Sunday, December 15, 2013

No, Really, It's All About Lunch, I Mean, the Birds...

The reason I made the Lentil Salad yesterday is because two of my friends, former Marshall teacher Ms Hermes (Biology) and current Marshall teacher Ms Ball (English & Social Studies) invited me to accompany them as they participated in the National Audubon Society's 114th annual Christmas Bird Count.  

The CBC is an important exercise in what's called "citizen science." 
Ms Ball, looking for birds.
Ordinary folks help collect data and send it to scientists, who then analyze it.  About this time each year, "bird nerds," as Ms Hermes calls them, drive, walk, ski, etc, through a designated territory and count how many and what kind of birds they see.  They send this information to the person who coordinates the Count in their area, and in our part of the world, that person is former Marshall teacher Mr Larry Weber (Science).  He sends the information to the National Audubon Society.  

Ms Hermes and Ms Ball have been doing this for many years (not quite 114, but probably pretty close), and I've heard them talk about it many times, but this year, they asked if I wanted to come with, and I said yes.  I also offered to drive, and as we knew it would be cold and snowy and as I have an all-wheel-drive vehicle (with heated seats), they took me up on my offer.  Ms Ball also told me to "start thinking about what you'll bring for lunch." Apparently, a VERY important part of the day's meandering journey through Carlton County involves stopping in Jay Cooke State Park for lunch, with everyone bringing something to share.  I guess each year somebody brings garlic-stuffed olives.  I thought the Lentil Salad would go well with the olives.  

Anyway, we left Duluth around 9 am and headed for Jay Cooke, stopping off here and there at various places where birds are known to congregate.  
Ms Hermes uses her spotting scope to check for
waterfowl in the distance.
We paid special attention to feed stores, areas near open water, and houses with large collections of bird feeders.  Often, we would park somewhere and just wait and watch.  Ms Hermes and Ms Ball were both well-supplied with binoculars and bird identification books, though they seemed not to need the books.  They're both very familiar with the kinds of birds one sees around here, and they can identify them sometimes simply by their flight patterns.  I don't know the names of very many birds, so I was rather impressed.  

We saw lots of Chickadees, Crows, and Pigeons (which are technically known as "Rock Doves," or so I am informed).  House Sparrows and Red-Breasted Nuthatches also made an appearance.  The sight of two Mourning Doves (one of my favorite birds) was the highlight of the day, as they're not often seen at this time of year.  (As far as other wildlife goes, we saw lots of red squirrels and a couple of deer.)

As we got closer to the State Park, I drove very, very slowly through the residential areas nearby, and I wondered what we must have looked like--three middle-aged women driving slowly through the neighborhoods of Carlton, two of them peering through binoculars, the car stopping now and then, unexpectedly for no easily-discernible reason.  I joked at one point that we might be mistaken for house-breakers, casing our next job, or private investigators, spying on the cheating spouses of our clients.  

When we entered the Park, it was very nearly empty.  Ms Ball and Ms Hermes spent a little time in the Park Headquarters buying Christmas gifts for assorted relatives of the juvenile variety, and then we walked over to the River Inn Interpretive Center for lunch.  We found another couple of bird nerds in the Center.  Emily and Drew were also out bird-counting, and they were both acquainted with Mr Weber.  
Focaccia bread, made by Ms Ball, garlic-stuffed green olives, black olives, pickled roasted red peppers,
hummus, Mozzarella, apple-lemon-ginger jelly, Nutella, chocolate-covered dried cherries, my Lentil
Salad, and three kinds of cookies (Mexican, German, and Italian).
They ended up sharing our lunch, for we had an awful lot of food with us.  (Emily asked me if the salad was a variation on tabbouleh, which made me very happy, and while everybody liked the mint, some of us thought the salad needed a bit more zip, some chili peppers, perhaps.)
Ms Ball, playing with her food.

After lunch, we drove into the Campground, parked, and walked around for a bit, looking and listening for birds.  Ms Ball and Ms Hermes started making an odd noise, which they wanted me to make, too, as they claimed it was a call for Chickadees.  It sounded like they were saying "Pish, pish, pish." And, indeed, it worked, because in just a few seconds there were a half dozen Chickadees gathering in the branches of nearby trees.  Apparently, pishing is a real thing.  
Ms Hermes, playing with her food.
Ms Hermes told me to look it up, and I did.  

I tried to take some photos of the Chickadees, but it was very cold, and very bright, and the birds didn't show up well in any of the photos I managed to take. The Park was very beautiful, though, with all the snow, and it was a lovely day (despite the fact that it only got a couple degrees above zero).  I think now that I've gone bird-counting with them, they will have to come orchid-hunting with me in the Spring...  
Birdfeeders at Jay Cooke State Park.
Note:  If I've made any mistakes, or misrepresented the events of the day, I hope Ms Ball and/or Ms Hermes will correct me with a comment.


  1. A lovely day, indeed, though the temperatures remained buried below zero. Just for the record, I was not playing with my food--I was demonstrating one of the principles of the telescope as I focused on a specific limited area. Ms Hermes WAS playing with her food. JB

    1. Ah, well, then, I stand corrected!

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  3. "Bird nerds!" This brings me right back to Zoology!

    1. Hi, Hannah! So it should, so it should!

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  5. Looks like you had a lot of fun! I hope you have a good time orchid-hunting in the spring