A day-long slog December 17 through the snowy drainage areas of Rio Pueblo, Rio Grande, Pot Creek, and Rio Grande del Rancho yielded 62 different species of birds during the eleventh annual Orilla Verde Christmas Bird Count (CBC). Next month, that information will be folded into count data from more than 2,400 count circles from across the U.S., Canada, Latin America, the Caribbean, and Pacific Islands.
Bald Eagles were spotted, powerfully winging their way a mere fifty feet above the Rio Grande, scattering dabbling and diving ducks as they muscled overhead. One rare Arctic visitor—Barrow’s Goldeneye—and a group of unusual Hooded Mergansers lifted the spirits of cold birders. In Ranchitos, Red-tailed Hawks braved the weather, as did a handful of Eastern Bluebirds, who flitted on and off fences, apparently right at home though far off their geographical track.
Contributing to a CBC is one way ordinary people can make a difference to wildlife. And this year, participation was way up: twenty birders from Los Alamos, Rio Rancho, Santa Fe, and the Taos area compared to just twelve in 2013. Public lands staff also lent their expertise, including Mary Orr, Wildlife Biologist, USFS (Espanola and Coyote); Jennifer Gatlin, Wildlife Biologist, USFS (Penasco); Cat Luna, Social and Economics Specialist, USFS (Taos); and Valerie Williams, Wildlife Biologist, BLM (Taos).
The CBC is the world’s longest running citizen science project. Smithsonian Magazine reports that Audubon receives three to five requests each week from scientists wanting to use CBC data for their research. Audubon and U.S. Geological Survey scientists have developed statistical methods of analyzing CBC data. Such mega-analyses can allow scientists to spot declines in bird populations before they reach a critical level.
But participating in the CBC is also a fun and rewarding way to spend a day. Wildlife Biologist Gatlin captured the essence of a bird count: “One of the greatest aspects of a CBC is that an entire community of people interested in birds comes together to count birds on a single day. At the beginning of the day you may start as strangers, but end up sharing identification tips, stories, and experiences. You end the day as friends.”