Island Joins Bird Count

Courtesy photo. Volunteers gathered to count birds on the Main Island last Sunday as part of the Christmas Bird Count.

Because of geography, Alameda falls within the scope of the Golden Gate Audubon Society’s Oakland Christmas Bird Count. The count takes place within a 15-mile-diameter circle centered in downtown Oakland. Alameda birders and others who join the Christmas Bird Count (CBC), are part of the Oakland Count. The Oakland Count started in 1938, took a few years off during World War II, and is now in its 79th year.

 
CBC began 119 years ago, in 1900, to replace the annual hunt competition and as an alternative to the killing of birds with fantastic feathers, which at the time, graced hats worn by fashionable ladies. 

The count has become an annual tradition among birders from the northern tip of Canada, to the Drake Passage, to Antarctica. Local groups select a day between Dec. 14 and Jan. 5 for their count. Oakland’s is always on a Sunday early in the count period. In addition to those who join a count group, some watch the birds in their own yards or bird feeders and submit those numbers. 

The more than two dozen birders who counted birds in Alameda last Sunday were part of more than 300 birders who participated in the Oakland Count, which during several recent years has had the largest number of counters in the field of any CBC. 

This year, birders in Alameda worked in two groups, led by Leora Feeney on the Main Island and by Rusty Scalf on Bay Farm Island, started at 7 a.m. and birded until some time in the afternoon. Many then adjourned to the traditional dinner, at which each group shared a report. Everyone cheered the new or rare birds seen and mourned the species that were not seen.

This year, birders saw more than 175 different bird species throughout the Oakland Count circle, some in large flocks; this is fairly consistent with past years. Highlights of the Bay Farm Island count included an orchard oriole, an eastern bird seen occasionally on the west coast, and a tropical kingbird. Both were first in 44 years for the count. The western Alameda team saw 22 snowy plovers on Crown Memorial Beach and three burrowing owls at the Alameda Wildlife Reserve at Alameda Point. 

While the count totals are not yet final, as the leaders check and re-check the reports from their subgroups, the total species seem higher than recent years, perhaps due in part to Sunday’s excellent weather.

The total numbers of birds seen for each species are submitted to the nationwide CBC database and provide one valuable source of information about what is happening to birds throughout the country. It’s possible to use CBC information from Alameda to track “our birds,” to learn, for example, that there are more crows than there were 20 years ago, but that there are many fewer California quails than there were before the turn of the 21st century. 

More information about the Oakland and San Francisco CBC circles is available at www.golden gateaudubon.org.

The information provided by the CBC, a massive community science effort, allows people to understand trends in bird populations, and which species may need help as climate change presents new threats and pressures. 

The San Francisco Count, also organized by Golden Gate Audubon Society, happens on Dec. 27; other counts throughout the Bay Area occur through Jan. 5.

Marjorie Powell is a volunteer with the Golden Gate Audubon Society.