While most of Montezuma County was quietly blanketed under a few inches of snow on Friday morning, 12 diehard bird watchers bundled up and set off on the annual Cortez Audubon Christmas Bird Count.
Armed with binoculars, birding guides and notepads for recording, the pack split up into three groups to cover three different routes around the county with the purpose of collecting regional data on bird populations.
"No self-respecting bird is going to be out in this weather," joked Judith Franklin, a retired biologist and avid birder before as her group rounded Main Street and set out on their route, which included Cortez parks, Denny Lake, and Road H.
But the birds were out in full force.
Lining power lines, dotting bare trees, flitting in front yard bird feeders, and clustered in frozen ponds, numbers of different species - starlings, collared doves, American kestrels, crows and ravens, Canadian geese, mallards - peppered the landscape around snowy white Cortez.
"Winter is actually a great time of the year to study ducks because they have their breeding plumages in, and the colors can be absolutely beautiful," explained Carla Fox, of Cortez.
While collared doves, wigeons and starlings seemed to dominate the trees, a few highlights of the count included a male and female wood duck sighting in Parque de Vida.
Smaller than mallards, male wood ducks boast striking green, burgundy and black markings and have orange eyes. The ducks aren't native to the Southwest, so it's especially notable that a male and female were spotted for the second year in a row, explained Fox.
Also spotted were two horned winged owls, nearly camouflaged among the grey snarl of tree branches as they watchfully guarded a nest. A Lewis' woodpecker was also seen, and was easily identified by its bright red breast.
While the main focus of the day is to get an accurate picture of species count, a side bonus for many birders is to share the hobby with fellow enthusiasts.
"You get in your own routine and when you go with someone else who can show you a new place, a whole new world opens up," said Diane Cherbak, of Mancos.
Data from the Dec. 26 bird count will be counted over the next few weeks by organizer Carolyn Gunn, and sent off to the Audubon Society. Volunteers interested in helping with the data compilation or with next year's count can contact Gunn at (970) 882-7742.