Beholding birds

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Local bird-watchers had a hard time deciding which bird-sighting was the most thrilling Saturday.

About 15 bird enthusiasts counted different feathered species for Yampatika's 10th annual Birdathon. Three groups tackled parts of Routt County and then gathered at Yampatika to talk excitedly about their findings.

Despite low temperatures and some rain and snow, the volunteers spotted more than 80 kinds of birds.

"There was an osprey standing on top of a pole eating a fish," said Lynn Wunder, who saw the osprey along River Road. "I thought that was pretty neat."

Wunder's group looked for birds in and around Steamboat Springs. Another compelling sight was a rookery, or colony, of great blue herons near Priest Creek, where the large birds took off and landed from among 20 nests.

"It was almost like an airport," Wunder said.

The Steamboat group also had good luck near Colorado Mountain College, where green-tailed towhees, cedar waxwings and warblers sang from the tops of scrub oak branches.

Bird-watchers' overall bird count was about average. The lowest Birdathon count in the event's 10-year history was 64. The highest number of species sighted was 107.

This year's count will be part of the Colorado Migratory Bird Count. The state will submit its bird count to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which uses the numbers to kept track of which birds frequent various parts of the nation.

Bird-watching in Routt County is particularly intriguing because the wide range of habitat, from wetlands to forest, hosts completely different birds.

"It's so interesting how diverse it is if you just pay attention," said Susan Dorsey Otis, who was part of the West Routt group.

One of her group's most fun sightings of the day was a great horned owl sitting in her nest with a chick. Bird-watchers saw the pair in a cottonwood tree just west of Steamboat.

The group also was excited about sandhill cranes, bald eagles and orioles spotted near Routt County Road 80.

"It was just spectacular," David Moulton said.

The South Routt group, which spent time near Lake Catamount and Stagecoach Reservoir, saw a lot of Swainson's hawks, including a couple of parent birds giving their "juveniles" rodent-hunting tips.

A pair of loons also put on a good show for the bird-watchers.

"I saw one dive," said Lisa Williamson, a seasoned birder. "I thought that was just the coolest."

A big group of pelicans, huddled together for warmth at the edge of Lake Catamount also was an impressive sight.

"They were as big as a white-water raft," Tresa Moulton said.

Bird-watching will continue to improve as the weather gets warmer. Some finches and songbirds are just making their way into the valley, Williamson said.

The Yampa Valley Birding Club conducts regular bird-watching outings throughout the summer. For more information, call Nancy Merrill at 276-1932 or e-mail nanmerrill@mac.com.

-- To reach Tamera Manzanares call 871-4204 or e-mail tmanzanares@steamboatpilot.com

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