Eagle eyes

Bird watching enthusiasts flock together to watch area wildlife

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From the muddy banks of the Yampa River, a flock of cliff swallows danced Saturday morning in a swirl of motion, much to the awe of area wildlife enthusiasts.

Fifteen to 20 area residents made the outdoor excursion at the Yampa's Big Bottom, seated south of Craig along the river, to watch native birds in their natural element.

The 1,600-acre wildlife preserve is owned by the Colowyo Coal Co. and operates as a ranch for local hand Jim Showalter.

Mine employees said more than 45 species roam the site and surrounding areas.

For Craig resident Jan Rogers, who's lived in the area for nearly a decade, the weekend was full of bird knowledge. She listened to Friday's seminar about avian flu at The Memorial Hospital for work.

She came to the preserve Saturday for enjoyment.

"It's just fun to go out and hear about and see the birds," Rogers said. "It's something to combat all that, 'there's nothing to do in Craig' talk."

This is the fourth year Colowyo has presented the free bird watching tour in partnership with the Audubon Colorado, a wildlife society that seeks to conserve, restore and educate the public about natural habitats.

Kurtis Blunt, a environmental engineer with Colowyo, said the once-a-year event gradually has built a following. If the appeal continues to build momentum, the mine could add additional tours.

"Interest has been building year to year," Blunt said. "This has become an established activity, a community involvement project that people have seemed to enjoy."

Tour guide Ken Strom, of Audubon Colorado, narrated the bird watching Saturday. He spotted birds for the public and explained the intricacies of their habits and tendencies.

He also talked about the thrill bird watching offers.

"It's a challenging hobby because it isn't obvious," Strom said. "You have to spend time researching to figure out who you're looking at. And if you're going to do it, it might as well be here. This really is a jewel of a habitat."

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