The annual Audubon Society Christmas Bird Count, the longest running citizen science survey in the world, has finished up in the Bay Area with some important findings.
The East Bay bird that’s disappearing fastest from count lists is the white-winged scoter, a large and stocky coastal duck, with a 95 percent decline since 1974. Meanwhile, the most prolific bird found in the East Bay is the common raven with a 1,258 percent increase, no big surprise considering all the trash we produce.
In San Francisco, birders set a new record in the number of species recorded — 179 — with the highest count in the Candlestick Park area. Two endangered clapper rails were found at Heron’s Head park, and the only remaining California quail in the 15-mile-wide San Francisco count circle were found at the Pacifica archery range.
San Jose also broke records in its count with 173 species found, including two peregrine falcons, while the Calero-Morgan Hill count came across two greater roadrunners, and a couple bald eagles at Anderson Reservoir. Over in Alviso at the edge of the former salt ponds, one of the longstanding compilers noted that the count has been regularly exceeding 170 species over the last decade, a result, she believes, of wetlands restoration efforts in the area.
The Sonoma Valley observed 169 species and more than 90,000 birds.
Meanwhile, in the southern Marin count, 182 species were logged, of which 152 were reported just from the Bolinas Lagoon area. “Exceptional numbers” of red-throated loon were counted — more than 2,000 individuals — a record high since 1983. Among the unusual species stumbled across were: burrowing and long-eared owls (locations withheld), a summer tanager in Fairfax, and a harlequin duck in San Rafael, and a few others.
In northern Marin, the so-named “Richard Stallcup’s Cheep Thrills” count, renamed after the recently-deceased birder Richard Stallcup, 163 species have been tabulated so far (more results to come). Birders found several unusual species for the area at this time of year, including a Barrow’s goldeneye, a Pacific loon, a rough-legged hawk, a spotted owl, a northern saw-whet owl and a Lewis’ woodpecker. Sure it’s good to note rare sightings, but as Cheep Thrills leader Susan Kelly noted, the count’s namesake believed “there is no ordinary bird.”
“Sure you’ve seen Bluebirds before, but you’ve never seen THIS Bluebird,” Kelly remembers Stallcup saying.
Which makes the Christmas Bird Count noteworthy. Every bird spotted gets a mark on the tally sheet.
Bay Nature photographer Rick Lewis took his camera with him on the East Bay Christmas Bird Count and captured the legendary burrowing owls of the Berkeley Marina.
Alison Hawkes is the online editor for Bay Nature.