Annual bird count yields double last year’s tally in Grand County
December 28, 2008
In the snowy upper Colorado basin each Christmas season, people with binoculars take to the fields to count birds. The annual event is organized through the National Audobon Society.
On Dec. 20 during a 24-hour period, as many as 30 local volunteers counted 36 species of birds, totalling 2,496, in a 15-mile radius of the U.S. Forest Service headquarters in Granby.
“It’s the seventh year we’ve done it, and we had more birds this year than we ever had,” said Brock McCormick, Wildlife Tech with the U.S. Forest Service’s Arapaho National Forest.
In fact, this year’s count more than doubled last year’s.
The reason, he said, was many bodies of water had not frozen over for the season. Birders were able to count a great number of water fowl.
They were also lucky enough to encounter multiple flocks of Rosy finches, small songbirds known to travel with others in winter.
“Not every year we pick up the big flocks in our circle,” McCormick said. Bird enthusiasts tallied a total of 849 Rosy finches that day, which McCormick thinks is a record. “It’s cool we got so many this year.”
Some of the bird volunteers are experts; others range from seasoned to simply interested.
Bird “hot spots” are the Fraser River corridor, any open water such as Lake Granby, and the Grand County landfill.
“You get lots of crows and raven at the dump,” McCormick said.
It was the 109th year for the Audobon Society’s Christmas Bird Count, the longest-run citizen science project in the world that measures bird populations from Alaska to Belize, according to http://www.audubon.org.
This year’s bird count, which started Dec. 14, will end on Jan. 5.
The Society uses its long-term data set to find out about the health and welfare of birds and to shape its Audobon Watch List that identifies species in dire need of conservation.
It’s the only survey that documents birds during the winter.
Since the birding takes place throughout the Americas, the Granby-based counts are nothing compared to the southern regions where birds settle for winter.
“There’s not a whole lot that sticks around in the winter,” McCormick said. “Grand
County is a tough place.”
While Florida basks in an avian array of exotic and native species, with 1.56 million birds counted last year to Colorado’s 600,000, “up here, we’re counting crows and ravens,” McCormick said.
This year, Grand County birders counted 387 crows and 244 ravens.
The counting can still be exhilarating when birders spot an unexpected find, such as two Northern Harriers this year, the first spotted since counting started in Grand County.
“We try to have one experienced birder in each group,” McCormick said. “We rely on people’s experience.”
Anyone is welcomed to join the bird-counting expedition, even without experience. Most of the routes are driving routes and some are accessed by snowshoe or cross-country skis.
Bird experts are watching for changes in counts due to the change in forest conditions from the Mountain Pine Beetle.
A formal analysis hasn’t yet been conducted, but with seven years of data collected in Grand County, forest biologists are getting to the point where trends could be identified.
At a glance, “I haven’t seen much of a drastic change in the numbers yet,” McCormick said.
” Tonya Bina can be reached at 887-3334 ext. 19603 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.