Birders of a feather flock together |

Birders of a feather flock together

by Amy Alonzo
Mary Ellen Conaway and Jim Woods pose for a photo next to a bird feeder in Mr. Woods' backyard in the Ranchos.
Brad Coman |

Area birders are preparing to flock together Dec. 31 for the seventh annual Minden Christmas Bird Count.

“All levels of birders are welcome,” said Gardnerville Ranchos resident Jim Woods, owner of Birding Under Nevada Skies and the event’s organizer. “The only way to learn it is to hook up with other people who know about it … Nevada’s a good place to go bird watching.”

The Minden count is one of thousands of counts held in conjunction with the National Audubon Society. This year marks the 117th year the national society has counted birds.

According to the Audobon Society’s website, a total of 2,505 counts were held last year. Counts were held in the U.S., Canada, Latin America, the Carribbean, Bermuda and the Pacific Islands with nearly 77,000 people participating.

Woods, a birder for about the past 30 years, said he was helping with Carson City and South Lake Tahoe’s counts years ago when he noticed nobody was counting the Minden area.

“So there I went,” he said with a smile.

The first Minden count attracted about a dozen birders who documented 90 different species and 12,300 individual birds.

The event has grown over the years, and last year’s event drew about 60 volunteers who documented 86 different species and 24,917 individual birds.

Using a checklist of common birds found throughout the area, counters work in teams to document birds they spot over a 15-mile radius in the Gardnerville and Minden area.

Birds that are regularly spotted include red-tailed hawks, juncos, goldfinches, golden and bald eagles, shrikes, California quail, scrub jays and sparrows.

For people who want to participate — but don’t want to spend the day outside —there is also the option of doing a bird feeder count, said Mary Ellen Conaway of Gardnerville. Conaway organizes volunteers who monitor the type and number of birds that visit their yards and home feeders. About a half dozen people usually participate that way, Conaway said.

Nationally, bird counts organized for the Audubon Society are held over a two- or three-week period in the winter, Woods said.

“We get a snapshot sometime around Christmas of where birds are located around the U.S. and over 117 years they’ve been able to ascertain what’s changed,” he said.

Birds migrate when they lose access to food due to weather, Woods said.

“Right now there’s not a lot of migrants coming into the [Carson] Valley because there’s not a lot of snow in Oregon and Idaho,” Woods said.

Woods said helping with the count is a great way for nature-lovers to ring in the new year.

“If you don’t drink, get high on nature,” he joked.

“Come on out,” he added. “If you know four or five birds, that’s good enough.”

Amateur and serious birders interested in participating can meet at 7 a.m. at Sharkey’s Casino, 1440 Hwy. 395 N.

The count lasts from about 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. A potluck dinner and a tally of the birds documented during the day will be held following the count at Woods’ house.