Audubon Christmas Bird Count

Peg Abbot looking for birds. She can find them despite the conditions.
Peg Abbot looking for birds. She can find them despite the conditions.

My feet are finally warming up. Today was the 116th Annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count. This is the longest running citizen science project in the world. We joined our friend and professional guide, Peg Abbott, for a day of finding and counting birds high up in the Chiricahuas. As you can see from the pictures, the weather was suboptimal. The morning temperature was sub-freezing. I think it never got above 44 degrees F. Most of the day we were shrouded in damp fog. There was no wind. A wind might have made it intolerable and the birding would have been much less successful. It was gorgeous but tough work.

This past spring we went out with Peg on a warm sunny day in the Peloncillo Mountains. We had Pat along as our scribe. Where were you Pat? I had to do the note taking today. Accounting for the types and numbers of species is hard work. The birds all have abbreviated names to make bookkeeping easy. The first two letters of the (usually) two names. AM RO is American Robin, BA EA is bald Eagle. You get the idea. After 6 hours and over 5 miles of hiking in a variety of terrains we managed to see 30 species. There were over 300 individual birds. A few times I was confused by the bird code names. I embarrassed myself when I had to ask Peg what a CO RA was. It was a bird I found. The Common Raven. Oops.

Last Spring the MO DO was our most common bird. Morning Dove. This winter the most common bird was a DE JU. Dark Eyed Junco. Nearly 100. Except that the DE JU is split into the OR JU, the PS JU, SC JU and the RB JU. And I guess, the plain old dark-eyed Junco. That’s the Oregon Junco, the Pink-sided Junco, the Slate-colored Junco and the Red-backed Junco. Then there’s the Yellow-eyed Junco. My notes are quite a mess on this Junco issue. We saw nearly 80 that we could only identify as DE JU but we saw a smattering of all the rest, except the Slate-colored JU. The other very common bird was the NO FL, the Northern Flicker. Some 30 of these were in a flock just outside of Paradise.

Our route took us through several layers of the Chiricahua micro-climes. In each we found multi-species flocks. Peg could hear the birds and woo them in with a swishing sound she makes. Burt and I were auxiliary spotters and counters. The day was a great success but we missed seeing the Turkey and Montezuma Quail both of which we have seen anytime we weren’t actually looking for them.

This census is a big event all across the country. More than 50 people were counting in the Chiricahuas today. My friends Ed and Rosemary were counting in Death Valley. Tomorrow more people will head into the Peloncillos in neighboring New Mexico. We head back to the regular grind. Big thanks to Peg who makes the day so fun and educational.

Burt in a brief moment of sunshine.
Burt in a brief moment of sunshine.
Peg leading us to the Pygmy Nuthatches.
Peg leading us to the Pygmy Nuthatches.
Near Onion Saddle. We popped out of the fog for a few minutes.
Near Onion Saddle. We popped out of the fog for a few minutes.
Our birding range.
Our birding range.
My notes. Picture blurry but you get the idea.
My notes. Picture blurry but you get the idea.
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Lichen

Lichen field trip
Lichen field trip

We had a show last night. The usual awesome Portal crowd. Singing, dancing, laughing. Afterwards we all went to a lecture on lichen. Lichen. What is a lichen? Before the lecture I knew lichen was composed of two organisms living symbiotically. Fungus and algae working together to create an organism that is no longer one or the other. After the class I know very little more that I knew before. Burt and I were 8 minutes late and we never caught up. I wasn’t smart enough for the class. It felt like we’d missed a whole week of lectures in those 8 minutes. Meanwhile the rest of the audience was a bunch of PhDs.  They were all diploid and haploid and asexual reproduction and nitrogen fixing and cyanobacteria. It was all over my head. Nonetheless I enjoyed the slide show. The pictures were gorgeous and the lecturer was entertaining and infectiously enthusiastic. Lichen are very pretty.

Like everything else in the Chiricahuas there is a great amount of diversity and rarity in the lichen community. Today we took a field trip and in a walk of about half a mile we saw at least 25 types of lichen. Some grow on trees. Some prefer dead trees. Others like rocks. Shade lichen and sunny lichen. The common names are poetic: Speckled Greenshields, Rosettes, Centipedes, Jelly Skins, Candleflames, Sunbursts, Moonglow, Fire eye, Ruffle, wart, medallion and dust lichen and more…The lim green lichen covering the orange cliffs of Cave Creek Canyon is a type of Cobblestone lichen. It took an hour and a half to walk one way and stop and check out the various lichen. It took 7 minutes to make the return trip. There’s a lot of lichen to see in a short walk.

So I did learn a couple of things: Lichen have lovely names. A popular misconception is lichen damage the rock, tree, or roof they happen to be living on. This is not true. They take nothing from the material they where they grow. All of their nutrients and energy come from the air and water and sun. Don’t eat lichen. Most are not safe eating. And I learned that scientists have very little luck growing lichen in the lab and they still cannot clearly explain how they reproduce and they frequently cannot identify the lichen without DNA analysis. It is a very mysterious field. I’m going to stick to appreciating their beauty.

Many different lichen sharing this rock.
Many different lichen sharing this rock.
Yolk Lichen. I think.
Yolk Lichen. I think.
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