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  • Writer's pictureVicki Wilmarth

Christmas Bird Count 2019--Amarillo

Updated: Dec 16, 2019

For 120 years, birders have been trudging out into fields, lakesides, mountains and beaches as citizen scientists to record the types and numbers of birds seen in their area at Christmastime.

Belted Kingfisher at Lake Tanglewood

So times have changed a bit. There was no trudging across any kind of field or mountain when Rohn and I participated in the 2019 Audubon Christmas Bird Count in Amarillo. In fact, we birded from the comfort of a Lexus RX350 with heated seats, mostly in a gated lakeside community. Boy, I am glad to be a birder in the 21st century!

Seriously, though, I had been looking forward to participating in my first Christmas Bird Count and it didn't disappoint. Saturday morning, December 14, 2019, started at 38 degrees with calm winds and bright blue skies. The temps rose into the 50's during the afternoon. Perfect weather to explore 14 miles of roads, count birds and take photos.

Eight very congenial local bird nerds, including Rohn and me, met at Lake Tanglewood at 8:00 a.m. and planned out how to cover just the northwest quarter of the standard 15-mile circle that makes up a Christmas Bird Count. The Texas Panhandle Audubon Society, just like local chapters across the globe, divided us up to cover as much territory in our circle as possible. Tom Johnson organized 20 volunteers so that besides our Lake Tanglewood team, a separate group searched Palo Duro Canyon State Park, another covered the River Falls area and the final team hit the eastern Randall County roads and ponds.

Lake Tanglewood was a treat. We saw four mature Bald Eagles, including one who delighted us by flying up the lake towards us and then directly overhead. A Belted Kingfisher decided to pose perfectly in the warm, morning light. Pied-billed Grebes paddled on every part of the lake. And a magnificent Osprey flew to the top of a bare tree to give us great view of his intense features.

We stopped the car frequently and got out to search inlets and copses of trees, where we discovered Golden-fronted Woodpeckers and Great Blue Herons. On the higher canyon roads there, we found colorful Wild Turkeys and Mountain Bluebirds. Mule deer us watched curiously but were unafraid because there is no hunting at Lake Tanglewood.

We continued out bird count in Tangleaire and the Palisades, while four of our group checked out Timbercreek Canyon. Brilliant red Cardinals, Dark-eyed Juncos and Black-Crested Titmice were more common among those canyon rims than they had been at the lake.

Say's Phoebe

Finally, we gathered at Carolyn Dutton's house on Rimsite Drive to put our tally together. Our group of eight had managed to spot 39 different species in 4.5 hours. But there was once last discovery. Our only rare bird of the day flew up to Carolyn's front porch bird feeder and then perched on the lighted Christmas reindeer in her front yard. It was a Say's Phoebe, a lively orange flycatcher with a dark head, who is seldom seen in the winter in Amarillo.

Tom Johnson compiled the results of all four teams to determine that 86 species were spotted in our 15-mile circle that day. Tom, a long-time Panhandle birder, concluded that birds are getting scarcer in our area, which is what the recent landmark study concluded was happening nationwide. But being a new birder, there were species on our CBC list that I still haven't see--a nuthatch, several wrens and the McCown's Longspur. At least I now know they are out there somewhere in that 15-mile circle southeast of Amarillo!

Three more Christmas Bird Counts are scheduled in our area before the January 5, 2020 deadline--Lake Meredith, Buffalo Lake National Wildlife Refuge and Caprock Canyons State Park area. I hope that Rohn and I have time to participate in one of these (although it is December 15 and we don't even have a Christmas tree up yet, so other priorities may intervene)! I enjoyed spending time talking with others who are as enthusiastic about the outdoor and birds as we are. Plus, I still have so much to learn and they are generous with sharing their knowledge.

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