VAIL — They call it birding, not birdwatching.
And in the winter, especially in our area, birding is all about observing odd migrations.
This year, it’s robins. Read about their odd migration through our area in the Vail Daily’s Curious Nature column from Feb. 16, which says it’s nothing more strange than a quest for food.
A few years back, it was the snowy owls, which made their way as far south as Steamboat. The elusive snowy owl was the bane of Owen Wilson’s character in the only big budget Hollywood movie ever made about birding, “The Big Year.”
Part of that movie, in fact, took place right here in Vail.
Markian Feduschak, executive director of the Walking Mountains Science Center in Avon, said that’s not a surprise. Destination birding definitely brings people to our area and is part of what the nature center has designed their summer programs around.
“In the winter we don’t do as much because so many of the birds migrate,” said Feduschak. “But if we encounter birds on our snowshoe tours, the guide will certainly have knowledge and information about that bird to work into the tour.”
WIDE WINTER VARIETY
Winter birding in Vail will reveal such species as magpies, crows, ravens, blackbirds, all from the Corvidae family; songbirds such as mountain chickadees and the black-capped chickadee; juncos such as the Oregon junco and slate-back junco; jays such as the Clark’s nutcracker and the Steller’s jay; and even raptors such as hawks and eagles.
But sometimes it’s the unusual sightings, such as the recent rush of robins, which will spark the most interest.
Singletree resident Liz Leeds said she recently struck up a conversation on Facebook with some locals about the robins, and since then she’s been fascinated.
“I began studying their behavior a little,” said Leeds. “I started leaving berries out for them to feed on, the other day there was a line of four or five of them right on my railing.”
Leeds says as a Realtor, she was delighted to learn that birding in the Vail Valley is just one more reason to visit.
“And I can really see what people enjoy about birding now,” she said. “I’ve been really enjoying watching them.”
If you decide to take the Walking Mountains Science Center up on one of its summer birding hikes or winter snowshoe tours, then you may be paired with Jaymee Squires, a guide on the tours. Squires says that like skiers on the mountain, birders have their “stash spots,” as well. Without revealing too many secrets, she says a drive along the Eagle River on U.S. Highway 6 is almost sure to reveal a bald eagle or two, and if you don’t see one there, head up Brush Creek Road towards the cottonwood trees.
“There’s a couple of nests up there,” she said.
Another great place where people don’t often think to look for birds, says Squires, is the water treatment plant in Avon near the walking path.
“Because there’s that marsh there, sometimes if there’s a big storm, birds that are traveling one way or another will get blown down, so sometimes you get some odd migrants that end up there, just because it’s open water and it’s warmer,” she said. “We see different ducks and waterfowl there often.”
‘PLACES YOU MIGHT NOT GO’
Squires says for her, the joy of birding is something she’s enjoyed sharing with her family.
“My kids know most of the common birds that we see, so if we see something different, they get excited,” she said. “When we’re traveling, we use the Audubon Society’s (smart phone) app to figure out the different birds.”
Squires says she likes the idea that her kids, who are now 7 and 9 years old, will have a basic knowledge of the birds in our area that they will carry with them throughout their adult years.
But she also likes birding for a different reason.
“It gets you out into different areas, out exercising, out exploring; it gets you out connecting with the natural world, sometimes in places you might not go otherwise because you’re looking for a specific species or bird.”
Walking Mountains Science Center does free, low-key, educational hikes through aspen and riparian communities every day expect Sunday starting at 2 p.m. through March 31. The hikes are conducted on snowshoes as necessary due to the recent snow levels. The center is located at the end of Walking Mountains drive off of Buck Creek Road on the north side of Avon. For more information, visit www.walking mountains.org.