Rim Country Takes Part In 111th Annual Christmas Bird Count

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The count is in — the Payson Christmas bird count, that is. Since 1900 the National Audubon Society has conducted bird counts throughout North America. Local birding enthusiasts conducted their seventh annual count on Dec. 18. It was overcast with light rain in the morning when the 14 participants headed out to spend the day identifying and counting all the birds they saw or heard in and around Payson. They saw 77 species, down from previous years, and observed almost 3,300 birds.

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. Full results of the Payson count can be viewed on the Audubon Web site (http://www. audubon.org/bird/cbc/).

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 seven years the local group has been counting, 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 American widgeons, Brewer’s blackbirds, dark-eyed juncos, Canada geese and pine siskins, but few robins and bluebirds, which were abundant last year.

The ponds in and around Payson produced good numbers of wintering waterfowl. Canada geese, mallards, coots and wigeons were the most abundant with smaller numbers of grebes, shovelers, canvasbacks, mergansers, and a single snow goose.

Raptors were observed, including bald eagle, golden eagle, sharp-shinned hawk, Cooper’s hawk, several red-tailed hawks, and American kestrel.

Birders have noticed some interesting shifts in the winter distribution of birds over the last several decades. The National Audubon Society recently produced a report entitled Birds and Climate Change.

It uses the last 40 years of Christmas bird count data to see if the winter locations of birds was changing.

They discovered that 177 species showed a significant shift north and this northward shift was correlated with an increase in mean January temperatures in the contiguous 48 states of almost 5 degrees during that time.

Some of the species of local note making a northward shift included American robin (by 206 miles), pine siskin, pygmy nuthatch, Steller’s jay, northern mockingbird, house finch, red-breasted nuthatch, and ring-necked duck.

So, we may see more of some of the desert species creeping up and less of some of the species that come here for winter (American robin, western bluebird, ruby-crowned kinglet).

Participants in the count were: Kathe Anderson, Diane Brown, Tom Conlin, John Deel, Dave Hallock, Helen Hassemer, Rick Heffernon, Grace Knowles, Lois Lorenz, Beverly Malmberg, Nancy Malmberg, Sue Myers, Sue Schuett and Joanne Travis.

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