The Las Cruces Christmas Bird Count (CBC) conducted by the Mesilla Valley Audubon Society (MVAS) Saturday, December 17, is one to remember. Not so much for the birds observed and counted, but because of the horrible weather conditions. The morning saw sustained winds of 40 mph with gusts in excess of 60 mph. These winds caused billowing clouds of sand and dirt which resulted in a near “brownout “ for five to 10 minutes, and then light rain off and on. The rest of the day saw sustained winds of 20 to 30 mph.
Local CBC Coordinator Wayne Treers says, “We’re still trying to remove the sand and grit from our eyes and mouth! As you can probably guess, it was harder to find and count birds, because they hunkered down in the bushes and trees.”
However, 13 teams of birders managed to count a total of 19,959 birds. Last year, the total bird count was 33,770. Looking back at the 42-yearhistorical record for the local CBC circle, the last time there was a total bird count that low was 1994 when it was 17,244. This year’s total number of species identified by 48 volunteers was 101. Last year, 52 volunteers identified 120 species of birds.
Treers says, “We observed three unusual or rare birds during this year’s CBC: Swainson’s Hawk; Hairy Woodpecker; and Barn Swallow. The hawk and swallow have usually migrated south of our area by December. The Hairy Woodpecker is a bit unusual in our low-lying area. It has never been reported in our CBC for the last 42 years.”
The MVAS volunteers identified eight separate species during Count Week (that were not seen during the CBC), including a Cattle Egret, a Hairy Woodpecker, and an Eastern Phoebe. Of the count numbers of each species, they had 35 low counts (about 35 percent of the total species count). Of those low counts, one tied a record low and eight set new record lows. There were four high counts, including one that set a new record high, a falcon species.
Treers reports this year’s White-winged Dove count was 7,478 (last year it was 8,859). The American Crow count was 4,129 (last year it was 7,039). He says, “We can all attest to the fact that many of these birds were hiding out and consequently not counted. Our total sparrow count (excluding towhees and House Sparrows) was 917. Last year, it was 2,233. We have to go back to the late 1970s in our historical record to see sparrow counts that low for our Las Cruces CBC.”
He adds, “I want to thank all of you who participated in this year’s CBC. Even though the weather conditions were atrocious, the resultant data is still valuable and contributes to the citizen scientist effort that is the Christmas Bird Count.”
The Mesilla Valley Audubon Society has monthly meetings on a variety of topics. On February 15, Dr. Kathryn Stoner, Department Head of Fish, Wildlife and Conservation Ecology at NMSU, will discuss the amazing lives of bats. Learn about the importance of the nectarivorous bats and their role in pollination in our region. Meetings are held at the Southwest Environmental Center, 275 Downtown Mall. Meetings kick off with a social time from 6:30 to 7, with the presentation beginning at 7 p.m.
More information about the Mesilla Valley Audubon Society is online at new-mexico-birds.com.