By Keith Bruno
Special to The PREVIEW
On Saturday, Dec. 16, 2017, volunteers from the Pagosa Springs community (and even a few folks from as far as Minnesota) came together to conduct the 118th Christmas Bird Count. This tradition, an annual collaboration between the Weminuche Audubon Society (WAS) chapter and a regional office of Audubon Rockies, marks the seventh time that our strong birding community has come out to log winter bird residents for this effort. Fifty-six observers split into eight groups to navigate a circle 15 miles wide in diameter around town by car and foot, tallying a number for each species noted. Unlike last year’s oftentimes blizzard conditions, the weather this year behaved and observers were afforded a solid day of birding. Collectively, the community tallied 70 species, with a few additions from count week observations (includes species seen three days before and after the count date). Participants spent a team total of 48 hours in cars (372 miles) and 11 hours on foot (9.25 miles) combing the area searching for species. Also, we had two dedicated bird-feeder watchers on count date that contributed. The undoubtedly slow start to our winter in southwest Colorado has equated to a rare array of bird species lingering in or visiting our region for longer than normal. Some highlights: • A group that spotted three hooded mergansers and three pied-billed grebes in the Pagosa Lakes region were a little surprised to find these species hanging out this time of year. • One group photographed a first-year northern shrike, a unique songbird known for its ability to impale prey on thorns and sharp branches. This species has never been sighted in our region for the count. • Other unusual findings included late sightings of both Brewer’s and chipping sparrows (typically further south by now). • Outside of “fighter jet”flocks of honking Canada geese (tallied at 803), ring-necked ducks were certainly the most highly counted waterfowl species, with a total of 488 spotted. • Pagosa residents were happy to see that our lone trumpeter swan had two friends that visited for the holidays (and the count). Last year, only 61 species were reported, so this year was a fair improvement for species diversity. Despite this, we found a few oddities: • Only one Lewis’ woodpecker was seen during the count week. • Zero canvasback ducks were seen over the count week. • Great blue herons are apparently adept at skating on ice. This year, 2018, we will be celebrating the Year of the Bird. The Audubon Society, National Geographic, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and BirdLife International have come together to bring special attention to birds, marking the centennial from when the Migratory Bird Treaty Act was formed. The intention, above all else, is to bring awareness to bird populations and their diversity, protecting them from modern day threats and honoring the role that they play as indicators of environmental health. Let’s start paying more attention. Stay tuned for our upcoming “Bird of the Week” series, highlighting a bird each week beginning soon. Feel free to come and check out what we’re up to at our next WAS chapter gathering on Feb. 21 at the Community United Methodist Church on Lewis Street at 6:30 p.m. You can find out more information at weminucheadubon.org or on our Facebook group site.