The count is in -- the Payson Christmas Bird Count, that is. Since 1900 the National Audubon Society has conducted bird counts throughout North America.
The Payson Birders conducted their fourth annual count on Dec.15. It was 25° in the morning when the 16 participants headed out to spend the day identifying and counting all the birds they saw or heard in and around Payson. They devoted 38 hours of time and covered 113 miles of territory on foot and by car.
They saw 86 species, up from 82 species last year, and counted over 2,700 birds, well below last year's numbers.
The overall decline in numbers is illustrated with robins: last year more than 500 were seen, while this year produced just 5.
The same was true for bluebirds. Why? That will be one of the questions they try to answer as the count continues over the years.
The lack of a good food supply may have contributed to the decline. One-seed junipers, a favorite source of winter food for robins and bluebirds, have few berries around Payson. But they have a good berry supply at lower elevations at the edge of the Mazatzals, which is where large flocks can be found this winter.
The ponds in and around Payson produced good numbers of wintering waterfowl.
Canada geese, mallards, coots and wigeons are the most abundant, with smaller numbers of grebes, shovelers, canvasbacks, buffleheads, and mergansers.
Raptors were observed, including bald eagle, northern harrier, sharp-shinned hawk, red-tailed hawk, and American kestrel. And let's not leave out the highly vocal great-tailed grackles that hang out at the Wal-Mart parking lot.
Local residents who participated in the count were: Diane Brown, Tom Conlin, Diana Garrity, Dave Hallock, Helen Hassemer, Rick Heffernon, Grace Knowles, Beverly Malmberg, Lois McCluskey, Peggy Newman, Sue Schuett and Joanne Travis.
The count is a census of the birds found during a 24-hour period in a designated circle 15 miles in diameter.
The Payson count circle is centered a little northwest of town. It runs north to the Control Road and Whispering Pines, east just past Diamond Point Shadows, south to just below Oxbow Hill, and west to Tonto Natural Bridge.
The national project included over 2,000 counts held between Dec. 14 and Jan. 5.
Records from these counts comprise an extensive ornithological database that enables scientists to monitor winter bird populations and evaluate biological trends.
Full results of the Payson count can be viewed on the Audubon Web site, http://www.