Tresa Moulton examines a Townsend's solitaire in a far-away tree on Saturday morning near Fish Creek Falls.

Photo by Joel Reichenberger

Tresa Moulton examines a Townsend's solitaire in a far-away tree on Saturday morning near Fish Creek Falls.

Steamboat annual bird count logs about 40 species

15 participate in third annual Christmas Bird Count

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Third annual Steamboat Springs Christmas Bird Count

Total birds: 2,686

Number of species: 43

Evening grosbeaks: 317

Chickadees: 250

Magpies: 248

Robins: 25

Bohemian waxwings: 6

Dusky grouse: 1

— Tresa Moulton saw it before she even exited her car at the Fish Creek Falls trailhead early Saturday.

“There he is,” she said softly.

She stepped outside into the snowy morning and raised a pair of binoculars to her eyes to peek at the round, gray bird ruffling its feathers, perched high atop a tree.

The Townsend’s solitaire isn’t a scarce bird, but it’s one that Tresa Moulton and her husband, David, were looking forward to seeing Saturday during the annual Steamboat Springs Christmas Bird Count.

“Birds are fascinating in their activities and plumage,” David Moulton said. “And they can fly.”

They counted several magpies, Steller’s jays, a flock of rare evening grosbeaks and chickadees as they recorded and admired the various species of birds that inhabit the Yampa Valley.

The Moultons were two of a group of about 15 people who counted birds as a part of the National Audubon Society’s 111th annual Christmas Bird Count. Steamboat Springs officially has been a part of the count for three years.

Members of the Yampa Valley Birding Club and friends spent the morning tromping about in the fresh snow, each counting and recording species and numbers of birds in a 50-square-mile area.

This year, despite snowy conditions, the six groups counted more than 2,000 birds, a number consistent with the past few years.

“It’s just amazing we could come up with that,” count coordinator Tom Litteral said. “It’s a different assortment every year.”

It was just a few years ago that there was an eruption of winter robins, but only 25 were seen this year. Instead, there seemed to be an abundance of evening grosbeaks — or “e-beaks” as David and Tresa Moulton call them — in Northwest Colorado, and they continue to be a rare sight in the rest of Colorado. The groups counted 317 evening grosbeaks.

“It was really quite remarkable,” Litteral said. “Surprise, surprise. It’s fascinating that you can do this on an annual basis and still find exciting finds out there.”

He said one group noted a Northern Pygmy Owl that must have been passing through the area. Those are seen only every three to four years, Litteral said.

The Townsend’s solitaire is unusual in that it does most of its singing in winter months, and the Moultons also witnessed a juvenile sharp shinned hawk feeding on another bird.

But Tresa Moulton didn’t hesitate to admit that her favorite part of birding was the birders themselves.

Birders are a community of people who use birdcalls as their ringtones and think there’s no bad weather, only insufficient clothing.

They’re students of bird behavior and always eager to solve the mystery of identification. Bruce Dean, a birder who counted with the Moultons on Saturday, said he remembers the day he started birding 2 1/2 years ago.

“I saw a king fisher in Butcherknife,” he said. “I went home and went on the Internet because I wanted to know what it was. Then I found out there were people that watched birds.

“It’s a new puzzle every time you see one.”

Litteral agreed that the fascination lies in birds and birders alike.

“I love the camaraderie and the enthusiasm of those that are conservation-minded to get out and do something like this,” he said. “It gives us time to get together with other people and find those feathers.”

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