Steamboat Springs On Saturday morning, excited early risers pulled on their boots, hats and gloves and braved the snowy weather and slippery roads for a chance to revel in outdoor delights.
But there was a group of about 15 people who didn’t head to the base of Steamboat Ski Area on a 4-inch powder morning.
Instead, they headed west to the Steamboat Springs Community Center, where they awaited their directions for the annual Steamboat Christmas Bird Count, a National Audubon Society tradition taking place in communities across North America.
And Steamboat Springs has a few claims to birding fame because of this count.
“We have the chance of seeing some really rare birds that come down from the Arctic Circle,” said Tom Litteral, a member of the Yampa Valley Birding Club and organizer of the fifth annual local bird count.
He’s talking about the Bohemian waxwing and the common redpoll, which birders found Saturday in numbers of about 20 each.
“We are really pleased we’re able to contribute something special this year,” he said.
Tresa Moulton, whose group found the birds, said they’re seen only occasionally in Steamboat.
“We’ve never seen more than one redpoll at a time,” said Moulton, an avid birder. “Now we’re seeing sizable flocks. That tells us something’s going on up north, maybe a shortage of food."
But regulars here are the evening grosbeak. Last year, the Steamboat count logged the highest number of those birds in the lower 48.
Litteral said most of the sightings likely would be on Mount Werner, where a group sponsored by Yampatika was skiing its way across the open terrain and counting birds to contribute to the event.
Downtown Steamboat home to many species
Birding is an activity that can be done by anyone at any age and any level of engagement.
In downtown Steamboat Springs, Jan and Vic Serafy, an elderly couple from Atlanta, have lined their deck with bird feeders and baths and spread seed along their railings in hopes of sighting some rare birds.
When a group of bird counters arrived at their door Saturday, the Serafys graciously welcomed them inside their home, where bird books and newspaper clippings about birds lined the table.
On the Serafys' front porch four years ago, a varied thrush had made several appearances, and researchers and birders from across the country showed up at their door to see the rare bird.
“Everybody came, and we were glad,” Jan Serafy said. Birds “just enjoy coming here; that’s the main thing, that I am providing a place where they can enjoy.”
On Saturday at the Serafys' home, the birders spied only a few Steller’s jays and some Eurasian collared doves, but one street over, counters came across 21 evening grosbeaks.
Elsewhere on Saturday morning, a group identified the calls of the sharp-tailed grouse and sighted downy and hairy woodpeckers.
The Christmas Bird Count has been going on nationwide for 113 years and in Steamboat for 5 years. From the community participation, the Audubon Society gains valuable insight into trends in population, migration and habitat.
“It’s an environmental activity,” Litteral said about participating in the bird count. There also is a May count. “It’s citizen science.”
According to the society’s website, information from the bird count has helped demonstrate the return of bald eagles and peregrine falcons, but also the decline of many other species, including the sage grouse. It’s also pointed out that the Eurasian collard dove, a non-native species, has invaded North America.
Science aside, the birders' excitement also stems from the social and even spiritual nature of birding.
“It’s a great way to commune with nature,” Litteral said.
To reach Nicole Inglis, call 970-871-4204 or email ninglis@ExploreSteamboat.com