iSeeChange: A Better Year for Birds

May 20, 2013

May 11 was Colorado’s Migratory Bird Day, celebrating the nearly 500 species that live in the state or pass through it. Local naturalist, birder and author Evelyn Horn has spent the past twenty years or so focused on birds. In 1989 she and her husband Al moved from Las Vegas to Eckert and settled near Hart’s Basin, or Fruitgrowers Reservoir, which is controlled by the Orchard City Irrigation District (OCID). People had just been banned from the reservoir because of e-coli, and the absence of human activity made it more attractive to birds. And to Horn, every bird is an exciting, fragile and beautiful being.

“The ones out here right now,” says Evy “the little guys who look like they’re in tuxedos, with a black back and a white front, are western grebes, and they nest here.” When asked if they were going to have babies she replied, “We hope. They nest in the emergent growth, along the far side, along the east shore, and they build floating nests, down tullies, cattails, and they anchor it to the adjacent growth. This is a floating nest.”


“So when OCID draws down the water for irrigation, then the birds are left high and dry,” according to Evy. “And this happened to us twice last year, and the result was that they were trying to build nests out along the inlet. And of course it was a total disaster. There was not one chick last year.”


A self-taught naturalist with a master’s degree in English, Horn has written three books about birds, and she also writes a column on birds for the Delta County Independent. She is especially keen on the sandhill cranes, and she’s followed their migration from the Bosque del Apache in New Mexico to their breeding grounds in Greys' Lake, Idaho. She counts the cranes that use Hart’s Basin as a staging area every Spring.


As for this year, Evy says, “Little less than 20,000 in the flock, in the population. And we had 14,500. We usually get half to two-thirds. So it was a good year, it was reasonable, it was average.”


The cranes come in the middle of the migration. Horn rattles off the birds in alphabetical and chronological order. “Anybody that’s a duck and in our flyway, comes by. First we have the mallards, when we have a little open water, then the common mergansers, and then after them, the American wigeon and gadwalls, and then they just start to appear: pintails, ring-neck, shovelers, there are some over there in that pond right now, but they’re way back in the weeds, that’s what I was looking at when you came by. And then after all the ducks get here, then the western grebes show up, and we also have Canada geese, cinnamon teal, and bluewing teal. And less commonly, the snow geese and scaup and golden eyes and buffleheads, and ruddy duck and hooded merganser.”


And each one is beautiful in its own way.


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