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Roaring Fork Audubon: attracting birders, not listers

Amy Hadden Marsh
Special to the Post Independent
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Kelley Cox Post Independent
ALL |

The recent film, “The Big Year,” may have put bird watching on the map, but that’s not how it’s done in the Roaring Fork Valley. Linda Vidal, international birder and 20-year member of Roaring Fork Audubon, has identified two types of bird-watchers.

“There are birders,” she said, “and there are listers.”

“The Big Year” was about the latter.



“Listers are obsessive-compulsive people,” she said. “They just want to have the most birds on their lists.”

Birders, on the other hand, are more laid back. They enjoy the birds, socializing with other bird-people, and they care about avian habitat.



“Most of our members are birders,” she said.

Roaring Fork Audubon, covering Aspen to Rifle to Minturn and Vail, is the local chapter of the National Audubon Society. Carbondale’s Dave Clark, a member since 1975, said the group got its start the same year at the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies, better known as ACES.

Clark, a botanist by training, remembers that most of the active members at that time lived downvalley. “Active” means those who participate in events such as the annual Christmas Bird Count and counts in the spring. Other field trips combine birding with wildflowers or bats. In 2005, local birders flocked to the Little Book Cliffs Wild Horse Range near Grand Junction in hopes of finding birds and mustangs.

But, the Christmas Bird Count, now in its 112th year, is probably the most well-known activity. This year, Saturday, Dec. 17, is the big day for the club’s bird count. Members and others who want to join the fun will start early at the lower part of Cattle Creek.

“This is the center of a circle,” said Vidal. “We spread out from there and see what we can find within a 15-mile radius.”

The Christmas count began in 1900 on, well, Christmas Day, in response to another holiday tradition called the “Side Hunt.” People would choose up sides, according to the National Audubon Society website, and go hunting. Whoever killed the most birds – and other wildlife that happened to get in the way – won.

Bird populations were in decline, so the Audubon Society thought counting birds during the holidays was better than shooting them. The count has grown from 25 circles that first Noël to more than 2,200 in 2010. Birders are counting from Alaska to Latin America, the Caribbean and Pacific Islands, and across Canada and the U.S.

Counts occur between Dec. 14 and Jan. 5. Each circle provides a snapshot of perhaps a chattering of starlings, a siege of herons, a convocation of eagles, or an exaltation of larks.

There’s nothing complicated about the process.

“How many birds you get depends on how many people are out looking,” said Clark. It also depends on the weather. “If it’s windy,” he explains, “the birds are up, flying. If it’s snowing or raining, the birds are usually hiding in trees or bushes.”

Data are sent to the national office, which maintains a history of all the counts to track trends and population dynamics over time, measure the effects of climate change on birds and habitat, and to protect species in decline.

Recently, Roaring Fork Audubon helped to officially designate Spring Park Reservoir above El Jebel as an Important Bird Area.

Vidal wrote the designation because there aren’t many places on the Western Slope that offer a rest stop for migrating birds. “It doesn’t force anybody legally to do anything,” she said. “It’s to raise awareness about rare migrating and nesting birds.”

Vidal, who used to run a bird-banding station near Lake Christine, is worried about birds.

“Five thousand birds a year are killed by house cats and feral cats,” she said. Combined with development, energy exploration and worldwide deforestation, “it’s a lose-lose situation.”

But there is still plenty of enjoyment in local birding, she said.

“We’re blessed because most birds migrate through here and stop and nest,” Vidal said.

This Saturday’s Christmas Bird Count for the lower Roaring Fork Valley begins at 7 a.m. – rain, snow, or shine – and goes until dark.

Those who don’t want to brave the elements can grab a camera or notebook and keep an eye on their backyard feeder.

For details on the Bird Count field trip or for participating from home, contact Linda Vidal at 704-9950 or Mary Harris at 963-0319.


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