Red Rocks Park, Audubon Christmas Bird Count


That’s a handsome male Yellow-bellied Sapsucker.  A great photo taken by our friend, and fellow birdwatcher, Glenn Walbek.

I think the only action my camera has managed to capture is the yellow of a running egg yolk, or maybe a drip or two of sauce. I can’t imagine successfully photographing a subject that is constantly on the move, darting  behind a limb or taking wing the second you raise your equipment. Glenn has an incredible talent for photographing birds. If you’re interested in more of his photos, you can take a look at his online gallery.


The Yellow-bellied Sapsucker is a medium sized woodpecker that spends the Winter as far South as Panama and migrates North to the Eastern United States and Canada each Spring. It seems that along its route to the South this bird accidentally ended up in Colorado and has taken a liking to the grounds of Red Rocks Park. It uses its bill to make small holes in trunk of the tree to extract sap.

The road leading to Red Rocks Amphitheater


For the past 20-plus years, my husband and I have participated in the Audubon Christmas Bird Count. The area we’ve been assigned to lead is Red Rocks Park in the foothills west of Denver. Pretty nice duty if you ask me. Most of you may know Red Rocks Park as an natural outdoor amphitheater which hosts concerts attracting artists from The Beatles to U2.


From the Amphitheater, looking South towards Colorado Springs

Each December, two weeks before Christmas through the first two weeks of January, tens of thousands of volunteers across North America take part in the Audubon Christmas Bird Count. Birdwatchers armed with binoculars and checklists go out on an annual mission, starting before dawn and ending at dusk, braving the elements to count the number of birds seen during one designated day. Data collected from this event is used to monitor the health of bird populations and to help guide conservation action.


Looking Northeast you can see urban sprawl and downtown Denver peeking through a cloud of smog.

Our Red Rock’s count takes place the Saturday before Christmas. Our team of volunteers, starting at dawn, hike the park in search of every flying creature we can find and hopefully identify. At the end of the day we attend a compilation meeting where all who have surveyed areas in the Denver count circle meet up to compare and record the statistics. Even though it sounds very technical and scientific, there is a high level of competition to see who has seen the rarest bird that day.  Our Yellow-bellied Sapsucker was right up there in those rankings.

At lower elevations in the park, we always walk this small open stream to look for Wintering over Wilson’s Snipe and American Dipper. None were found this year.

We found resident Canyon Wrens and illicit rock climbers on this formation.

Towering sandstone cliffs with small caves play host as wintering homes for Prairie Falcons, Ravens and Rock Pigeons.

 It’s a great way to spend the day. Spectacular awe-inspiring scenery, nature watching, fresh air and hiking. Some years we’ve enjoyed the day in shirt sleeves and other years have trudged through twelve inches of fresh fallen snow. No matter what the temperature, there’s always a traditional crock pot full of my Chili waiting for us at home.  I’ll be posting that recipe next.


Happy New Year From Colorful Colorado.

On this day..

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  1. says

    This is amazing! I really admire how much you know about birds – and what a magnificent place to count! I saw the invitations to help with the 2011 count up here, too, but was sure that me yelling “there’s a black one” would not be helpful. Apparently that was a good instinct. :)
    Happy New Year, friend!

    • Lea Ann says

      Ok, that’s the funniest thing I’ve heard this year. Actually we have all levels of expertise join us on the count and someone yelling “there’s a black one” is just fine … as long as they see it, we’ll identify it. Happy New Year to you too.

  2. says

    Sounds like a fine way to spend the day and do something for nature as well – I don’t know about the hiking in at dawn part though.

  3. says

    Wonderful photos of a place I don’t get to often enough…thanks for sharing.

    I’ve got one of those Yellow Belly Sap Suckers (don’t you just love that name?) who is loving a dead tree stump in my back yard. A highlight of my day when he zooms in to peck for bugs. Happy I left the stump in the ground when I questioedn that choice the end of summer.

    Happy New Year Lea Ann!

    • Lea Ann says

      Yellow Bellied Sap Suckers are pretty rare, I’m thinking what you have is a Downy Woodpecker…. which is an equally wonderful visitor in the winter. You should put up a bird feeder.

  4. says

    I’m going to have to forward this to my mom, she’ll love it.

    Beautiful photos all around. I always thought “yellow bellied sap sucker” was just an insult in bad cowboy movies.

  5. says

    PS: What’s the best preparation for the yellow bellied sap sucker….brined, a dry rub and then smoked? (ha ha , running away, ducking)

    • Lea Ann says

      Too funny Chris … my husband suggested that the last line of that post should read “tastes like chicken”. :)

  6. says

    Lee Ann – sorry I have been MIA for so long! Just caught up in life!!! These photos are beautiful and make me want to leave freezing cold NJ this very second!!! Happy New Year!

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