A Waterfowl Count

Though I am not a groupie when it comes to hiking and birding, I do enjoy participating in the occasional bird count and, this morning, took part in the Autumn Waterfowl Count at South Platte Park, in Littleton, Colorado.  Organized by staff at the Carson Nature Center, the 30+ participants were divided into seven groups, each assigned to a region of the Park.

Our group surveyed South Platte Reservoir, a relatively new and unnatural addition to the valley; bordered by stone levees and a graveled road, it was constructed to increase water supply for Metro Denver's expanding southern suburbs.  Today, it hosted small flocks of common goldeneyes, buffleheads, mallards, coot and Canada geese; a lone western grebe was observed, a bit late in the season for that species.  Other groups, assigned to naturalized areas of the South Platte Valley, observed a greater diversity of species but there were no rare finds during this event; however, a spectacle was provided by a large flock of common mergansers (numbering 250 or more) on one of the larger lakes.

In my experience, bird counts rarely yield new sightings for a veteran birder but they do offer a morning of comradery among individuals who share a common interest and an appreciation for our natural environment.  Stories of past birding exploits surface and one learns of significant recent sightings in the area.  Participation in these counts is also a means to contribute to the collection of data that is used to monitor the health of wild populations and to document the impact of climate and human activity on natural ecosystems; such information is regularly used to demonstrate the value of open space preserves and to fuel support for their protection.  Finally, organized bird counts are an excellent resource for beginning birders, who learn from experienced participants and may see their "life list" double in a few hours of birding.