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BEACON Senior News - Western Colorado

Counting for conservation: Audubon volunteers gear up for Christmas Bird Count

Nov 27, 2023 11:34AM ● By Carla Johnson

Among Western Colorado’s ample outdoor opportunities, birding packs a purpose beyond just enjoying the fresh air—especially during this time of year.

On December 17 and January 1, the Grand Valley Audubon Society (GVA) invites bird enthusiasts, citizen scientists and nature lovers of all experience levels to participate in the 124th annual Christmas Bird Count. 

“Patience and the ability to listen and count is all it takes to be a good birder,” said former GVA president Mike Henwood, 81. 

The December 17 count spans an area from West Clifton to East Fruita, while the January 1 count takes place on Grand Mesa. The purpose of the count is to document local bird sightings, including species and population numbers. This valuable data contributes to one of the world’s longest-running wildlife datasets at Cornell University Lab of Ornithology, which also provides content for the eBird mobile app, a free resource for birders. 

The information also feeds the real-time migration animation on Cornell’s website, for which Henwood serves as a reviewer. 

Kathleen McGinley, a long-time Audubon member, noted that in a good year, approximately 100 bird species are recorded during the day-long Christmas count, with an annual tally ranging from 240 to 260 species. Volunteers for the Christmas Bird Count generally work from 8 a.m. until dark. 

“Birders are a nice bunch of people who like a challenge,” said McGinley, 72. “It’s fun to get outside and maybe find one more species than you did last year.”


Birders, spanning all age groups, share a common love for nature and a penchant for scientific exploration. 

Engaging in many outdoor hobbies often demands specialized clothing and equipment, but birding can be enjoyed with just a good pair of walking shoes and a pair of binoculars. Serious birders may invest in a spotting scope mounted on a tripod and a 35mm camera equipped with a 200mm zoom lens. 

“When I first started, I spent hours listening to recordings of bird calls,” said Henwood. 

Nowadays, he identifies bird calls with the free Merlin Bird ID app on his cell phone, along with a portable speaker clipped to his belt. 

Despite the abundance of today’s tech resources, some birds remain elusive. 

Owl spotters, for example, must begin their search well before dawn when these birds are most active.

Leading a team of volunteers, Nic Korte, GVA’s conservation chairman and the local contact for the Owl Monitoring Project, utilizes cameras mounted on poles strategically positioned near some of the 225 nest boxes scattered across the Grand Valley. 

Owl census-taking is primarily conducted from March through May. Korte highlighted that the local Audubon chapter boasts the highest count of Western Screech Owls in the nation. In 2022, his group identified 101 such birds. 

“Owls are more difficult to count,” said Korte, 74. “They nest in cavities of cottonwood trees, which have been steadily decreasing as housing in the area increases.”

Nationally, the Audubon Society is devoted to the protection of birds and preserving their habitats. 

The inevitable loss of bird habitat due to urban expansion is prompting adjustments in birds’ migration patterns. Local birders are also grappling with increased disturbances from passing vehicles. 


Local organizers have diligently prepared for this year’s Christmas Bird Count since October, identifying specific areas to be covered by volunteers, which involves scouting terrain, mapping paths around houses and ponds, and securing permission from landowners for private land access. 

For more information about the GVA or to participate in the Christmas Bird Count, visit the Grand Valley Audubon Society website or contact Korte at [email protected]


Seniors keen on expanding their knowledge of birding can learn from McGinley and Henwood, both volunteer instructors with New Dimensions.

To sign up for a future birding class, call 970-452-6129 or visit

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