This winter’s unusually warm weather and concerning lack of snowpack has affected reservoir storage, fire danger and the ability of skiers and snowboarders to take to the backcountry.
Likewise, this year’s annual bird count was not immune to the winter that has yet to arrive.
“It’s been unusually warm with essentially zero cover,” said John Bregar, a member of the Durango Bird Club. “Those two factors probably contributed a lot to us almost breaking the record of birds spotted on the count. But we actually had the second highest tally of birds.”
Since 1949, the National Audubon Society has hosted an annual Christmas Bird Count, in which volunteers are asked to record every species of bird spotted in a 7.5-mile radius around Pastorius Reservoir within a 24-hour period.
In 2016, a record number of birds – 87 different species – was spotted, though organizers say that’s likely because the event also drew a record number of volunteers to look for birds.
This year’s count on Dec. 17 drew 36 volunteers, as well as two people watching two separate bird feeders. They spotted 85 species of birds throughout the coverage area around Pastorius Reservoir, nine miles southeast of Durango.
Because of the region’s warm and dry conditions, volunteers saw many birds that usually migrate south.
“In a mild winter, they don’t go south because they don’t have to,” Bregar said.
Likely as a result, bird-watchers found four new species around Durango that had never been spotted in the nearly seven-decade history of the Christmas Bird Count.
Those species were:
The cackling goose, which is usually found on the Pacific Coast.The American avocet, a large shorebird that winters in central Mexico.The common grackle, a type of blackbird that usually spends its winters in Texas and Mexico.The white-winged scoter, a large black duck found in coastal waters. The scoter is a highly unusual sighting in Southwest Colorado.The count also yielded record numbers of birds within a species, also indicative of the warm, dry weather, Bregar said.
That list includes:
693 common goldeneye, medium-sized ducks found in most of North America.15 Barrow’s goldeneye, a black and white diving duck found in the western mountains of North America.208 common mergansers, a fish-eating duck found in rivers.12 pied-billed grebe, small brown birds that live on water.2 spotted sandpipers, shorebirds that travel inland in the summer to breed.191 bushtits, small songbirds found year-round in Southwest Colorado.11 brown creeper, tiny woodland birds that probe into the bark of trees for insects.3 canyon wrens, small songbirds with a distinct song found in mountain/canyon lands.221 western bluebirds, found throughout the American West.148 Townsend solitaires, songbirds found in western-mountain forests.There were also several notable species missing from the count, including the Clark’s nutcracker, which wasn’t seen last year, as well as the accipiter, sharp-shinned hawk, Wilson’s snipe, shrike, western meadowlark and pine siskin.