Last Saturday about 20 bird watchers and birding enthusiasts endured freezing temperatures around Hotchkiss during the 116th annual National Audubon Society Christmas Bird Count.
Jason Beason, special monitoring projects coordinator with the Bird Conservancy of the Rockies (formerly the Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory), said this year's Hotchkiss bird count, sponsored by the Black Canyon Audubon Society, revealed more than 70 individual species.
Among the more unusual sightings were two red-naped sapsuckers, medium-sized woodpeckers that typically migrate to southern Arizona and New Mexico and down into Mexico during winter months. One group reported sighting a black phoebe, which historically hasn't been seen in the area during winter and recently has begun expanding its range. While Grand Junction birders sighted black phoebes last winter, this is the first winter sighting in the Hotchkiss area count, said Beason.
All three species of rosy finch were also recorded, which Beason said isn't typical.
While temperatures had only warmed to 1 degree by 9:15 a.m., Beason said the cold doesn't generally affect bird counts. However, the deep snow tends to draw many species to roads and areas where the ground is bare and they can forage for food, making them easier to spot.
The relatively unspoiled area between Hotchkiss, Crawford and the rim of the Black Canyon provides some of the best winter raptor viewing, said group leader Bill Day with the BCAS. Early sightings heading out of town toward Scenic Mesa included American robins, Northern flickers and the first bald eagle of the day.
About a mile outside of town, the River Park Road area provides some of the best winter habitat for the tiny American tree sparrow, which will head north come spring, said Day. At the Hotchkiss wastewater treatment plant's settling ponds, a flock of about 25 magpies, as well as American widgeon and gadwalls had gathered.
Once on Scenic Mesa Road, the group stopped to watch an American Kestral sit atop a power pole and feast on fresh junco.
The Black Phoebe was spotted at the Hotchkiss National Fish Hatchery and the red-naped sapsuckers were at Crawford Cemetery. Rosy finches were at a private feeder.
The nation's longest-running citizen science-based bird project, this year's CBC was held Dec. 14 through Jan. 5. Results will guide Audubon science throughout the coming year. According to the Audubon Society's website, each count covers established circles roughly 15 miles in diameter. The bird count provides one of two pools of information for ornithologists and biologists on how the nation's birds are faring over time. The Audubon Society also holds the "Great Backyard Bird Count," held each February during President's Day week.
The Christmas Bird Count was started in 1900 by ornithologist Frank Chapman, according to the Audubon Society. At the time, a holiday tradition known as the "Side Hunt" had hunters competing for shooting the biggest pile of feathered and furry quarry. Chapman, an early officer in the newly-formed Audubon Society, proposed the bird count to counter damages done by the hunt.
According to Day, the BCAS has participated in the bird count in Hotchkiss since the late 1960s or early 1970s.
Interested participants of all birdwatching levels can register, learn more and see results of past bird counts at www.audubon.org. Membership in the National Audubon Society is $20 and includes a subscription to Audubon magazine.
The Black Canyon Audubon Society also holds other bird-watching events throughout the year. Annual membership to the BCAS is $10 and includes an electronic copy of its quarterly newsletter (or $15 to receive the newsletter through the mail). All dues are spent locally.
watching events throughout the year. Annual membership to the BCAS is $10 and includes an electronic copy of its quarterly newsletter (or $15 to receive the newsletter though the mail). All dues are spent locally.