Judd Brink credits a recent Colorado snowstorm for a pre-Christmas Bird Count gift of a lifetime.
Or, more specifically, a “life bird.”
Brink, owner of MN Backyard Birds birdscaping in Brainerd and an avid birder, was refilling bird feeders for a customer Nov. 9 on the east side of Gull Lake when he spotted an unusual bird near the feeders.
He recognized it as a towhee (pronounced tou-hee, toh-hee or toh-ee), and at first thought it was an eastern towhee, which is somewhat common in east-central Minnesota. But after further research, he learned it was a spotted towhee, which is mostly found in the western United State and rarely in Minnesota — particularly the central part of the state.
He photographed the bird — “I watched and took more photos for about 20 minutes as the bird moved between two feeding stations that I maintain on a weekly basis” — and submitted a photo to the Minnesota Ornithologists’ Union, which informed him that it was the first-ever recorded sighting of the bird in Crow Wing County and the first recorded sighting this fall in all of Minnesota.
“It’s my life bird. My first spotted towhee,” Brink said. “And the first state bird (this fall) and county bird. So it was a first for a lot of things. It was a special bird for me and a lot of other people I showed it to.”
Yes, news of the sighting traveled briskly through birding circles.
“I had people calling me and emailing me,” Brink said. “I went back on Friday (Nov. 11) and saw it with seven other bird-watchers and we got to photograph it. It was a first bird for the county and we had people coming from Minneapolis to see it.
“There were people from Minneapolis and Aitkin and all over who had never seen this bird in Minnesota. It was a life bird for a lot of folks. It (ranked) pretty high for me since it was a county bird. It’s one of the highest (ranked) birds for me.”
Spotted towhees are black, white, reddish-brown and gray, seven to eight inches long with a long tail and a thick, black bill and a very dark and distinct red eye. They are common but reclusive birds throughout the western United States, in brushy forests and canyons. They can be found year-round along the Pacific coast and the western mountains, while summer populations extend to Montana, Colorado, western Nebraska and the western half of the Dakotas, as well as south-central Canada. Winter populations can be found in Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas and northern Mexico.
Brink said he checked Sunday and Monday, but didn’t see the bird, which he said was a male, and figures it likely headed back home.
“They’re year-round birds out west. This bird was really off course,” Brink said. “I’m not sure if it was the recent storms in Denver and Colorado. I’m not sure if that pushed it eastward. But I think the weather had something to do with it being this far east.
“Birders are pretty serious people. People take bird-watching seriously and keep state lists, county lists, backyard lists, life lists . This (sighting) will be written up in their (Minnesota Ornithologists’ Union) publications as a county bird. It’s a pretty big deal.”
As is the National Audubon Society’s annual Christmas Bird Count. Brink is spearheading this year’s count for the Paul Bunyan Scenic Byway, scheduled Dec. 16 at the Uppgaard Wildlife Management Area near Crosslake. Brink added that the count will be the first for the Paul Bunyan Scenic Byway and the first official bird count for any of Minnesota’s designated byways. Count results will be posted at birdsofthebyway.com.
“It’s very exciting,” Brink said.
For more on the Christmas Bird Count involving the Paul Bunyan Scenic Byway and how to participate, contact Brink at 838-4784 or firstname.lastname@example.org.