The Eastern New Mexico News - Serving Clovis, Portales and the Surrounding Communities

Rare treat for bird enthusiasts

 

January 2, 2018

Courtesy photo: Grant Beauprez

A black-crested titmouse was photographed Dec. 16 at Hillcrest Park during the 18th Audubon Christmas Bird Count in Clovis.

There are a lot of reasons bird enthusiasts brave the December cold to count birds every year — to contribute to national understanding of species and populations and to commune with other birders among them — but it's a rare coup when, in doing so, they discover something new.

Yet that's exactly what happened in Clovis when a small group of birders set out early one morning a couple of weeks ago.

During the 18th Annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count in Clovis, participants spent the day combing the community, documenting and reporting all the birds they observed for a national bird census.

The group hoped to break its 2016 record count of 85 species and it came close at 83, including several notables — a California gull, Carolina wren, herring gull, golden-crowned kinglet, white-breasted nuthatch, and brown creeper.

But in the end, an out-of-place, three-quarters-of-an-ounce songbird stole the show.

Nonchalantly perched on a branch at Hillcrest Park, the small, gray-brown gem of a bird with a black tuft of feathers on its head seemed unaware it was no longer in Texas, where it's supposed to be.

Not only was it out of bounds, it marked a first — the only black-crested titmouse ever documented in New Mexico.

It didn't take long for word to to ripple through the bird community, drumming up excitement from bird enthusiasts, many of whom quickly hit the road to see for themselves.

"Numerous birders from out of town ... including Albuquerque and Socorro, have come to find and view the bird," said Clovis count leader Grant Beauprez.

It's exciting, because while other titmouse varieties are commonly found throughout the US — for instance the bridled, tufted, juniper, and oak — previously only the juniper and bridled titmouse have been documented in New Mexico.

And until December, the black-crested — typically found from Oklahoma to Texas and south into Mexico — was thought to travel no further west than Palo Duro Canyon near Amarillo.

Of course, birders understand the little songbird is probably not the first to ever flit across the state border, but the distinction is in the identification and documentation, significant to conservationists and scientists who monitor bird migration and habitat patterns. Exactly what efforts like the Christmas Bird Count are intended to do.

"New Mexico has the fourth highest bird species list within the 50 United States, standing at 544 species as of August, 2016. While birds are being added on a regular basis, it is always exciting to find a first state record," said Christopher Rustay of Albuquerque, who was on the two-person team that discovered the bird.

"Overall New Mexico has a lot more space than it does people who study or watch birds. So many unusual birds may actually show up in the state with no one there to see them or verify their existence."

An editor for the Audubon Christmas Bird Count, Rustay also works with Playa Lakes Joint Venture, a conservation group with the goal of preserving playas, prairies, and the landscapes of the western plains.

Aside from setting records with all the boasting rights that entails, unusual bird sightings draw an influx of birders and conservationists, which can be a tourism boon to communities.

"(The black-crested titmouse) is not a bird that will attract much attention outside of New Mexico, but when more unusual birds show up then it can create quite a stir — nationwide," he said.

One thing's certain, the black-crested songbird is a reminder to pay attention — you never know what other unusual visitors will perch on Clovis' many branches and fence lines or, for that matter, when a celebrity might just visit your backyard feeder.

Sharna Johnson is always searching for ponies. Contact her at: insearchofponies@gmail.com

 

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