It was 4 degrees at the start of this year’s National Audubon Society annual Christmas Bird Count on Dec. 18, but despite the frigid temperatures, 30 volunteer bird-watchers were able to spot 76 species.
“It was cold,” said Susan Allerton, a member of the Durango Bird Club. “It was really cold.”
This year’s bird count did not break last year’s record of 87 different types of birds, but Allerton chalked that up to a slightly lower volunteer turnout (last year there was 34) and the bitterly cold temperature.
“The temperature does have an impact if birds are out or not,” she said. “The passerines, the songs birds – cold weather causes them to be less active in the early morning hours.”
Regardless, Allerton said it’s always a good sign if bird count totals exceed 70 species.
As for trends gleaned from this year’s count, Allerton said a few species that regularly migrate south for the winter were found in the 7.5-mile radius watch area around Pastorius Reservoir.
The lesser goldfinch, for example, spends its summers around Durango then usually migrates to New Mexico or Arizona for the winter. But this year, the bird was spotted for the fourth time in the count’s 67-year history.
“It probably has to do with the warmer winters we’re having,” Allerton speculated.
There were also a number of unusual sightings, she said.
Bird-watchers spotted a common loon near Lake Nighthorse, also only the fourth one ever recorded since the annual counts began in 1949. Two were recorded in 2014, and another in 1954.
“It’s unusual because there isn’t much water that’s open, all the lakes tend to freeze this time of year,” she said. “But Pastorius was open, and we also had permission to access Nighthorse for the third year in a row.”
An American pipit was seen near Eighth Avenue, only the eighth one in the count’s history. Allerton said the bird is usually much father south this time of year.
A fox sparrow was spotted west of Durango, which has only been included in the count two other times. Again, Allerton said the fox sparrow usually spends its winters in the southern U.S.
A few species were notably missing, she said.
She said the count was low on sparrows, finches and Clark’s nutcrackers, which may be related to climate or availability of seeds.
“We had such good coverage of the radius that I think we would have found them if they were around,” she said.
Otherwise, Allerton said all other species were found in normal numbers. There was a good amount of both bald and golden eagles, hawks as well as ducks.
“I think it was a very successful count,” she said. “You usually find something exciting on the count, and with so many people out, you’re bound to find something unusual.”