Rufous hummingbirds, yellow-rumped warblers and Western wood-pewees are just a small sampling of the 84 species the Durango Bird Club has spotted in the Oxbow Preserve this year.
In addition to the club’s bimonthly observations, Colorado Parks & Wildlife started studying the nesting birds in Oxbow for the first time this year, said Brian Magee, a Parks and Wildlife biologist.
Biologists knew it was a special place because riparian habitats are the most diverse habitats in Colorado, but now they are determining just how special.
“There’s no other places along the Animas River that are public lands that are that high-quality riparian habitat,” Magee said.
As part of the study, the portion of Oxbow Park designated as a preserve will be closed from Dec. 1 through June 30 to allow for more research.
Durango partnered with Parks & Wildlife to do a scientific study of nesting birds in the Oxbow preserve this year, and the researchers suggested another seasonal closure, said Parks and Recreation Director Cathy Metz.
The Natural Lands and Parks and Recreation Advisory Boards approved the closure this week. The boards have supported opening the preserve to the public year-round starting in 2016. Subsequent studies will show human impacts on the nesting birds.
“There’s a lot of folks who say recreation doesn’t have any impact on wildlife. We know that’s not true,” Magee said.
This year, researchers and volunteers netted about 300 birds representing 43 species, according the official report. The Durango Bird Club has doubled the species count through observation.
The researchers set up specialized nets in thickets and cottonwoods on 10 different days over a three-month period to catch and band the birds.
The bands are tagged with an individual number that is part of a national data base. This allows researchers to look up the bird if they are captured again.
Over time, this kind of work, called a Monitoring Avian Productivity and Survivorship study, can show how well a habitat is supporting bird life.
During the study, three rare birds were captured including an endangered willow flycatcher, a brewer’s sparrow and an ovenbird.
However, these birds were not nesting in Oxbow, merely migrating through.
If you are tempted to hop the fence and explore the preserve while it’s closed, know that Parks and Wildlife will be tracking you, too. The agency is hoping to get good data on how many people are disrupting the preserve while it is meant to be closed, Magee said.
At the end of the study, Parks & Wildlife hopes to provide the city with quality data to help make decisions about the future management of the preserve, Magee said.
The park portion of Oxbow will remain open year-round.