It’s a bird’s world in the Roaring Fork Valley
Second release of 'Birds of Aspen and the Roaring Fork Valley' reflects changing local landscape for fowl
Local birders have 160 reasons to flock to the Aspen Center for Environmental studies tonight.
The environmental organization’s Hallam Lake location is where Rebecca Weiss and Mark Fuller will discuss the second release of their “Birds of Aspen and the Roaring Fork Valley,” which was originally published in 2018 and featured 155 local bird species, both native and migratory. The new edition has 160 species with new photographs of them taken in their surroundings. The event is scheduled from 5-6:30 p.m.
Three years of work were put into the first edition, which included writing by Weiss and photography by Fuller. Weiss and Fuller decided it was time to collaborate again on the field guide, given the changing complexion of the Roaring Fork Valley’s habitat and ecosystem, whether due to the recent wildfires that have scarred mountainsides to more commercial and residential development.
While some species of fowl have thrived with the changes, others have struggled. The 341-page second edition reflects those changes, Weiss and Fuller said.
Weiss, who is a guide for ACES’ Birding Program and has a master’s degree in environmental education, also noted the more recent “historic die-off” of birds with “the wildfire smoke and weather pattern that brought unseasonably cold weather for a stretch of time to West and Southwest.”
Thousands of birds reportedly died in Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Texas and part of Nebraska in the fall of 2020, and ornithologists theorized it was due to starvation, possible smoke inhalation, an unseasonably autumn freeze, and changing breeding and migration patterns due to climate change, among other factors.
As well, bird populations in the United States and Canada have dropped by 29 percent, which is almost 3 billion birds, since 1970, according to a study published in Science and cited in the second edition’s foreword.
“We’re not bird scientists and we don’t have any provable data, so we’re a little bit reluctant to assume anything as far as local bird populations, but there are changes we have seen in just the last few years that are related to human developments,” said Fuller. “We have crows and starlings and house sparrows and other species of birds that adapt really rapidly toward human-built development that wasn’t here maybe 20 or 30 years ago.”
The reader friendly bird guide also identifies 24 hotspots for bird watching.
For instance, bald eagles and Barrow’s Goldeneye (waterfowl) are “winter highlights” to be seen from Frying Pan Road and Reudi Reservoir, while the easily accessible Rio Grande Trail provides habitat for waterfowl, raptors, great blue herons, warblers and other birds. Bird-watching spots in Ashcroft, Basalt, Carbondale, Glenwood Springs, Snowmass and elsewhere also get some informative ink.
“Everybody who lives here for any bit of time sees a magpie. They’re big, they’re showy, and they’re not a bit shy,” said Fuller. “We probably have more finches and song sparrows and redwing blackbirds than we have magpies, but those species are not so big and not so colorful.”
The book covers bird species that reside in the valley’s rich habitat extending from the Colorado River in Glenwood Springs to the Roaring Fork River’s headwaters at the top of Independence Pass, a difference of 7,100 feet in elevation. Also included in the 1,450-square-mile area of the Roaring Fork River watershed are the Crystal and Fryingpan rivers and the Collegiate, Elk and Sawatch mountain ranges.
The book also gives tips on bird-watching etiquette, pointers on how to photograph them, and other nuggets of wisdom (like keeping cats indoors so they won’t kill birds).
Interest in birding has grown over the years, said Weiss, who does guided tours at Rockbottom Ranch and Hallam Lake, and occasionally at private properties.
“It’s more like this hip, intellectual thing that more and more young people and diverse people are attracted to these days,” she said. “And Covid played into it. Everyone wanted to get outside. A lot of birders were born then.”
Birding can be as simple as viewing the winged creatures from your back yard or as involved as traveling to another continent.
“You can really go nuts with expensive optics and scopes and travel,” she said. “And the sky is the limit with that, but it’s a very accessible activity and anybody can do it.”
Those who take on to the hobby also gain a deeper appreciation and understanding of birds and the world around them, Weiss said.
“Birds are the most watchable form of wildlife and they provide an important and invaluable view of what’s happening in the world,” she said. “When we see trends in birds with declining populations, that’s a red flag signal that something is awry or out of balance.”
The new edition will be available at Carl’s Pharmacy, Explorer Bookstore, Ute Mountaineer and booksellers elsewhere in the valley, Fuller said. The book also will be available online through Buteo Books.
Of the 10 players listed on the varsity roster ahead of Tuesday’s home game with Summit, two were juniors, seven were sophomores and one was a freshman. It’s a far cry from the class of 10 seniors who last season led the Skiers to a perfect 27-0 mark and the Class 3A state championship.