I'm pulling all this information into a single mega map (I hope it doesn't crash or need to be split into multiple maps.) so that I can build efficient routes in 2019 for attempting to count as many species in each county as possible.
I've also been running out on multiple late season routes to get a feel for how many species I can put up in a county or at a hot spot late into fall. This included efforts down to Brownsville in Houston county to count Tundra Swans and anything else that was present in the area and most recently a route hitting agriculture areas south of the cities. During this 8 hour span I travelled from Washington to Hennepin to Scott, and then wound my way around Le Sueur, Rice, Steele, Dodge, Goodhue, and Dakota. What all of this told me is that there are not many birds out on the dirt roads in these ag locations. I ran into one large group (17) of Horned Lark; which isn't even a true winter ag bird since you can get them easier in the spring. I also ran into a large flock (2) of Eastern Bluebird, making the trip really stick out that running ag routes is not likely to net me what I'm looking for in Jan/Feb. I had nothing in the raptor side of things beyond Red-tailed Hawk and Bald Eagle the entire day, meaning in all those counties I didn't see Rough-legged Hawk, Northern Shrike, or Snowy Owl the entire day. In fact I didn't pick up any American Kestrel or Merlin either.
All of this informs my leaning to focus my Jan/Feb on getting north for finches and owls in the boreal locations while also giving the open water river areas more time for Merganser/Goldeneye and related water birds. During the day yesterday I found Brown Creeper in 2 counties while looking for waterfowl at least providing some winter value. Beyond this I will also look for feed stations to provide value also in key locations like State Parks, Nature Centers, and places like Sax-Zim Bog. Now perhaps with good shared knowledge I'll be aware of nice private (but friendly) feed stations that I can see as well in cities to help bolster numbers. The big thing I'm seeing is that I can't count on winter ag routes to really provide a much value beyond having a shot at finding some birds as I drive from location to location looking to focus on other bird groups.
In the center one of the Mute Swans hanging out at Old Cedar Ave in Hennepin County lately. This was a state bird for me mostly because I've put off making an effort for one and dipped several times on other ones. You can just see the orange bill and knob on this bird tucked in and luckily it was visible while sleeping.
This Northern Flicker was in Morristown near the open water cannon river. Also present was a Belted Kingfisher and a White-throated Sparrow at a nearby feeder. Now I'm not saying I need to work for Flickers in the winter, but I'm rejecting the notion that such birds won't add value to my year. I never know when I'll be in a county again so every bird gained it 1 more I don't have to get later. Knowing this small town with open water produced 12 species in just 10 minutes is a big help. 12 species in a deep winter month is a big number in one spot and takes a lot of pressure off that county.
These crazy Eastern Bluebirds were in a flock of 20 on dirt road and river crossing in Steele County near Medford, MN. The water was open and these little river crossings could be key in deep winter efforts to just shoulder the car and give a 5 or 10 minute listen and look for overwintering birds. Or even just to tic Junco and related birds with relative ease.