Counting birds for the Great Backyard Bird Count can be a challenge during the winter doldrums.

  Birding is often a challenge in these harsh prairie winters. Sure, in the spring through summer and into the fall we are living in a paradise for people who enjoy hearing and seeing the amazing variety of species common to North Dakota. Within the next couple of weeks migrating flocks of large raptors, waterfowl and songbirds will make their presence known. But for now the few hardy winter birds are all we have to observe. Sure, occasionally someone will spot a robin which neglected to go south with the rest of its kin; or a few Canada Geese will stick around open water in the Garrison Dam area, but for the most part it is House Sparrows, Chickadees, Blue Jays, and large groups of Eurasian-collared Doves cleaning up the bird seed on and under the feeders. And that's OK really - they all need sustenance to survive. These species are just not earth-shatteringly unexpected, a once in a lifetime birder's Holy Grail.

  The 2013 GBBC will be global for the first time. Imagine entering a checklist in New Guinea where you have just spotted a new species of bird of paradise. Here, my checklists so far have included only 8 different species - certainly not a bird of paradise. Such exotics could never survive in our climate. I'll have to be content to count sparrows, doves and whatever hardy little birds decide to grace our yard this weekend. Still, a bird of paradise would have been a nice addition to my life list.