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December Bird Counts
by Damian Fagan

Damian Fagan's blog

Over 115 years ago, a group of birders decided to enjoy the holidays a little differently. Instead of spending a day out shooting birds, these birders bagged their quarry by just counting them. Little did these birders realize, scattered across the county, that their day’s outing would fledge the widely successful CBC, better known as the Christmas Bird Count.

This year represents the 116th annual Christmas Bird Count. Held on one day during a two-week period between December 14 and January 5, this is the longest running citizen-science survey in the world. With over 2,300 locations or count circles across the U.S. and different nations, there will be thousands of birders searching for songbirds and raptors, waterfowl and owls during this period.

Most CBCs have some history, having been run for years, but some are relatively new. An established count area is a 15-mile radius circle drawn around a point and one that includes diverse habitats and good birding areas. Within this circle, an organizer assigns teams to cover specific spots and provide in-depth coverage of that area. The teams decide when and where to meet on Count Day, and, from experience, I’d suggest wear warm clothes and bring a thermos.

The Moab count circle includes most of Moab and Spanish Valley, as well as stretches of Sand Flats, Castle Valley and portions of the Colorado River. The Matheson Preserve can be a real hot spot, but unusual species can turn up anywhere.

“Last year, both a blue jay and brown thrasher turned up,” said Marcy Hafner, the Moab count compiler. “These eastern birds wandered westward far from their normal range and both made regular visits to a yard in Moab.” Though the rarities make exciting finds, it is the core of regular species that researchers analyze in terms of population fluctuations and regional changes. Local population changes may be linked to habitat fragmentation or even global climate change, while the unusual species might be more of a migrant blown off course.

As groups fan out into assigned areas, the birders record the species and number of individuals they observe. Neighborhood feeders are good to check, and a little pre-count scouting can help locate activity. The observers try not to double count birds, and large flocks are noted because another group may record them, as well.

For the Moab count, the average number of species observed is around 70. Of course, the oddities make up the list, but so do the regulars. Some species might be represented by a lone individual, while mallards, flickers and robins may number in the hundreds.

The Moab count isn’t the only one if the area. Dead Horse Point State Park also has a CBC. Although the count may be lacking in species, the views compensate for the quiet moments. “The routes within the park afford participants with incredible vistas, ample time to visit with fellow birders,” said Crystal White, assistant park manager.

The best part of joining a Christmas Bird Count is that you don’t need to be an expert to join. Anyone and everyone is invited. Contact Marcy Hafter at 435-259-6197 or if you’re interested in the December 19 count. A potluck breakfast is held at the Nature Conservancy office, 900 W. Kane Creek Blvd, on December 20, starting at 10 am to rundown the list of birds observed. To participate on the January 2 Dead Horse Point State Park count, contact Crystal White at 435-259-2614 or
Good birding!

Damian Fagan is an accomplished writer who has published a number of guide books as well as numerous articles. If you would like to read more or find out what Damian is up to follow this link to Damian Fagan's blog.

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