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Cortez Christmas Bird Count returns to open invitation

A juvenile red-tailed hawk takes flight from a tree on County Road 20 as an adult red-tailed hawk spreads its wings. The birds were spotted during a Cortez Christmas Bird Count. (Journal file)
Citizen science event counts different species in 15 locations in Montezuma County

Grab your binoculars and love of nature on your way to check out the Cortez Christmas Bird Count on Dec. 29.

Anyone interested in participating should meet at the Cortez Cultural Center at 7:15 a.m.

In the event of dangerous winter weather, the event will be rescheduled for Dec. 30 at the same time and place.

The local bird count returns to an open invite format after last year’s limited participation because of the pandemic, said organizer and longtime birder Ryan Votta. COVID precautions will be followed.

At the briefing, people will be organized into groups then carpool to eight established routes throughout the county to survey for bird species. Novice birders will be paired up with experienced birders.

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“Montezuma County is great birding country,” said Votta. “There is a lot of good habitat out there, and a lot of water sources that attract a variety of birds.”

Participants can arrange for half-day or full-day excursions. Bring warm clothing, water, and lunch. Maps are provided. Binoculars or spotting scopes are good tools for birding, but are not a requirement.

Lynn Dyer and Lew Matis scope out a hawk for the local bird count in a previous Christmas bird count. (Journal file)

The local bird bount records birds in a 15-mile radius of Cortez, including orchards, lakes, rivers, open space, neighborhoods, forests and farms. Sightings and identifications are recorded on provided charts.

People can also participate at home that day by recording bird species visiting outside feeders. The data will be added to the final count. Bird feeder counters must reside within the 15-mile count area and obtain a data form to document the birds they see at feeders. Contact Votta at rvotta83@gmail.com for information and to obtain the forms.

Last year, the Cortez count had 28 participants and recorded 82 species. Participants tallied a total of 9,141 birds on count day, which was the second-highest total for the count since its inception.

“We also added two new species, Rock Wren and Lincoln's Sparrow,” Votta said.

Winter bird counts happen across the nation. The results are submitted to the Audubon Society database and analyzed to improve conservation efforts for bird species and their habitat, and to analyze population trends. As of 2018, there were more 51 Christmas Bird Counts in Colorado. The Cortez count has been held for 18 years, and continuously since 2007.

A wood duck was sighted during a previous Cortez Christmas Bird Count.

Bird counts are a form of citizen science, in which amateur naturalists and experts help contribute to a nationwide database. The annual Audubon winter bird count, which started in 1900, is the nation’s longest-running community science bird project.

The Cortez count ranges between 5,000 and 10,000 individual birds each year. In its 18-year history, the Cortez count has recorded more than 107,000 birds representing 127 species.

Birding has become increasingly popular and even has a competitive aspect, Votta said.

A Lewis’ woodpecker gained a spot in a previous Cortez Christmas Bird Count. (Journal file)

Dedicated birders upload sightings to ebird.org, a citizen science website, and for some it turns into a friendly competition. Local birders search birding hot spots such as Denny Lake, Totten Lake and the west side of McPhee to record different species of birds, and add to their number of sightings on the website.

“With ebirds, you can see who the top birders are in an area,” Votta said.

He encouraged anyone interested to come check out the Cortez Christmas Bird Count, including children.

“What is great about birding is being outside and seeing the variety of species of birds that are out there. Birds can travel great distances, so you never know what you are going to see. The unexpected surprise makes it even more exciting and fun,” Votta said.

To participate in the Cortez bird count, contact Votta at rvotta83@gmail.com or show up at the Cortez Cultural Center at 7:15 a.m. Dec. 29 to join a group.

For more information on birding check out the Durango Bird Club and Four Corners Bird Club and Audubon Society.

jmimiaga@the-journal.com