The Christmas Bird Count (CBC) season is over for the year, and compilers are busy putting the records together, checking data sheets for oddities, and sending their results into National Audubon Society. Thousands of birders covered more than 130 CBC circles across California this year, from remote outposts such as Death Valley to downtown Los Angeles. These data, collected over many decades, give us insights into birds in winter – where are birds spending their winter, are their ranges changing over time, and how might climate change be impacting ranges and distribution of some species? These are all reasons to do a count. A more immediate reason is that it is fun! It’s an annual tradition to get out into remote (or populated) places at a busy time of year, and only think about what birds you might see that day. There is great camaraderie and it’s a good opportunity for new birders to learn from the many experts that also participate.
Many of our staff at Audubon CA participate in Christmas Bird Counts in their areas – Tejon Ranch, Salton Sea, Point Reyes, Santa Clarita, Los Angeles, Morro Bay, Santa Cruz Island… to name a few. I’ll give you some highlights of the counts I regularly participate in, and invite others to share their stories as well.
Staff and many chapter members participated in the 6th Tejon Ranch CBC. Tejon Ranch has not been birded much in the past, especially in the winter, so there’s the thrill of discovering a new species and contributing to the knowledge base of the Tejon Ranch Conservancy. 28 birders scattered across the vast Tejon landscape and 120 species were recorded – including 7 new ones! Species new to the CBC list were: peregrine falcon, blue-gray gnatcatcher, American dipper, nutmeg mannikin, turkey vulture, California gull and Cassin’s finch. This was the first time the American dipper and nutmeg mannikin were observed on the Ranch. The main highlight of the count was the 295 long-billed curlews found in the grasslands of the San Joaquin Valley.
My team birded the Antelope Valley side of the ranch, which was quite cold at first light but we were awarded almost immediately by Cactus Wrens calling back and forth among the Joshua trees. The drought this year seemed to impact the Antelope Valley side of Tejon Ranch – we saw many fewer birds and species than we typically do. A treat however was seeing Mountain Lion prints in a patch of snow!
Another great count that I help organize is Santa Cruz Island, also a new count. Volunteers and staff from the Santa Cruz Island Reserve, The Nature Conservancy, Audubon California, Channel Islands National Park and Island Packers teamed up this week for the 6th annual Christmas Bird Count on Santa Cruz Island.
During the exploration of the island, on a perfect Monday in December, our hard working birders found 87 different species. Some of the highlights included views of a Lewis’s Woodpecker and a Sora Rail. One team traveled around the edge of the island in a Boston Whaler and recorded more than 80 Black Oystercatchers! As an added bonus, on the return boat voyage, we were awarded by feeding frenzies of Northern Fulmars, Brown Pelicans, California Sea Lions, and Humpback Whales – the Santa Barbara Channel was teaming with life!
In comparison to these new counts with lower numbers of species, due to their location, is the long-running Morro Bay CBC which tallies one of the highest number of bird species in the US! The 60th Morro Bay CBC recorded a total of 203 species this year. Mild conditions throughout the day contributed to the overall count success. The number of participants increased again this year with 110 birders scouring the count circle One new species, Grasshopper Sparrow, was added to the count this year and three additional species were recorded during count week, two of them new for the count circle (Black Vulture and Western Kingbird). The count’s cumulative species total (1948-2013) is now 316 species.
Thank you all for getting out there and counting birds during the CBC!! And for those who don’t yet, consider contributing next year. It’s fun and beginners are always welcome.
(all photos by Andrea Jones)