What beats a day birding? A “good” day birding! This is a quick summary of the 2012 Colorado Springs Christmas Bird Count with 162 field counters and 16 feeder watchers in attendance that tallied 99 species and 21,711 individual birds. Additionally, with five count week birds we had a total of 104 species for an above average year. Over the last 20 years, 173 species have been reported with an average of 92 species and16,600 birds.
Some would question anything good about the cool early morning temperatures of 25oF and the overcast skies except for those who remember colder days, though fortunately there was no wind. Extra layers of clothes and hand warmers hit the spot for many birders, never the less a few participants made early exits due to cold toes and fingers, but by 2:00 p.m. the sun broke through the clouds and we experienced a balmy 44 degrees.
Fifty smaller parties, ranging in size from one to as large as 30 scoured the 177 square miles of land that comprises this CBC. The 15-mile diameter count circle ranges roughly from Mount Rosa & Cameron’s Cone on the west to Marksheffel Road on the east and with Rockrimmon on the north and Fort Carson/I-25 exit 132 on the South. The center point for the circle is at Cedar Springs Hospital, 38.801769 N, 104.817017 W. Even with this many parties, there were still areas in the count circle that received minimal coverage.
Of the 21,711 birds, the Canada Goose made up a quarter of the total with half of these seen around the Memorial Park area. Eleven species made up 76% of the total population including the Canada Goose, American Wigeon, Mallard, Rock Pigeon, Black-billed Magpie, American Crow, European Starling, Dark-eyed Junco, Red-winged Blackbird, House Finch, and House Sparrow.
Fourteen species were seen in almost all of the count circle areas including the Red-tailed Hawk, Rock Pigeon, Eurasian Collared-Dove, Downy Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, Black-billed Magpie, American Crow, Black-capped Chickadee, Mountain Chickadee, White-breasted Nuthatch, American Robin, Dark-eyed Junco, House Finch, and House Sparrow.
Of the 104 species seen, 31 species were observed in only one area. Ten additional species were seen in only two areas, indicating to me how important it is to have birders covering all areas of the circle. Of these areas, Big Johnson Reservoir/Fountain Valley School (Area 6a) with Jim Mariner as leader took top honors with 13 of these rare or uncommon birds. Garden of the Gods & Glen Eyrie (Area 13) came in second with 6 rarities. Areas 3, 4, and 12 were right behind with 5, 5, and 4 rarities respectively. Area 4 includes Memorial Park & Evergreen Cemetery; Area 3 sits between I-25, Highway 115, and Fort Carson; Area 12 includes Manitou Springs/Section 16, and Red Rocks Park. In all, 12 of the 15 primary areas each had uncommon birds seen nowhere else in the count circle.
Acorn Woodpecker and Palm Warbler were the best birds confirmed for the count. Both were first count records. One female Acorn Woodpecker was spotted and photographed by Marty Wolf’s group as they sat warming up with a hot cup of coffee at Sacred Grounds café near the intersection of Cheyenne Boulevard and Willow Street. The Palm Warbler, found by Saraiya Ruano earlier in the week near Palmer Hall at Colorado College, was observed on count day by Lee Fareese, a CS CBC first-timer.
Other confirmed out-of-season or unusual species included a Ross’s Goose seen count week by Mark Peterson, Horned, Eared, and Western Grebes seen either on count day or count week at Big Johnson by Jim Mariner’s group and/or by Bill Maynard, the Northern Goshawk observed by Rise” Foster-Bruder’s group in the Palmer Park vicinity, a Merlin seen by Ben Sorenson’s group in the Holland Park area and by Jeannie Mitchell’s group near Peterson Field, 20 White-winged Doves seen by Nina Olgilvie and Christie Pals at their respective feeders on opposite sides of the count circle, Eastern Bluebird seen by the Fort Carson team with Rich Clawges as leader, Northern Mockingbird seen by Virginia Carlson’s team just south of the Garden of the Gods, American Pipit seen count week along south Fountain Creek by Bill Maynard, Harris’s Sparrow seen by Chris Alvarez’s group in Red Rocks Park, 45 Great-tailed Grackles photographed by Chris Schoefelder’s group in the Southgate vicinity, 50 Rosy-Finch species and two Red Crossbills seen by Steve Brown in Manitou Section 16. Two or possibly three species went unrecorded for the count due to incomplete rare bird documentation and no photos.
Following are a few observations when looking at 2012 and count summaries for the last two decades: 1) 2012 had the second highest number ever of Canada Geese, 2) this is the first year of seeing 4 grebe species, 3) Merlin has been seen in 5 of the last 6 years, 4) a record number 1623 Rock Pigeons, 5) the ever increasing number of Eurasian Collared-Doves, 6) that only one person ventured to go “owling” during the dark hours – way to go Steve Brown!, 7) we should not assume that all ravens are Common, 8) it was a good Corvid year, but we have had higher numbers in prior years, 9) high numbers of Pygmy Nuthatches seen consistently over the last six years, 10) American Dippers were in the area during December, yet we dipped on finding a dipper this year, 11) American Robins took a huge dive from the 1360 last year to the 193 this year, but one year does not make a trend, 12) Cassin’s Finch numbers are extremely low and hard to find, and 13) House Finch numbers are very high.
I thank all the participants for their watchful eyes and listening ears. Some did a CBC for the very first time while others have worked this CBC for years in succession. I give a big thank you to all the area leaders for coordinating their respective area parties; they are listed in bold on the participant list. Aiken Audubon thanks Bear Creek Nature Center for hosting the post Count Potluck Dinner and Tally Rally. Lastly, a big thank you goes to Ben Sorensen for mentoring me and being the CS CBC compiler for the previous 23 years.
Next year’s count will be held on either December 14 or 21. Please reserve the dates.
Good birding to you all in 2013.