121st Christmas Bird Count tallies 4,746 birds, 67 species


By Jean Zirnhelt
and Keith Bruno
Weminuche Audubon Society

Clear blue skies and a balmy 15 degrees set the tone as people ventured out on Dec. 19, 2020, to participate in the Christmas Bird Count this year in Pagosa Springs. 

This is the 121st consecutive year of Audubon’s winter bird census held annually between Dec. 14 and Jan. 5 in the western hemisphere. Weminuche Audubon Society and Audubon Rockies have come together to organize the count in Pagosa Springs for the last 10 of these years.

The first official count in Pagosa Springs was conducted by 49 observers. Some of those participating in the first local count have been out for every one since then. This year, over 70 enthusiastic people contributed to the count in Archuleta County. We walked, cross-country skied or snowshoed 52 miles, drove over 282 miles and counted birds at feeders at home, all within the 15-mile diameter circle established for the first count.

Weather plays a part in determining year-to-year variations in the species that we find. In particular here, the amount of open water on area lakes is a limiting factor for waterfowl species. That said, we tallied 67 species on count day totaling 4,746 birds observed. 

Some of the exciting viewings of the day involved a prairie falcon in the Meadows district, a few ferruginous hawks south and east of Pagosa Springs, some handsome hooded mergansers on the lakes and some unique shorebirds and rails along the San Juan Riverwalk. To boot, four other unique species were observed during the count week (includes three days before and after the count date). Of these species, two unlikely suspects geographically were detected: a white-winged dove and a yellow-bellied sapsucker, both confirmed on eBird. Data generated by this long-term citizen science project shows trends in bird populations and is an important part of climate science research. 

As one would imagine, this year of COVID-19 warranted some alterations to our normal protocols. Folks avoided carpooling and largely birded with those from their household. And, as people were more split up, we found that our zones were perhaps even better surveyed by more eyes in the sky, on the ground and at feeders. Go figure? We detected five more species on count day than in 2019 and over 1,500 more total birds. 

We missed our wrap-up chili dinner with the opportunity to share each other’s company and compile our findings. We have to settle for a virtual get-together which will be held via Zoom on Wednesday, Jan. 20, at 6:30 p.m. The link to join the meeting will be posted on the Events listing of our website, www.weminucheaudubon.org. Findings from our count are being entered into the National Audubon Society database and a copy of the report will be posted on our website.

The Christmas Bird Count is only one of the fun bird surveys that chapter members participate in. Next up is the worldwide Great Backyard Bird Count in February. This spring, we anticipate joining the expansion of a Durango-area survey of American dipper nests here on the San Juan. The Weminuche chapter has its own Bird Monitoring Project survey of birds in the National Forest conducted from late May through early July. 

We welcome participation in any of our events from all interested parties. Information may be found on our website or by emailing us at weminuche.audubon@gmail.com.