Audubon Society readies for Spring Bird Count

A black-crowned night heron enjoys a meal along the shores of the Green River at the Ouray National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge, 30 miles southwest of Vernal, is hosting an open house for International Migratory Bird Day.

Like the seasons, most birds come and go from our lives without much notice.

The birds we see all winter and those that hang out in the summer foliage of neighborhood trees and bushes may

become temporary acquaintances, but it’s those mysterious strangers, those passers-by that blast into our lives for a short while to brighten our days in spring and fall, that grab our attention for a brief, spectacular period.

“This trip really gives you an idea of how many birds you probably never otherwise notice,” said John Toolen last spring during a drive up John Brown Canyon near Gateway. “If you’re out every day, you might see a Western Tanager or a Grace’s warbler, but even then you have to be looking in the right spot.”

The occasion was the Grand Valley Audubon Society’s annual Spring Bird Count, and for Toolen and his carload of birders, that “right spot” was the Dolores River and the sculpted sandstone canyons cutting toward the south and Sewemup Mesa.

There were tanagers, bright-colored warblers almost too numerous to recall, Bullock’s orioles, black-throated gray warblers — the guest list goes on and on.

The river acts as a travel corridor for some migrating birds and as you venture out of the riparian area into the high country, the bird species, many newly arrived and soon to leave, change as quickly as the scenery.

“These pockets of ponderosa pines attract a variety of birds all their own,” explained Toolen as he parked near a stand of 65-foot tall ponderosa pines towering over the surrounding oak brush and pinyon-juniper forest. “You might see some interesting birds in here.”

That’s where the Grace’s warbler, which barely makes it into southwest Colorado on its migration, was seen as well as the black-throated gray warbler, two “life list” birds for some in the party.

The Spring Bird Count is held in concert with International Migratory Bird Day, an annual event throughout the Western Hemisphere under the guidance of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The day focuses on the nearly 350 species of migratory birds traveling between wintering grounds in Mexico, South and Central America and the Caribbean to nesting habitats in North America.

There’s more information at

This year’s Spring Bird Count is May 8 and 12 teams of birders will scour Mesa County recording every bird species seen.

Last year, our group of four tallied 59 species, including mountain bluebirds taking advantage of nesting boxes along Colorado Highway 141 in Unaweep Canyon.

Early May is chosen for the count because it’s near the peak of migration as neotropical songbirds make their way north for their intense breeding season.

This year’s bird count also is the annual fundraiser for the Grand Valley Audubon Society, and you can learn more about its programs at

The spring count can be particularly educational for the beginning and novice birder. Each team has at least one experienced birder and there is plenty of advice, along with guide books and spotting scopes, to share.

Each participant is asked to bring lunch, proper clothing (remember, it’s spring and the weather changes quickly), binoculars, water and sunscreen.

A $5 fee will be charged to help offset expenses and the work of the local Audubon Society chapter.

Information at or Paul Didier, 242-8643.


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