2012 Christmas Bird Counts

Intrepid birders braving the rain.

I’m back to the blog- I do have a bit to catch up on. First, the 2012 Christmas Bird Count. I’ve talked a bit about these counts in the past, so you can read a bit more background in an older post.

I was able to continue my new tradition of helping census birds in two of the nearby count circles. The first count was in the Oakland area, and once again I met up with fearless leader Kevin along with regulars Steve, Phil (and some newcomers) to find birds in our part of the map. We have a fantastic territory in the northern edge of the overall count circle; it stretches from the south side of Pt. Isabel down to Gilman St. and Golden Gate fields, and up through Albany and El Cerrito more or less to the top of the ridge in the Berkeley Hills. This area covers a surprising variety of habitats including the open bay and shoreline with it’s mudflats and marsh, some ponds in the horse track infield, some oak woodland with a stream on the back side of Albany Hill, and a mix of trees in the Sunset View Cemetery.

Black-and-White Warbler, Albany, CA

We had unusually nice weather, and at least one pretty good bird, a Black-and-White warbler that Kevin found between Albany Hill and the Ranch 99 parking lot. This is a migrant that isn’t typically found here even during the breeding season, so finding one in the winter is pretty uncommon. I had my camera along and managed to get a couple of decent photos that Golden Gate Audubon was able to use for a number of their press releases for the event. The day ended with a grand total of 116 species of birds- pretty good number for a square mile or two of extremely urbanized real estate. The total for all territories in the Oakland count circle was around 177 or so, which seemed to be “good but not great” in terms of species diversity.

River Otter in Pleasant Hill

The second count was Central Contra Costa County (it’s 15 mile circle is centered in Walnut Creek). It started out much less promising- it was pouring buckets as I drove out to meet leaders Hugh and Rosita in Pleasant Hill. This territory isn’t quite as productive as the Albany site, but we were just happy that the rain let up. No particular highlights as rare as the black-and-white warbler, but we ended up with close to 90 species, including several that were relatively rare for our area (Peregrine Falcon, White-throated Swift, Least Sandpiper to name a few). The entire count circle had around 154 species seen that day- getting more than 150 is seen as good for the this count so I’d guess the organizers were happy with the outcome. The highlight for me was seeing a river otter in downtown Pleasant Hill next to Diablo Valley College.

A few other photos from the two days.

Of course, it’s the data that are important, and if you are interested in learning more about one of the longest running and most popular citizen science programs in existence, you can go to the Audubon Christmas Bird Count website.




Black Oystercatcher, Albany, CA

Black Oystercatcher, Albany, CA

I mentioned a couple of entries ago that KQED Quest came along on the Oakland Christmas Bird Count and produced a feature for their weekly radio program. Well, that feature aired today. You can read the transcript, and also listen to the program using a link at the top of the page. Also note the Oystercatcher and Turkey photos are mine! I thought they did a really nice job. It’s always a surprise what they might include- Andrea was along and recording all morning, so must have had several hours of recordings to support the story.

Christmas Bird Counts, 2011-2 Edition

Black Oystercatcher, Albany, CA

Black Oystercatcher, Albany, CA

This past weekend was full of birds Birds BIRDS. I once again participated in two of the local Audubon Society Christmas Bird Counts, in central Contra Costa County and in Albany/El Cerrito for the Oakland Count. I’ve explained a bit about Christmas Bird Counts previously including here.

One enduring fact of local counts here seemed to be that the weather would exhibit some daunting combination of at least 2 of the following: cold, wet, or windy. To me, California CBC’s mean trudging out to the end of Albany Bulb, trying to keep my binoculars dry as rain drops pepper my raincoat.

Every once in a while the weather cooperates, and this weekend we had dry and calm conditions (if a little foggy in the morning of the CoCo count). The birds seemed to appreciate it too. Although duck numbers seemed pretty low, we did well, especially on the Oakland count. With Kevin’s great leadership and willing to actually count and look through large flocks of gulls, we ended the day with 110 species! This is all between the bay and top of the Berkeley hills. Possibly the most surprising bird for me were these guys, who were seen right off Buchanan street a few blocks from I-80.

Wild Turkeys

Wild Turkeys in Albany, CA

There are always some birds in the bay, and while we missed some that we usually see (Eurasian Wigeon, Red Knot, Blue-winged Teal, some of the other loon species) we still got some of the classic bay birding experiences, such as finding a perched Peregrine Falcon contemplating breakfast choices, or the wheeling, flashing flocks of small shorebirds crossing low over the water. While not particularly helpful for identifying birds, seeing the shorebirds scattered over immense stretches of exposed mudflat at low-tide gives one a sense that the fragile line between land and water here in the bay does provide quite a bit of habitat for many different species.

The upland birds were particularly active in the afternoon. Some counts we get a few pulses of activity, but we did quite well for bird diversity both at the often quiet Albany Hill and the Sunset View Cemetery. Some birds that we saw a lot of, and that were also seen by a lot of other folks in other parts of the count circle, were things like Lincoln’s Sparrows and Fox Sparrows (below).

Fox Sparrow

Fox Sparrow, Albany, CA

Also a treat was having Andrea Kissack from KQED Quest along with us to do a story on the Christmas Bird Count. Her voice is familiar to anyone who has watched the weekly science magazine on KQED, or listened to the radio or podcasts. She followed along with us for the morning, listening to the process of counting birds. She was also at the countdown dinner to hear the end result and species tally. The program should air in early January.

In the Contra Costa count, our group saw 90 species, and the entire count circle totaled in the 140’s.