New Record for San Francisco Christmas Bird Count?

December 30, 2013

About 120 birders fanned out across the 15-mile diameter of the San Francisco Christmas Bird Count circle on Friday and set what could be a new record for the number of species in the SF count — 183.

That’s of course a preliminary number. It could change as count compilers Siobhan Ruck and Alan Hopkins pour through the data, and as more reports from count week trickle in. (It looks like this year’s Oakland species count, which initially had been pegged at a record-setting 184, is being revised down to 182. So, San Franciscans, don’t get too cocky just yet!)

The weather was cooperative — dry and relatively warm. Some birds were also quite cooperative, including a Tropical Kingbird that posed for the South San Francisco count team, and a Burrowing Owl resting on the rocks north of Fort Funston, the first Burrowing Owl sighted in San Francisco in years.

Tropical Kingbird sighted in South San Francisco. Photo by Ilana DeBare.
Tropical Kingbird sighted in South San Francisco. Photo by Ilana DeBare.

But others were painfully absent. Unless they show up on subsequent reports, this year’s count was notable for turning up no Cinnamon Teal, Green Heron,  or California Quail.

The absence of quail — the California state bird — is a particularly sad story. Their numbers in San Francisco have dwindled dramatically in recent years, due to loss of habit and predation by feral cats and off-leash dogs.

Some teams reported low numbers of individual birds in their area, despite the high species count. It will be interesting to see if this is borne out count-wide once the data is tallied — and if so, if it can be attributed to our extremely dry winter.

Among the highlights cited by count teams:

  • Two Snowy Plovers (including one banded bird) at the Presidio, and 24 at Ocean Beach – good news for this threatened species.
  • A Clapper Rail at Heron’s Head Park.
  • Over 2,000 Western Sandpipers at the South San Francisco shoreline.
  • Fifty-four Western Bluebirds in the Crystal Springs area. (But no quail.)
  • A Long-tailed Duck and Harlequin Duck in Pacifica.
  • Gray Catbird that has been spending time at the Arboretum.
  • Two Great Horned Owls at Land’s End for the first time in ten years.
  • Black Oystercatchers that did a spectacular “sky dancing” aerial display at Land’s End.
  • Borrowing a golf cart from the Olympic Club golf course for counting on the course!

This post originally appeared on the Golden Gate Audubon Society’s blog, Golden Gate Birder. Ilana DeBare is the Communications Director at Golden Gate Audubon Society.

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