A big thanks to Non Birding Bill for filling for a day. I had a moment of panic. Every year, my agent sends me a nice card with a note of a charity that received a donation in my name for Christmas. This year, I didn't get a card. I kind of panicked. I have an author friend who had a GREAT book agent. She wrote a very successful book that won awards and then began working on her next book. Working on that next book went one year, into two years, well on it's way into a third year. And then one day, her agent dropped her. I had no idea an agent could drop you. When I didn't get a card, I had a moment of, "Oh crap, I'm gonna get dropped!"
I buckled down and worked a fourth draft of the bee book I've been working on the last year and a half. In the middle of all of this on Christmas Eve, we received a lovely box from my book agent that included lots of lovely cookies. I suspect that I'm not getting dropped, but nothing like a healthy dose of fear to get a writer to finish something. I suspect I have more tweaking to do with this draft, but it's shaping up to be quite the story and incredibly different than anything I've written before.
I finished the draft right before New Year's and decided I needed to do some birding New Year's Day. For the past few years, we have camped out at Mr. Neil's for New Year's and I have a leisurely morning of watching winter birds from the kitchen window on January 1. This year, Mr had incredibly exciting plans for bringing in the New Year in Boston with his special lady friend (as opposed Doctor Whoing in the New Year with NBB and myself) so we chilled with friends in our neighborhood (and I mean chilled literally, I don't think it's been above zero since the New Year began--on the upside, lots of coffee and snuggling for me--whoot).
I thought I would start the New Year with an owl and headed to the screech-owl spot but that bird was tucked someplace warmer. I've tried several times for a snowy owl at the Minneapolis/St Paul Airport and have come up empty every time, it was no different January 1, perhaps no snowy there this year? I then went to Big Willow Park which has been good for northern saw-whet owls in the past and could find no sign of an owl. It was not the most pleasant temperature for hiking so perhaps I wasn't giving it the try I normally would. I finally decided to go for some birds that I know I would see--the crow roost in Loring Park. I texted Non Birding Bill and asked if he wanted to come with me (the crows meet his requirements: big, obvious, easy to see). I grabbed him and we followed the lines of crows heading towards the roost in late the afternoon.
In the winter, as afternoons start to fade, you might notice lines of crows flying towards a central location. The lines will come from all directions towards a central spot. Crows are flying from all over to a central night roost location. Studies suggest that crows will fly as far as 20 miles from their roost spot foraging for food during the day. Then in late afternoon, they fly back to the roosting spot. A roost could have literally thousands of birds gathering to it. I'm not sure of the exact numbers of the Minneapolis roost, but it would not surprise me if it went past 100,000 crows.
The crows are all over Loring Park and along the bike path near the new Twins Stadium. I think the crows chose the southern part of downtown Minneapolis for a roost because there would not be as many natural predators. Also, an irritated farmer couldn't shoot at any of the crows to drive them away. This roost still has at least one predator to worry about--great horned owls. They start their breeding season in Minnesota now. You can bet your bippy that a great horned will take a crow or two on the outside of the roost this time of year. It's one of the reasons they attack owls during the day.
As we watched the amazingly huge sheer number of crows, it struck me that this was incredibly similar to watching the sandhill cranes coming in to roost on the Platte River in Nebraska. I wonder why some birders (including myself) place such a mystical value on cranes but not crows. I'm not anti-crow, but I've noticed this roost before, have always that, "Yeah, I need to check this out," but never do. Yet, I've invested a lot of money in 9 or 10 trips to Nebraska--I've even taken others. I've frozen my tookus off at dawn in a blind and yet, here's this cool gathering of birds practically in my backyard that I can watch from the warmth of my vehicle or from one of the many eateries or bars in downtown Minneapolis. Perhaps I am like the locals in Kearney, NE who smile thinly and say, "Oh, yeah," when you tell them how excited you are about their 40,000 sandhill cranes.
I think I'll schedule the January Birds and Beers someplace in Loring Park so we can watch the roost. The parking might be a bit trickier, but we'll have one heck of a show with all the crows coming in. They should keep coming until their breeding season kicks in in March. I've never paid attention, but I wonder if the roost gradually disperses over a period of weeks or if the break up of the winter roost happen rather quickly as pairs set up territories?
NBB and I tried to get some video of the crows so you could hear them (and the traffic) and get an idea of the size of the roost. This isn't even half of the roost:
Here's another video near Dunwoody of crows staging. It's the sound of all the crows that you can't see that amazes me:
UPDATE: Commenter Ren has this video of the same crows flying in to the roost. This video was taken from an apartment building looking down on the crows coming in to the Minneapolis Roost. It's a very cool view!