STEVE LEWIS/Durango Herald
Below-zero temperatures failed to stop almost 30 bird lovers in Saturday’s annual Christmas Bird Count. This was Audubon’s 113th Christmas Bird Count across the Americas. It started Dec. 14 and will end Saturday.
The purpose is to take a census of local birds for research and conservation, according to Audubon.
Among those volunteers gathered at 8 a.m. at chilly Santa Rita Park was biologist Susan Allerton of the Durango Bird Club. She gave the counting teams their coverage areas and bird lists.
While many of the birds being counted are sighted regularly, she said the volunteers also were looking for any unusual birds.
Perhaps propitiously, a bald eagle flew along the Animas River as the groups were getting their count area maps. It was to be the first of several eagles sighted in the bird count.
While out with her team, Allerton said the group originally planned an earlier date, but the snowstorms caused several volunteers to look at a later date. Even so, the extremely cold temperatures early in the morning were probably keeping some of the birds under cover.
Allerton’s team included ornithologists Brenda Wright and Coen Dexter of Nucla. The couple, formerly with the Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory, had helped conduct bird counts earlier this month in Nucla and Pagosa Springs, Dexter said. This was their first time counting birds in the Durango area.
The team drove to areas such as County Road 221 at Colorado Highway 172 and all the way to Ranchos Florida and beyond.
Allerton and her team sighted a number of birds by noon, though fewer than expected because of the temperatures, she said.
About 70-plus different species were sighted by the groups Saturday.
Among the less common birds sighted were the white-winged dove, mourning dove and Barrow’s Goldeneye, a duck. Some others not seen often but sighted Saturday were the northern shrike, northern pygmy owl and a Merlin, which is a falcon.
More common birds spotted were a thrush called Townsend’s Solitaire, lots of ravens, Oregon juncos, a horned lark, mallard ducks in flight, red-tailed hawks, a Wilson’s Snipe (which encouraged jokes and stories about snipe hunts), pine siskins, downy woodpeckers, chickadees and another bald eagle.
All three on the Allerton team had previously participated as field workers for the Second Colorado Breeding Bird Atlas, sponsored by the Fort Collins Audubon Society and other organizations such as Fort Lewis College.
Wright and Dexter also have led birding trips.
Dexter said the annual Christmas count may tally as little as 1 to 2 percent of the birds in an area, or as much as 20 percent in certain areas.