FARMINGTON — In mid-December, bird enthusiasts gathered to count birds throughout the Farmington area during the annual Christmas bird count.

The results of the count, which is put on nationally by the National Audubon Society and locally by the Four Corners Bird Club, have been compiled and released. During the count on Dec. 14, local volunteers counted 71 species of birds.

The count included land from Farmington Lake out to Aztec, the Animas River trail, seven miles up the La Plata Highway and areas throughout Farmington, excluding the far west section, such as Harper Hill.

 A cedar waxing perches in a tree Saturday, Dec. 14, 2013 at Farmington Lake during the annual Christmas bird count.
A cedar waxing perches in a tree Saturday, Dec. 14, 2013 at Farmington Lake during the annual Christmas bird count. (Courtesy of Tim Reeves)

Alan Nelson, one of the participants, said the annual count began in Farmington in 1958. Prior to that, the National Audubon Society organized counts around the country. Last year was the society's 114th year of counting birds. The first count took place in New York.

Nelson said the society came up with the idea for the count because, at that time, it was popular for people in New York to see how many birds they could shoot on Christmas. The society started the counts as a way to encourage hunters to count, rather than shoot, the birds.

The results of the count are used by scientists around the world to monitor bird populations.

In Farmington's count, some of the more common birds spotted included European starlings, Canada geese and ring-necked ducks.

Nelson said local participants counted more ring-necked ducks than ever before.

"We have a nice environment here for counting birds," he said.

During the count, participants split up into groups of two to three people. At the end, the groups compiled their results.

"Each group turns in at least something none of the others saw," Nelson said.

One group this year recorded a bird never before recorded on a count in Farmington: the Sandhill crane.

Nelson said four Sandhill cranes flew over the Albertsons on East Main Street, heading south. He suspects the cranes were traveling to Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in Socorro, where the birds have been known to winter.

Alan Nelson's wife, Sandy Nelson, remained at the couple's Farmington home watching the birds at their bird feeder. By staying there, she was able to count three species of birds no other groups saw: the downy woodpecker, the hairy woodpecker and ruby-crowned kinglets.

Tim Reeves, another participant in the bird count, said he was excited to see a mew gull, which is extremely common in coastal areas but rare in New Mexico. He said it was only the second time it was recorded on the local count.

"A couple years ago, I saw them at the landfill," Reeves said.

Some other birds recorded included seven species of birds of prey, trumpeter swans and ring-billed gulls.

Alan Nelson said the birders appreciate the people who let them count birds near or on their property.

"Most people are very cooperative," he said.

Hannah Grover covers news, arts and religion for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652 and hgrover@daily-times.com. Follow her @hmgrover on Twitter.