The 110th Christmas Bird Count takes place this year across the country. This morning we joined Henry Detwiler (birding guide), other members of the Southwest Birders, and fellow volunteers to search for and count birds along the ponds and farm fields of Imperial National Wildlife Refuge.
Driving slowly along roads closed to the general public, we followed as Henry led, stopping periodically at key habitats to observe and record different species. Although we do not consider ourselves birders (and are likely more of a hindrance than a help), we tag along each year to glean as much as possible from Henry’s wealth of knowledge about birds.
“I’ve never heard of a kinglet, much less a ruby-crowned kinglet,” I said as Henry pointed out tiny birds flitting through the branches of a mesquite. Until then, I’d assumed all these little birds that sped by us were sparrows. But as one finally perched on a nearby branch, I could discern its olive feathers and red-crowned head.
Each year during the Christmas Bird Count, we come away with a greater appreciation for and recognition of the enormous numbers and varieties of birds that use this flyway for food, water, and shelter. And each year, we are awed by the birders who recognize them from a distance by color, habitat, flight patterns or vocalizations.
“Is that a bird nest?” I asked Henry as we surveyed the cottonwood stand. The nest, about the size of a softball, opened to the front.
“It’s a verdin’s nest,” Henry said. Not only is Henry an extraordinary birder, he’s an excellent teacher. He takes time to point out unique characteristics of species, and he seems to enjoy educating as much as observing. His passion for birds rivals our passion for snakes.
Several years ago, Henry’s passion collided with our passion when Henry traveled to Mexico to search for and photograph a motmot, a bird he wanted on his life list. After finally locating the motmot, Henry prepared to photograph it. As he snapped the picture, a snake emerged along the branch and seized the bird as its prey. Henry’s picture amused us as reptile people, but it may have troubled some birders.
After three hours observing and counting birds this morning, we once again increased our appreciation and knowledge of a vast subject. American widgeons, belted kingfisher, buffleheads, lesser yellowlegs, immature bald eagle, great blue herons, great egrets, ubiquitous coots, and many more crossed in front of our binoculars. We’ll never be “true” birders, but we’ll always be amazed at those who are.
MERRY CHRISTMAS TO ALL!