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 fifth annual count on Dec. 20. It was 23 degrees in the morning when the 18 participants headed out to spend the day identifying and counting all the birds they saw or heard in and around Payson.
They devoted 45 hours of time and covered 130 miles of territory on foot and by car. They saw 87 species, which is a new record, and observed more than 3,900 birds, well above last year, but not matching the high count of two winters ago.
Each year’s findings are unique. In some respects it is similar to the game “musical chairs.”
There are several movements of birds occurring at this time. First is a movement of birds coming south for the winter that can be influenced by the severity of weather. This year we had a storm the week before the count, which may have brought in the bluebirds, as few had been present the weeks before the count.
Then there is a movement of more local species, such as Anna’s hummingbirds and cardinals, down into the lower and warmer basins below Payson. But there can also be an upward movement of these same species from the lower basins if there is a period of nice weather.
Count day is when the music stops and we end up with a slightly different mix of birds each year. Over the five years, a total of 115 species have been observed. There appears to be a group of about 60 species that may or may not be present in any given year. This year we had decent numbers of siskins, bluebirds and finches, but no chickadees or meadowlarks, and only a few thrushes.
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 golden 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 Walmart parking lot.
Some of the most widespread and numerous species are those that favor chaparral, our most abundant habitat. Bushtits, spotted towhees, Bewick’s wrens, Western scrub-jays, juniper titmice, and Western bluebirds are common residents of shrub-dominated habitats.
Local residents who participated in the count were: Barbara Brenke, Diane Brown, Tom Conlin, Jenny Dennis, Jeff Estes, Dave Hallock, Helen Hassemer, Rick Heffernon, Grace Knowles, Beverly Malmberg, Peggy Newman, Sandy Obrecht, 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 more than 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.audubon.org/bird/cbc/.