Despite complications this year, area Christmas bird project is a go

HARLINGEN — The birds are still out there, but enumerating them this year during the annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count is a bit more complicated.

The Audubon Harlingen event will be held Jan. 2, and organizer Norma Friedrich has some additional work to do to make this year’s count safe for all participants due to COVID-19.

“We’re not going to have our countdown dinner in the evening, or we would all meet at noon somewhere like Whataburger to see what was covered in the morning and what needed to be covered in the afternoon, and we’re not going to do that,” Friedrich said.

“We have lost a lot of members because some of the Winter Texans didn’t come back and there’s another count on the same day that I lost several volunteers to,” she added. “But what we do normally with four on a team we’ll do with two on a team, unless I get some more volunteers.”

The teams will be formed as something called pods, family members or couples, she said. Birders will drive separately to their assigned areas — Harlingen is divided into seven areas, and each of those are subdivided into four smaller areas.

The thing is, birding this year has been spectacular due to a very rare influx of western birds which are far out of their usual ranges.

A female elegant trogon has been causing something of a sensation this week at Estero Llano Grande State Park near Weslaco. And Allen’s, Anna’s and calliope hummingbirds also are being seen in the area.

All of them have ranges that normally hug the Pacific coastline in California and Mexico, but this year these birds have moved east, primarily due to wildfires and drought in their usual habitats, according to the experts.

The Audubon Society will be conducting its annual Christmas Bird Count at various locations in the Rio Grande Valley, such as wildlife refuges, state parks and along the coast. The Audubon Harlingen event will be held Jan. 2, 2021. (Maricela Rodriguez | Valley Morning Star)

“I think I saw one of those little special hummingbirds in my backyard this morning, either an Anna’s or one of the other hummingbirds, because it was so tiny because it was immature but it had a couple of little purple shiny scales on the side where it would be starting to get its colorful growth,” Friedrich said.

Even with birder numbers expected to be down in the Christmas count, Friedrich said as long as the Audubon Society has an accurate number of participants, they can extrapolate from that using historical data on previous counts.

“When you send all this in to Audubon online, it’s very important that every team lists every member that they had if they had two people in a car, three or four on a team, they have to be truthful about that, and of course they are, they’re like golfers, they’re not going to cheat,” Friedrich said. “But that’s how they determine how they should adjust the count.”

How to sign up

To participate in the Harlingen Christmas Bird Count, to register and receive a location assignment email [email protected]