Taking off from a dead tree limb strong enough to hold two sitting golden eagles, the eagle on the right takes flight to check out the lake for a possible early morning meal.
Photo by Andy Towle.
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 eighth annual count on Dec. 30. There was beautiful, calm weather when the 17 participants headed out to spend the day identifying and counting all the birds they saw or heard in and around Payson. The good weather contributed to a record 99 species being observed as well as a record 4,376 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 eight years, 126 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 there were record high counts for many species, including western and mountain bluebirds, robins, bushtits, cedar waxwings and dark-eyed juncos.
Many of these birds were taking advantage of a good juniper berry crop. 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 two Ross’s geese.
Raptors were observed, including northern harrier, bald eagle, golden eagle, sharp-shinned hawk, Cooper’s hawk, several red-tailed hawks, merlin, and American kestrel.
Some of the rarer finds included pied-billed grebe, hooded merganser, Wilson’s snipe, Williamson’s sapsucker, olive warbler, Hutton’s vireo, house wren and northern mockingbird. A single winter wren was present in the flood debris piles along the East Verde River.
Participants in the count were Rich Bailowitz, Barbara Brenke, Diane Brown, Pam Conlin, Tom Conlin, Gregg Dunn, Dave Hallock, Helen Hassemer, Rick Heffernon, Grace Knowles, Beverly Malmberg, Sue Myers, Amy Nadara, Natalie Nadara, Peggy Newman, Sue Schuett and Joanne Travis.