The first issue of a new year is a great time for new adventures. The last issue, this one, is perfect for taking stock, for counting.
That’s what author Sheryl DeVore did recently. She journeyed up into Minnesota’s icebox to count Pine Grosbeaks, Northern Hawk Owls (the yellow-eyed bird on our cover), and other wind-chill-tolerant northern species near frozen Lake of the Woods during the last Christmas Bird Count. Sheryl writes on page 22 that temperatures barely rose above zero, causing her cell phone to fail and her toes to burn. But, as with any birding adventure, she says, “the discomfort you feel seems to disappear when you see a good bird.” And she saw plenty — enough, even, for her to consider going back this winter.
Temperatures were considerably warmer when writer and tour leader Mark Hedden took stock of the terns on sunny Bush Key, in the Dry Tortugas, site of North America’s only colony of Sooty Terns. Counting birds there is very, very difficult, Mark writes on page 16, and not just because there are so many (the official estimate is 50,000, and way too low), but because the black-and-white wide-awakes are always in motion. Studying them at the colony has been the work of ornithologists since Audubon’s day, Mark says, but where they go and what they do after they take wing has remained a mystery that’s only just starting to be solved.
Equally mysterious, at least to North American birders, has been the distribution of woodpeckers in the United Kingdom. Three species can be found in Britain (Green, Great Spotted, and Lesser Spotted), but before 2009, not one nested in Ireland. Then, as first-time contributor Iva Pocock describes on page 28, a Great Spotted Woodpecker nest was located south of Dublin, and more were confirmed in subsequent years. The discoveries delighted Irish birders, who now have historic new reasons — red-capped fledglings — to do a little counting.
Chuck Hagner, editor