of the count, there are specific guidelines that need to be followed by the feeder counters.”
Unfortunately, the slots for field counters are filled for this year’s CBC, and, Sausen added, “It would be very difficult to arrange for feeder counters at this late date. We need to know in advance so we’re not counting the same birds twice.”
All is not lost for those who want to participate in future bird counts. Birders can visit https://wildriveraudubon.com/ for more information on upcoming counts or even to find information how to become a bird watcher or bird-feeder owner. For people like Sausen, bird watching is an integral part of his life. 
“Bird watching was one of my favorite things to do when I was growing up on a farm in the 1950s,” he said. “I was fascinated by returning spring birds. My most memorable gift was a pair of binoculars when I was very young. I still have them. I would sit for hours and hours waiting for the red-headed woodpeckers to land on the side of our corn crib where I would try to photograph them with the family Kodak Brownie camera.”
Sausen has merged this life-long love of bird-watching into his Christmas activities.
“The CBCs are an important part of my holiday festivities,” he said. “Besides spending time with longstanding friends, I hope my little effort each year adds to the knowledge base of bird populations in the Western Hemisphere.”
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