If you catch a break in the constant hum of Moab motoring and you listen closely, you will hear the sound of migrating geese honking as spring turns to summer and fresh snow in the mountains melts.
The Moab Bird Club, with the support of The Nature Conservancy, the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources and in conjunction with the American Bird Conservancy, will be joining international efforts to track and record this seasonal process on International Migratory Bird Day. This year’s event will be held on Saturday, May 13, at the Matheson Wetlands Preserve, 934 W. Kane Creek Blvd.
According to MigratoryBirdDay.org, “When birds migrate between nesting and wintering sites, they don’t just stop anywhere; they rely on a handful of resource-rich and strategically located sites where they may double their body weight as they acquire the energy-rich fat stores needed to fly thousands of kilometers across continents and oceans. These places are known as stopover sites.”
The Nature Conservancy’s Matheson Wetlands in Moab is one such stopover site.
“Wetlands are important for a wide variety of habitat, but the diversity in the Matheson Wetlands is a big draw in contrast to the rest of Grand County,” said Kay McLean, the event’s organizer.
The purpose of the spring bird count in Moab is to collect and contribute data that allow scientists to track and understand changes in habitat and climate.
“The spring bird count, like the Christmas count, can be very important in showing trends which allow the wildlife management to increase bird habitat,” McLean said.
From 8 to 11 a.m., bird club members will be leading free guided birdwatching walks at the preserve, and they encourage others to join them. Anyone who would like to attend the event should bring their own binoculars and water, and they should wear sturdy shoes.
“It’s fun to see the young kids come out,” said Marian Eason, the Moab Bird Club’s activities coordinator. According to Eason, there were 35 participants last year.
“I think once they learn, it’s something they’ll continue with all their lives,” she said. “We started in our 20s.”
Eason noted that her husband has been looking for birds since he was a kid, and that they both have taken trips to Central and South America, where they have seen forests cleared to plant a single type of crop, creating what she calls a “monoculture.”
The effects of such business are felt across continents.
“In the case of Central and South America, it is because of the clearing of the forest for timber and agriculture as well as mining and oil activity,” Eason said. “I think the majority of it in the past has been for agriculture and for timber.”
“Bees have been getting a lot of good press lately, but birds are in worse shape than the bees,” McLean said. “They do incalculable services such as clearing insect pests from our timber and paper forests, to farmers’ fields, to your gardens.”
Like a canary in a coal mine, birds are an early indicator of environmental changes, because their migratory patterns offer data which indicate changes in habitat, the food chain and the climate.
“If we look long range, and we see a bird that used to be common here (and now it isn’t), then that’s an alarm,” Eason said.
Eason expects to see a variety of migrating birds, as well as some that stay in the area.
“We see a combination of songbirds, ducks, and some shorebirds and raptors, hawks, maybe turkey vultures, flycatchers and hummingbirds,” she said.
“Typically, the wintering territory for them is Central and South America,” she said. “Some of them stay, but some of them move on into Canada and even Alaska. Some of the shorebirds go as far as the tundra. They nest and as soon as they get their chicks raised they turn around and come back because they have a long journey. The adult hummingbirds leave ahead of the young, and the young have to find their own way back. We see some of them migrating back as early as July, and the young ones come back in September.”
According to McLean, this will be the Moab Bird Club’s fifth year participating in the International Migratory Bird Day.
“We averaged between 44 and 62 different species each year,” she said.
McLean, a retired school teacher from central Missouri, said she spent a lot of time canoeing in the Ozarks.
“I got into birding in seventh grade,” she said. “In the summer when I was not teaching, I would go West and chase birds. I was in ninth grade when the school teacher that started me birding brought me here in 1959, and we went down Glen Canyon and went to Rainbow Bridge.”
That was just four years before the creation of Lake Powell, which completely flooded Glen Canyon.
International Migratory Bird Day is a way for the public to collect data that help scientists understand climate and habitat, which can help the public and lawmakers make better decisions. The information goes to an online data bank called Ebird, which the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the Audubon Society sponsor.
“They not only collect information from events like this but an individual can create an account and submit all kinds of information such as weather and location,” Eason said.
“The reason it’s done this time of year is because birds are on the move,” Eason said. “It helps to see whether migratory patterns are changing due to factors such as climate change and changes in habitat.”
Club invites public to join International Migratory Bird Day activities
What: International Migratory Bird Day
When: Saturday, May 13, from 8 to 11 a.m.
Where: Matheson Wetlands Preserve, 934 W. Kane Creek Blvd.
Information: 435-259-6199; 435-259-6447
The Moab Bird Club meets monthly and has potlucks. In addition, it sponsors several field trips each year. For more information, contact Kay McLean at 435-259-6199, or Marian Eason at 435-259-6447.
It helps to see whether migratory patterns are changing due to factors such as climate change and changes in habitat.