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 sixth annual count on Dec. 19.
It was 24 degrees 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 48 hours of time and covered 122 miles of territory on foot and by car. They saw 86 species, one fewer than the record seen last year, and observed more than 3,900 birds, also about the same as last year.
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. 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. During the six years, a total of 122 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 high numbers of Steller’s jays, robins, western bluebirds, scrub jays, house finches, and pine siskins, but few sparrows. Roadrunners also were more common.
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, and mergansers.
Raptors were observed, including two bald eagles, sharp-shinned hawks, a Cooper’s hawk, red-tailed hawks, and American kestrels. 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.
Participants in the count were: Barbara Brenke, Diane Brown, Tom Conlin, Jeff Estis, Diana Garrity, Dave Hallock, Rick Heffernon, Eric Hough, Elaine Hough, Brian Ison, Grace Knowles, Beverly Malmberg, Peggy Newman, Sue Schuett, Joanne Travis and Linda Wyatt.
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.
One recently documented trend is for some bird species to not migrate as far south during the winter, possibly due to climate change. Full results of the Payson count can be viewed on the Audubon Web site (http://www.