Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Christmas Bird Count - Quality over Quantity

A Christmas Bird Count is a great way to start the New Year. I've been doing at least one Christmas Bird Count for the last thirty years or so and they are some of my best Christmas memories. In Fort Worth, I did the same territory each year on the Nature Center I managed for 14 years. Although I could have practically stayed in bed and called in the results (after so long 90% of the count was predictable) it was that other 10% that got me out of bed before dawn and out each year.

The Elfrida count was held New Years Day and while the rest of the country nursed hangovers and watched football games, we had a beautiful 60 degree day with bright blue skies to watch birds. To maximize the diversity within mostly agricultural area count area, our 15 mile diameter circle includes the foothills of the Swisshelm Mountains in an area known as “The Granites”. Sheri and I decided to cover “The Granites” since it required a high clearance vehicle to access the area. We had never birded the area before and didn’t really know what to expect, but we had a great time. We did find some mountain birds (Rock Wren, Canyon Wren, Black-chinned Sparrow) to fill out the count list, but the list total is soon forgotten except by the numbers-crunchers that will analyze population trends. What I will remember of this count are the spectacular views, a small troop of coatis playing hide and seek in the rocks and the caterwauling of a bobcat in heat echoing off the canyon walls. The rock slabs are pockmarked with "bedrock mortars", deep depressions left by grinding stones used by Apaches and others to grind acorns for flour. It's easy to imagine a group of Apaches sitting on these rocks and talking as they worked to process the acorn harvest.

In the flats we found a family of Harris’ Hawks in hot pursuit of a jackrabbit. The five hawks had the frantic hare surrounded at one point but he managed to elude them eventually, showing that not all the broken field running on Sunday was on the football field. Harris Hawks are the only raptor that hunts cooperatively like a pack of wolves and are always a treat to find. We’ve been watching this clan for years and feel like they are old friends. A fine way to spend the holiday.

1 comment:

birdchaser said...

Like the idea of being able to phone in 90% of a survey without having to get out of bed. I've thought a lot about that in the past, and think you are right on. For a long time I've been motivated by that 10%...but now am trying to get as excited about spending time with the "old standards" as well. Maybe I'm getting old...