2016 Nature-a-thon

Spotting wildlife for conservation

Central Colorado Nature-a-thon raises funds while serving as an educational opportunity for participants

By Kim Marquis | Conservancy Public Relations Coordinator

I get up at the uncomfortable hour of 5:30 a.m to begin a long day wildlife watching with Central Colorado Conservancy Board President Cindy Williams. We have 24 hours to find as many different species as possible in the Conservancy’s six-county service area, in a bid to win the Central Colorado Nature-a-thon — an annual event and educational program.

Williams and other members of the team are long-time birders, and as we begin our day at Franz Lake in Salida, everyone has their eyes trained into high-powered binoculars across the lake.

Jeanne Herrick-Stare, left, and Scarlett Massine look for different species of birds from the pier at Frantz Lake during the 2016 Central Colorado Nature-a-thon.

“See that straight through there on the water?” Williams says to team member Scarlett Massine. “It’s a Clark’s Grebe. Very elegant. Worth getting a look at.”

Massine focuses her camera lens on the surface of the lake, which is sparkling in the early morning light. In a quick 30 minutes, we identify and record 45 different bird species at one of the town’s most popular, easily accessible lakes.

“That’s a Shoveler!” someone says, and Williams takes out her notebook and jots it down. Forty-six.
We’re trying to find more than 100 species today and we’re nearly halfway there. The sun is barely up.

We see a pair of herons before moving over to Sands Lake less than half a mile away, where Mary Cuyler hears a high-pitched screaming sound. She uses the iBird Pro Guide to Birds app on her cell phone to call up the Great-tailed Grackle. The identification counts and goes into the book. Fifty-two.

The next sound is a buzzing noise and everyone becomes quiet. After a few seconds of listening, I can detect the un-birdlike noise at the edge of my hearing and then take a peek at the Cedar Waxwings dancing in the branches over my head.

Mary Cuyler, left, and Cindy Williams use high-powered binoculars and a spotting scope to identify a golden eagle perched on a telephone pole in Saguache County.

Bird-a-thons are popular across the country but no one here today has participated in an event that includes all species. Any wild species of mammal, bird, reptile, amphibian or fish counts. Throughout the day, the group finds snakes, pronghorn, elk, big horn sheep and many other wonderful, wild creates that live in Central Colorado. The competition is infectious and, despite my 20-plus years living in Colorado, I learn an immense amount about local critters, and especially birds.

By mid-morning, we drive down to the Russell Lakes State Wildlife Area in Saguache County, spotting a Golden Eagle along the way. For Conservancy Board Member Jeanne Herrick-Stare, learning to identify birds is a pathway to her commitment to conservation.

A Great Blue Heron and Great Egret at Frantz Lake become one of the first few bird species identified by our team in 2016.

“Once you become involved in the natural world, things just open up,” she says. “You develop an understanding of so much — feeding cycles, seasonal changes, wildlife corridors — I am amazed at all those interactions, and that has been through the wonderful world of birds.”

By the end of the day, our team spots 127 different species and wins the annual competition. All of the teams collected pledges for their efforts, many receiving a certain amount for each species identification. Together, the teams raise $6,500 for the organization’s wildlife habitat protection programs.

The Central Colorado Nature-a-thon takes place May 16-29 this year. Visit our event page for more information or to donate during the 2017 competition.