Grand County Christmas Bird Count tallies common and unique species
Each year as the winter solstice nears folks from the US Forest Service’s (USFS) Sulphur Ranger District office in Granby prepare for an annual tradition called the Christmas Bird Count (CBC).
The CBC is held in mid-December each year and involves numerous local citizen volunteers as well as USFS staff organizing their efforts for a single day spent tallying bird numbers in Grand County. The CBC in Grand County is part of a larger international CBC organized by the Audubon Society for over 100-years.
Doreen Sumerlin, Wildlife Biologist for the USFS at the Sulphur Ranger District, oversees the Grand County portion of the program and was just wrapping up her work organizing and gathering the data from this year’s count Monday Dec. 19.
The 2016 CBC was held this last weekend on Saturday Dec. 17 and while the weather was cold and blustery the birders of Grand County were not deterred. In fact volunteer numbers for this year’s count continued an upward trend in volunteer numbers. “I think my volunteers are the most heroic volunteers out there,” Sumerlin joked. “I had 44 people show up Saturday morning, despite the storm front the night before. We had 44 people in the field and two folks doing a feeder count at home for a total of 46 volunteers.”
The weather Saturday morning was chilly, to say the least. Sumerlin said the temperature was hovering between 10 and 15 degrees Saturday morning as the volunteers started their work. “By the time we wrapped up the wind was gusting and the temp had dropped to about eight degrees,” Sumerlin said. “But we had everyone out of the field before the bitter cold came.”
This year volunteers recorded a total of 1,651 individual birds and a total of 37 species. Sumerlin noted the total number of birds counted this year is slightly lower than the 15-year average for Grand County, which is 1,919 birds, which she partially attributed to the hard winter storm that hit the Granby area Friday night Dec. 16. “They (birds) like to find warm places to hid in the wind,” Sumerlin said. “They might be nestled in a tree trunk somewhere. Or maybe they are deep in a shrubby thicket. I think the weather was a bit of a factor this year.”
Volunteer counters for the CBC recorded a total of 37 different bird species in their survey circle area, encompassing a 15-mile diameter circle running from Tabernash to just east of Hot Sulphur Springs and from the YMCA complex north to Stillwater Campground on Lake Granby.
Far and away the most prevalent species of bird was the house sparrow. “House sparrows took the prize with 456 individuals,” Sumerlin said. She added that crows and ravens came in as the second and third most prevalent species recorded with 197 and 188 individual birds respectively.
This year participants were able to tally a few species of birds that are rare in Grand County this time of year. Volunteers tallied both tree swallows and morning doves. According to Sumerlin both species are summer bird that are common in Grand County at other times of the year but are usually long gone from the high country by mid-December. It was the first time either species was recorded for the Grand County CBC in 15-years.
Additionally the CBC for Grand County revealed six bald eagles and four golden eagles, which was surprising to Sumerlin. “For the diameter we search six bald eagles are a lot. We always expect to see some balds and some goldens, but six in a 15-mile diameter circle is quite a lot.”
Sumerlin noted she expected to see a higher count for waterfowl in Grand County for this year’s CBC. “I thought we would have more waterfowl this year because Lake Granby was still open. But we didn’t get large numbers of waterfowl. We don’t know why, but that is why this (the CBC) is so great, it gives us long term trends.”
The Christmas Bird Count (CBC) is a storied program originally created by the famed bird conservation organization the National Audubon Society. The first CBC was held in 1900 and was an outgrowth of a traditional Christmas activity wherein folks would go out on Christmas Day and compete to see who could hunt and kill the most birds, regardless of if the birds were edible, rare, beneficial or beautiful.
In Dec. 1900 ornithologist Frank Chapman suggested a new paradigm. Rather than hunting birds on Christmas Day they should be counted instead and their numbers and species recorded and logged. The first iteration of the CBC in 1900 drew in 27 volunteer observers and was held in 25 separate locations in the US.
To conduct the CBC organizers and volunteers select 15-mile diameter circles that serve as the survey area with all CBC counting being conducting within the numerous survey circles. Volunteers meet the morning of the CBC and are assigned specific routes to travel within a given survey circle while recording numbers and species of all birds they see on their assigned route.
Today the size and scope of the CBC has grown to international levels. During last year’s CBC a record number of circles were surveyed at a total of 2,505. Of those 1,902 survey circles were within the US, 471 survey circles were in Canada and 132 survey circles were conducted between Latina America, the Caribbean and the Pacific Islands; including new surveys held for the first time Barbados and a section of Panama.
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