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Population of birds steady, counters say

BECKY BOSSHART

FALLON – The Audubon Christmas bird counters were out in the field again this year, and they reported that Churchill County’s bird population is steady.

Bill Mewaldt, a retired Western Nevada Community College biology professor, has participated in the annual bird count since 1984, marking down the various species found in the Lahontan Valley on one day.

The event was part of the National Audubon Society’s 104th annual Christmas Bird Count in the Western Hemisphere. The area the counters covered included the city of Fallon, Carson Lake, Harmon Reservoir, Rattlesnake Hill, Sheckler Road and the desert off Allen Road. Wetlands in the Lahontan Valley typically attract numerous waterfowl species and are an important stop on the Pacific Flyway.

About 12 counters headed out at 7:30 a.m. on Dec. 19 and didn’t find anything too unusual, Mewaldt said. They counted 95 different species of birds in nine hours.

Mewaldt said European Starlings are in abundance and they are a year-round species because of all the dairy farms in Churchill County. Counters tallied about 50,000 European Starlings this year. But he estimates there are probably more than a million in the valley.

The most unusual thing counters saw was one Snow Bunting, which looks like a Horned Lark but is brown and white.

Mewaldt said the birds travel with the Horned Lark, which is commonly found in the Lahontan Valley.

Absent from the tally this year were three or four species of diving ducks typically found in the valley.

“Whether we missed them or they are not here, we are not sure.”

Audubon sets up a database that can determine where some particular species are increasing or declining in a region.

“What’s really important is that they (Audubon) put them in computers and compare the numbers year to year,” he said. “And you get an idea of how the bird population is changing over time.”

Experienced birders, those who work with the fish and wildlife department, teachers or hobbyists come out for the count.

He said they pay $5 each to do it, which Mewaldt donated on their behalf this year, and that gets their names included in the report.

Mewaldt’s job is to wait for all the information to come in from the other counters, then add it up and submit the records on the Internet.