By Keith Bruno
Special to The SUN
On Dec. 15, 2018, 56 participants from the Pagosa Springs community came together to count birds in the 119th Christmas Bird Count (CBC).
They divided into eight different zones and systematically walked, drove and cross-country skied across those areas to count birds. Some folks even wandered around in the dark to successfully locate the hoots of a great horned owl on count day. Additionally, volunteers for the effort kept tabs on bird species seen over the course of the count week.
Why does all this matter? First off, this year our team pinpointed 63 species of birds; that’s three more species than last year. But, last year (2017), we tallied 5,314 total birds. This year (2018), we tallied 3,466 total birds. (Note: same amount of observers as last year.) That’s a big drop anyway you look at it.
At the end of the day, we gathered for chili and stories from the day of birding. Folks saw lots of raptors. A juvenile white morph ferruginous hawk had us guessing whether or not it was indeed a ferruginous or a rough-legged hawk. Fair amounts of waterfowl were located on the lakes.
Local Cub Scout participants even jumped in to help with spotting birds. Good stuff. But, in general, even before total numbers were tallied, participants could sense that they had seen far less numbers of birds when compared to last year. An American pipit and Say’s phoebe were spotted along the river trail. A prairie falcon was spotted during the count week. Normal birds for this part of the world, but quite unusual to see these birds at this time of year.
So, what do we make of this phenomenon? Was it lasting repercussions from the year’s drought? Was it a poor year for reproduction as a result? Did the birds simply head elsewhere for the winter for more fodder? The answer is: We don’t know. But, there’s one way to get an answer and that involves continuing to conduct CBCs for the future. For, if we continue to observe and document what we see, then patterns can be discerned. Perhaps we can continue to learn how our avian neighbors are faring through bouts of drought, wildfire and any seasonality changes that we seem to be undergoing. After all, citizen science (now coined “community” science) is a way for us to contribute to understanding our current predicament.
Thanks to all you great folks that came out to count birds for the 119th CBC.
By Keith Bruno