Staying abreast of Glen Canyon's bird population

Rangers and volunteers have successful Christmas bird count.

Last Wednesday rangers from Glen Canyon National Recreation area, along with 19 volunteers, conducted their annual Christmas bird count. This was the twentieth year that the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area has participated in the annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count (CBC).

This year the rangers and volunteers counted 10,309 individual birds, from 74 different species, which, according to their records, is pretty consistent and typical of past years. However, there were a few anomalies this year as compared to previous years.

Two adult California condors were seen at Lee’s Ferry this year. Condors are often seen in the Navajo Bridge area in spring, but this was the first time they’ve been seen at Lee’s Ferry in January.

The bird counters also saw numerous loggerhead shrikes this year, which is also unusual.

One of the day’s highlights was seeing five bald eagles on Lake Powell.

Another anomaly, was the low number of ducks on the Colorado River this year. Park officials believe this is likely attributable to the very mild winter the west is experiencing this year, the result of which is that many northern lakes and wetlands haven’t yet experienced the amount of freezing they usually do, which haven’t forced the ducks to move south to warmer climes.

The Audubon Christmas Bird Count occurs annually in the weeks before or after Christmas. The full bird count takes place over the course of a week.  

This is the program’s 118th year. The annual bird count happens all across North America, including most of Canada, the United States, Mexico and the very northern tip of South America.

Each count takes place in an established 15-mile wide diameter circle, and is organized by a count compiler. Count volunteers follow specified routes through a designated 15-mile  diameter circle, counting every bird they see, or hear, all day. It's not just a species tally—all birds are counted all day, giving an indication of the total number of birds within the circle that day.

While it’s not possible to survey every square mile in North and Central America, the Christmas Brid Count revisits the same 15-mile diameter circles each and every year. Comparing the bird varieties and numbers they find in each circle year after year gives scientists a pretty good picture about bird populations and whether they’re increasing, decreasing or shifting to different territories.

For the Glen Canyon Christmas Bird Count the center of the 15 mile diameter lies just below the Glen Canyon Dam.  Three teams are needed to properly survey the area: one on land, one on Lake Powell and one on the Colorado River from the dam to Lee’s Ferry.

Jody Gebhardt has been volunteering for the Christmas Bird Count for eight to ten years.

“I started off doing the lake,” she said, “and got good at identifying and counting a lot of water birds.

But, that all changed one mild year.

“One year it was a warmer winter, and I thought I’d try dong the river section,” Gebhardt continued. “There I’m better at collating sightings and I fell in love with the river challenges.

“The Christmas Bird Count is a great opportunity to see a lot of different birds in one day, and it does get you outside.

“But the importance of it is noting how species changes in number from year to year and what those implications might be.”

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