Bird-watchers in the Cortez area had a field day with the annual Christmas Bird Count on Monday.
For more than a decade, Cortez has participated in the nationwide bird count, which helps the Audubon Society keep track of bird populations and winter migration patterns in various regions across the country. This year, 16 people, divided into teams of two or three, drove around the Cortez area to record the various species they saw. They reported spotting 82 species total, including several that hadn’t been seen during the Christmas Bird Count before.
Jason St. Pierre assigned teams and coordinated the event for the second consecutive year. The teams set out from the Cortez Cultural Center at 8 a.m., and some didn’t finish their assigned routes until 5 p.m. A few of this year’s participants were new to the Christmas Bird Count, but none were new to the hobby itself.
“Most of us are die-hard, longtime bird watchers,” St. Pierre said.
But very few birders were able to make it last year, when morning temperatures dropped to 2 degrees and the previous night’s snowfall made the roads treacherous. Although St. Pierre said the drive from Durango was “a little hairy,” this year’s sunny skies and mild temperatures made the bird count a much more pleasant experience, and several more birders participated, according to St. Pierre.
Diane Cherbak’s group managed to spot several owls nesting during the day, but Cherbak said she was most interested in a sighting of a red-naped sapsucker, which usually migrates south of Colorado during the winter.
“It seemed to be a little out of its element,” she said.
Each team chose one of eight planned routes covering an area about 16 miles in diameter around Cortez. The routes took them as far north as McPhee Reservoir, and near the Cortez Municipal Airport to the south, St. Pierre said.
Among the new species the birders cataloged were the red-breasted merganser, the swamp sparrow, the white-throated sparrow and the wood duck. St. Pierre said that, while they may have been seen in the area before, this is the first time they’ve been cataloged during the Christmas count.
On Tuesday, birders were still turning in their findings. After all the results are tallied up, St, Pierre and the Cortez Cultural Center will send them to the national Audubon Society to be used for research purposes. The Christmas Bird Count has been instrumental in tracking the influx of new species to the area, such as the Eurasian collared dove, which first arrived in the region 30 years ago and has since become one of its most common winter birds.
The next major bird-watching event in Cortez will be the Ute Mountain-Mesa Verde Birding Festival, which is scheduled for May 10-14.