Alamedan Helped Lead the 80th Oakland Christmas Bird Count

Michael Stevens (who is also an Alameda resident) Alameda’s Dawn Lemoine, Co-compiler of the Oakland Christmas Bird Count, looking for birds.

Alamedan Helped Lead the 80th Oakland Christmas Bird Count

Last month, Alamedan Dawn Lemoine, brought the 80-year-old Oakland Christmas Bird Count into the modern age while adding one more year of information about birds to the growing National Audubon and Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology databases.

The Christmas Bird Count (CBC) started in 1900 when ornithologist Frank M. Chapman, an early leader in the then-new Audubon movement, proposed a new tradition — a “Christmas Bird Census” that would count birds during the holidays, replacing the traditional wildlife hunting competition. There were 25 areas counted on Christmas Day 1900, with 27 birders mostly in the northeast United States. The Audubon count now extends throughout the Western Hemisphere; more than 81,000 people in more than 2,600 count circles counted birds for the December 2019 — January 2020 count. Our count, centered in Oakland, covers a circle with a 15-mile radius. Dawn and Viviana Wolinsky from Oakland are the Compilers (leaders) for the Oakland Circle.

Within the circle, area leaders are responsible for specific areas; Leora Feeney, another Alameda resident, has led the Alameda area for many years while Oakland resident, Rusty Scalf, has led the Bay Farm area for almost 30 years. Area leaders assign birders to specific sections, such as the beach from Crab Cove to Elsie Roemer Bird Sanctuary. Traditionally, birders used a paper checklist to record birds as they saw throughout the day. Area leaders combined the paper lists into an area list, which was compiled into the Circle list by the Circle Compilers. Almost a year later, National Audubon released a country-wide list from each Circle list.

This year Oakland Circle birders used eBird from Cornell Lab, an app on a birder’s phone, to record the birds they saw, the day, time and location. Of course, a birder could enter data into eBird at home from a paper list. Each birding group sent their list or lists to a special eBird account. Area leaders checked each group’s report, added them together and sent the area list to the Circle Co-Compilers, who checked the area lists and compiled the Oakland Circle report for National Audubon.

Why does each list need to be checked? A technological and a human reason. Technology: a “pocket gremlin” often adds a Cackling Goose, uncommon in Alameda, to my eBird lists, so I’ve learned to check each list for “ghost birds.” The human issue: if I misidentify a bird, someone familiar with all the birds where I’m birding should recognize the error. For example, in August I reported two Snow Geese with a flock of Canada Geese, but Snow Geese, possible winter visitors, aren’t here in August; I actually saw two stray domestic geese.

Back to Dawn and her CBC tasks. First, she had to confirm that past area leaders would serve in 2021 and find replacements for dropouts. (Watch for more information about our area leaders next month.) She had to find two boat captains with suitable boats because the Oakland Circle includes part of the San Francisco Bay. She had to figure out a way to identify the lists for the Oakland Circle among all the eBird lists that might be submitted Dec. 19. And make sure that each area leader had some birders who knew how to use eBird. And be sure that all participants signed a COVID-required electronic release form. The list goes on, but Dawn had it organized, until the next person decided they couldn’t participate, forcing Dawn to find a replacement. Despite all the pre- and the post-count-day work, Dawn spent the day birding her traditional Count section. While I’ve not yet seen the final bird list, I hope the Oakland Circle birders found all the species normally seen on Dec. 19, and some rare visitors, as Dawn and Viviana moved it into the 21st century.

Marjorie Powell is a member of the Golden Gate Audubon Society.