Christmas Bird Count – Rio Grande Nature Center

The Nature Center Christmas Bird Count volunteers huddled in the observation room and watched a large flock of Wood Ducks huddling together as the rain pelted down. It started sprinkling as I backed out of my driveway and by time I had driven a few blocks, the rain was coming down in sheets. Even though I had brought my rain pants and jacket, the thought of sloshing through the rain all day didn’t sound like fun. Then I remembered the following message on the national Audubon’s web page: “Each of the citizen scientists who brave snow, wind, or rain, to take part in the Christmas Bird Count make an enormous contribution to conservation.”

“Look,” someone signaled, “it’s starting to snow.” Sure enough, the pouring rain had turned to snow. It would be easier to brave the snow than the rain. Site Coordinator, Mary Lou, quickly assembled and dispatched her teams.

One group headed north on the trail, surveying the edges of the irrigation ditch. Another group headed south, and yet another walked the trails to the river. Gary and Sally stayed in the observation room to count the birds in that pond;

I joined Sei, Gale and Mary Lou to survey the ponds and the fields. Our first stop was at the parking lot blind and we began tallying Northern Shovelers, Pied-billed Grebes, Coots, Gadwalls, Green-winged Teal and Mallards – each confirming our tally with the others.

The snow started diminishing and by time we had counted the pond, it had stopped.

“There are three Sandhill Cranes in the field,” Sei reported.

White-crowned Sparrow

White-crowned Sparrow

As we headed behind the Visitor’s Center to access the back of the ponds, White-crowned Sparrows huddled in the bushes, occasionally flying out to another bush. Six Great-tailed Grackles flew past. The flash of red signaled a Northern Flicker as it sailed between two trees.

Our boots quickly became caked with mud as we surveyed the north cell of the pond. More shovelers, grebes, coots, gadwalls and mallards.

“I hear a Song Sparrow,” Gale alerted us. “That is a call I have learned recently.” Sure enough, a Song Sparrow was foraging under some bushes along the pond. There were others as we rounded the pond. In the same area I spotted a Ruby-crowned Kinglet.

“I have some different sparrows,” I called to the others. “They are buffy.” They kept moving about under the bushes, making an ID difficult. Finally one came into view.

“A Savannah,” Mary Lou exclaimed. By time we were done, we had counted eleven of then.

Bufflehead

Bufflehead

“There’s a Bufflehead,” I called to the others. “Oh, and there is a male Hooded Merganser.”

“And, I see the female hoodie,” Sei relayed.

We started counting the multitude of geese and cranes in the fields. As the morning went on, more and more of them flew in to graze. Several Western Meadowlarks worked the edges of the fields.

As we worked our way back, a flock of Dark-eyed Juncos were active along a fence. We studied them for sub-species – important for the count. They were mostly Oregon and Gray-headed.

“I think I saw a Slate-colored,” Gale announced. It kept ducking into some weeds, but finally came into view enough that the rest of us could see it.

Circling back by the banding station, we added Robins, a Hermit Thrush, and Mountain Chickadees.

After hot soup at Flying Star, we came back to the Nature Center to scope out the feeders, gardens and the Discovery Pond.

White-breasted Nuthatch

White-breasted Nuthatch

At the front feeder we added female Red-winged Blackbirds and Spotted Towhee. At the Herb Garden feeder, we added White-breasted Nuthatch and House Finches, and Gale and Mary Lou finally spotted a Downy Woodpecker. We checked for the Western Screech Owl, but it was not peeking out of its hole.

Other notable additions by the other teams included: Common Merganser, Cedar Waxwings, Bald Eagle, Wilson’s Snipe, and Greater Roadrunner.

The total species for the Nature Center was 48.

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