Where the wild birds live

December 22, 2011

For more than a decade, a small group of passionate birders spent hundreds of hours counting bird species in Alameda County. Through backyards and parks, wetlands and woods, they traversed every habitat imaginable.

The result of their hard work is the Alameda County Breeding Bird Atlas, a comprehensive guide to understanding 175 bird species that nest in the East Bay. It was released this week in time for the county’s annual Christmas Bird Count.

In some ways, this census was like any other door-to-door effort, except counting birds puts you in some unusual situations. At times it required getting permission onto private ranches and parks, waiting until nightfall to scope out burrowing owls, and kayaking across waterways at Lake Chabot Regional Park, said atlas editor Helen Green.

“I’m glad we soldiered on,” said Green.

The birders are from the Golden Gate and Ohlone chapters of the National Audubon Society. The atlas represents Alameda county’s contribution to a nationwide effort to monitor the health of bird populations.

“It’s citizen science at its best,” says GGAS executive director, Mark Welther.

The atlas pinpoints where birds are making their homes in the county’s diverse urban and rural landscapes. It contains detailed maps for each species, accounts of where they’ve been spotted, and historical information about each bird.

For example, Berkeley backyards are common nesting places for Cooper’s hawks. Knowing these habitat details can help in the effort to protect breeding sites. 

“The community can use the data when dealing with a proposed land development and see that a threatened species exists here,” said Welther.

The atlas findings found that three federally listed endangered and threatened species live in Alameda County:  the clapper rail, snowy plover, and Least tern. Seventeen other species are listed by the State of California as bird species of special concern: the northern harrier, burrowing owl, loggerhead shrike, yellow warbler, three song sparrow subspecies that live in salt marshes, and the tricolored blackbird.

Green said she hopes that biologists and conservationists will use the atlas to better understand the historical range of bird populations.

No atlas would be complete without visuals and the Alameda County bird atlas does not disappoint. Thirty wash-drawn illustrations from wildlife enthusiast and artist, Hans Peeters are included in the book. A Bay Area native since 1956, Peeters has painted everything from herons to warblers. He said that the Alameda County landscape is a “major draw for naturalist and bird painters.”
What can readers expect to find when they pickup this atlas?

“People will be surprised to find nuggets of beauty could be found in their own backyard. It’s a wonderful contribution to our area,” said Peeters.

To purchase the Alameda County Breeding Bird Atlas contact the Golden Gate Audubon Society at ggas@goldengateaudubon.org or call 510.843.2222

About the Author

Eric Galan is a Bay Nature editorial intern.

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