It’s a bird! Winter birding season underway with Christmas Bird Count this weekend
An annual event this weekend turns a standard weekend stroll or drive into a contribution to the field of ornithology in one of the oldest citizen science projects in the country.
The Roaring Fork Audubon Society is taking part in the 122nd national Christmas Bird Count event on Saturday, approximating the local populations of birds and different species. The local branch of the National Audubon Society is organizing its event for Saturday, sending birders out on the roads and trails to take stock of the local flyers.
“The idea is to send people out to wherever they get and in that count area make a tally of everything they see, species and numbers,” said Roaring Fork Audubon member Mark Fuller — who is responsible for compiling.
Counters will meet at Third Street Center in Carbondale before being divided up across eight areas to seek out the feathered flock still around.
Teams will be divided into drivers, spotters and recorders, opening the door for birders of all skills and experience.
“We’ll have a few experienced birders in the group, and we’ll match them up with anyone who’s not so experienced,” Fuller said. “It’s a good way to kind of get an introduction to birding.”
The Christmas Bird Count started in 1900, according to the National Audubon Society website, working to enlist citizen science to create records of population trends in birds on local and national scales.
Fuller said Christmas was originally chosen because it was an easy date to remember, but it also provides a “baseline” population in that migratory birds have left the area and the winter birds haven’t settled in yet.
In the Roaring Fork Valley, participation records go back to 1977, and bird count numbers go back to 1992. Count numbers have fluctuated between a low of 53 species identified in 2016 and a high of 80 in 1996.
After regularly reaching at least 70 through 2006, the count hasn’t reached that plateau since. There was only one instance of a sub-60 count before 2010 and four since, including three in a row from 2016-2018.
Aspen-based naturalist guide Rebecca Weiss — who sometimes contracts with Aspen Center for Environmental Studies — said the difference in numbers is felt on an anecdotal level by the area’s birders.
“All of us have kind of put our heads together and commented that last spring and fall migration seasons of 2021 seemed on the lower side,” Weiss said. “We sort of felt a perceptibly smaller number of birds.”
Weiss is coordinating the Aspen area’s count, which is happening on Sunday. Counts have specific days, but three “shoulder days” on either side of count day can be used for those not participating in the actual event.
Counters will meet at 7 a.m. before heading out into the field, and they’ll reconvene at the Village Smithy at 12:30 p.m. in Carbondale to exchange notes and turn in counts. Information from the Roaring Fork Audubon Society says to be prepared to be in the field until 3 p.m.
According to the National Weather Service, Saturday is looking to be a sunny day with a high of 33 degrees.
Fuller recommends bringing weather-appropriate clothes and binoculars, if possible. The Audubon Society is hoping all who participate will be fully vaccinated and boosted, and advised participants to be prepared to wear masks in indoor areas.
Those interested in participating can reach Fuller at email@example.com.
Weiss can be contacted for the upvalley count at firstname.lastname@example.org.
How to bird in the winter
The birding season doesn’t fly south for the winter.
“(Winter birding) is totally a thing,” Fuller said. “It’s just less consistent, because bird behavior reflects their ability to move around to find food.”
Fuller said if you can brave the elements, things like leafless trees and fewer water sources can streamline birding.
He said that bald eagles tend to flock to the area in the winter as resident birds get less territorial.
Fuller said that having the right gear and apparel for the weather is essential. He highlighted Fryingpan Valley and the River Valley Ranch development, which is attractive to birds due to its streets lined with crabapple trees.
The Aspen Center for Environmental Studies offers winter birding trips, which Weiss often guides. More information is available at AspenNature.org.
Reporter Rich Allen can be reached at 970-384-9131 or email@example.com.
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