Payson Birders Club Reduces Meetings

Annual Christmas bird count is still on

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The Payson Birders found it hard to move on.

Eight of them sat talking in the Payson Library at what might have been the last meeting Wednesday if not for the reluctance to fully dissolve.

President Grace Knowles has led the club for five years and wanted to relinquish her post.

“I’m just kind of burned out I guess,” Knowles said. “I’d just like for somebody else to be in charge for a while.”

Members discussed their options. We’ll have two meetings a year, they agreed. And a field trip. And the Christmas bird count. And then we’ll do field trips for the “core group.”

“I would just hate to see it go away,” said Catherine Moyer.

The club started in 1999 when Carol Lease decided she wanted to meet other birders. She eventually moved away, and Knowles took over.

“I started out thinking, ‘I’ve never done anything like this,’ but you never know unless you try,” Knowles said.

Traditionally, the club has featured speakers at meetings, including renowned experts like Sheri Williamson, a hummingbird expert who co-founded the Southeastern Arizona Bird Observatory.

Knowles said the small club has been lucky to attract such knowledgeable speakers, despite its inability to offer big compensation.

The club has also brought various conservation groups to Payson to teach people about the importance of birds to the ecosystem — they help pollinate flowers — and how it hurts birds to litter because they can eat plastic or other objects lying on the ground.

At Christmastime, the birders participate in an international bird count that the National Audubon Society has conducted for over a century.

This past December, 18 participants spent nearly 45 hours in Payson counting 87 species and 3,900 birds — mostly Canadian geese. However, 55 pygmy nuthatches, two brown creepers and one cactus wren also flew within the counters’ gaze.

“You’d never be able to count them exactly,” Knowles said. However, the information collected helps the Audubon track the health of bird populations.

Payson’s inclusion helps establish the area’s reputation for good birding, Knowles said. The town of Payson even includes an article Knowles wrote about prime bird-watching spots on its tourism Web site.

The Payson Birders, which still semi-exists, will continue to conduct the Christmas count. Before, members met monthly from September to June. Now, the birders will meet bi-annually — in March and May. They’ll still conduct a local field trip to a place like Green Valley Park which the experts say offers prime bird watching.

And they’ll call each other when the mood strikes and take an impromptu trip to Tonto Natural Bridge or the fish hatchery to enjoy the camaraderie of identifying birds.

“To pick out a bird, spot it and identify it, it’s challenging,” said Ann Henley. “Anybody can spot an elephant,” she added, referring to a trip to Africa she took. Lois McClusky noted that many people travel to exotic locales just to see a new bird.

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