Monday, December 20, 2010

Count Day!

"Hurry up and count me, so I can get back to suet!"

As my past entries on the subject indicate, the Christmas Bird Count has been a special event for me. From a first time exposure to the great people that one can meet while birding, to unexpected encounters with new species, and revelations about new ways to expand identification skills the CBC has always been a highlight of my birding year. This year presented a new challenge, to organize and lead a territory count. While I had my hesitations, I was flattered to be asked to do so by the count organizer. My concern was that I would be taking an opportunity from a more experienced birder, but the need remained and I was happy to give it a shot.

Two of three Coyotes, calculating their chances of success with a group of Mule Deer just after sunrise.

I began by mapping out what I thought the best locations in the territory would be, and then driving around to see what did and did not meet expectations. As I guessed, some of the peripheral areas were our most productive. My guess that some of the creek corridors running through the neighborhoods would also be good turned out to be completely wrong. A large area of trails on University of Colorado pasture/prairie restoration land also ended up being a major bust. That area did generate a Northern Harrier and juvenile Bald Eagle, but failed to produce species our team hoped to find, like Western Meadowlark or Ring-necked Pheasant; all at the cost of over an hour and several miles of extra walking. I believe birders would still be well advised to look to that area on future counts, but may look for ways to check it and similar areas more quickly. Leaving a vehicle at both ends of that trail is a refinement I would consider for future years. Multiple vehicles would have allowed for an end to end search, but without the team having to make a full loop in an area that we quickly determined was under productive.

American Kestrel - hover-hunting in the breeze.

In a bit of a surprise for me, our best habitat turned out to be the last houses on the edge of the open space just before the foothills. I knew they were going to be good, but our species counts from trails running just beyond the developments and the streets on the opposite side of those homes, gave us the greatest species diversity. That transition zone netted us three species of jay, two woodpeckers, both chickadees, White-breasted Nuthatch, Brown Creepers and Townsend's Solitaires, along with two different raptors and many other more common species. During the count compilation, those teams reporting Western Scrub-Jays all found that the species turned up at the perimeter of developments, just as they approached the lower edges of ponderosa pine forest. Not Earth shattering, but a cool confirmation and as I look back at my previous sightings, (Red Rocks Park and Roxborough State Park), one that holds true throughout the Denver area.

Western Scrub-Jay - a species we found in a very specific habitat belt.

Once again my expectations were completely blown out of the water by the people who volunteer for the Christmas Bird Counts. I had three great volunteers, each an accomplished birder and all three were people who had a good time just getting to know the others while being out seeing some cool birds. Each of us spotted species that made for 'good' adds to our day list, and I think as a group we all made one another stronger with our varied backgrounds and skills.

Townsend's Solitaire - a welcome sight on each of my Boulder CBCs to date.

We had a section that was as advertised, it produced a good list of fairly common birds. There were some birds that we were surprised we did not run across during the day. White-crowned Sparrows, Mourning Doves, and Belted Kingfishers were all misses for our count, and despite our best efforts we could not produce a roosting owl. It is amazing to me that even when spending an entire day dedicated to watching for birds, some of the more common species won't turn up.

Brown Creeper - an elusive bird that gave us good looks, and was a lifer for at least one member of our team.

When I look back on this count I hope the lesson I will remember is that identification skill isn't a prerequisite to bringing others together for good birding. Having been taught and lead by so many great birders in the past couple of years I guess I just hadn't seen what happens when a bunch of willing folks get together and bird. It turns out that if you pick a meeting place and have a general idea of where you want to go the rest will take care of itself. In our case one participant even lived in our count area, and invited the three strangers to her home at six in the morning for breakfast - how often does that happen these days?

I hope that all the members of the Bear Creek team had as good a day as I did. Thank you very much to each of them, Bill Schmoker the count compiler, Bill Kaempfer who hosted the compilation potluck that evening, and to all the other birders who participated. To all of them and for anyone reading this...

...may your Holidays be filled with family and friends, food and fun, fur and feathers, and if your location favors it at least a bit of frost!

Bear Creek Territory 2010 Total: 30
Boulder CBC 2010 Total: 114, (A count day record by 5 species) plus 1 'free-flying presumed escapee' and 2 additional count week birds so far.


  1. Awesome! And you managed to take great photos to boot!!

  2. Quite a day, Dave! Happy Holidays to you!