OUR EXCURSION TO HENDERSON BIRD VIEWING PRESERVE FOR THE ANNUAL AUDUBON CHRISTMAS BIRD COUNT by Nancy J Olds
You never know what you’ll see when you visit Henderson Bird Viewing Preserve (HBVP) on each visit, but the park certainly doesn’t disappoint! It was exciting to be one of eight volunteers, Linda & Bob, Eva, Nancy and Anna, led by experienced birders Doug and Jim.
The night’s chill was still in the air on Wednesday, December 22 when our group met in the conference room at the HBVP’s entrance building at 7 am. Surrounded by a prolific collection of stuffed animals and exhibits, we made our introductions and Doug led the briefing. Most of us brought binoculars. Fortunately, Jim and Doug brought their spotting scopes mounted on tripods, which were particularly helpful as we tried to identify our birds who were quite hidden in the trees and brush. I brought along one of my Nikon digital single-lens reflex cameras with an especially long telephoto 150-600 mm lens, but the spotting scopes do a spectacular job getting up extremely close to wildlife!
Our briefing concerned our bird checklists and the scope of our hike around the nine ponds encompassing HBVP. Doug emphasized that this 122nd Audubon Christmas Bird Count, which began in 1900 by ornithologist Frank Chapman as a “Christmas Bird Census”, will be part of the accumulated data from all of the North American Hemisphere and a greater part of the South American Hemisphere. These bird counts have become more urgent as the data will reveal how our changing climate and other environmental stresses have an impact on all species of bird populations.
Throughout our bird count mission, all of us diligently wore our masks, considering that we are still in the midst of a global pandemic. One of the most ingenious ways to maintain social distancing is birdwatching in a wildlife preserve!
Armed with our bird checklist, maintained by Nancy, our group strolled together on a beautifully sunny and windless day, which gradually warmed up. There were just a few other human visitors besides ourselves. The ducks, geese, swallows, grebes, sparrows, juncos, hummingbirds, and such were busy feeding or, with some of the ducks, were taking floating naps, their heads tucked in. Those of us well versed in bird songs made identifications well before we could see those Yellow-rumped Warblers, White-crowned Sparrows, Red-winged Blackbirds, or American Coots appear.
One of the most enduring curious and signature birds in our desert habitat is the Gambel’s Quail warily making their way through the brush. There were large numbers of White-crowned Sparrows descending in to the dry grasses and numerous Barn Swallows racing through the skies. Northern Shovelers dominated several of the ponds while the Ruddy Ducks, the males appearing less spectacular without their courtship blue bills, were ever -present. Jim caught the image of an elusive Green Heron in his spotting scope, which most binoculars would be hard-pressed to produce.
While observing bird behaviors on the ground, we noticed the soaring flights of the Northern Harrier, the Prairie Falcon, the Red-tailed Hawk, and the Sharp-shinned Hawk. A juvenile Cooper’s Hawk literally posed for us, its talons resting on a bench! We were able to approach it carefully until the hawk flew into a tree for another nice photo-op.
Arguably the best highlights of this CBC at the HBVP included spotting Vermilion Flycatchers, the males in their more drab winter colors, two Northern Flickers, male and female, three Northern Pintails, a Berwick’s Wren, a Hooded Warbler, a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, three Black-tailed Gnatcatchers, five Marsh Wrens, and a Spotted Towhee.
After we concluded our bird count we were thrilled to identify a Wilson’s Snipe, a type of elusive sandpiper that usually feeds at dawn or at dusk. This one must’ve been hungry searching for it meals in broad daylight!
The Audubon CBC extends from December 14 to January 5. Both amateur and experienced birders volunteer together through all kinds of winter weather to provide this invaluable data.
Photos by Nancy J Olds and Nancy Chang