Longterm Leaders for Alameda Christmas Bird Count

Rick Lewis--Doug Henderson, new leader of the Alameda area; Leora Feeney, prior leader; Dawn Lemoine, Co-Compiler; Rusty Scarf, leader of the Bay Farm Island area for the Oakland Christmas Bird Count

Longterm Leaders for Alameda Christmas Bird Count

After 30 years leading the birders counting birds on the island of Alameda for the Oakland Christmas Bird Count (CBC), in 2021 Leora Feeney turned that job over to another Alamedan, Doug Henderson.

Leora did look for birds in her usual areas, the Alameda Wildlife Reserve, Seaplane Lagoon and the breakwater or rock wall to the west of Seaplane Lagoon. She reported seeing Alameda’s only Burrowing Owls. For 81 years, birds in Alameda have been counted as part of the Oakland Circle, an area with a 15-mile radius from a point in Oakland that also includes Bay Farm Island and a portion of the Bay.

“I’ve done the CBC in Alameda since 1975 and succeeded Elsie [Roemer] as leader of the Alameda team before she passed [in 1991],” said Leora.
She assigned volunteers to teams, teams to locations around the city and gave each team a paper list on which to record the numbers of each species seen. After each team turned in their lists, she reviewed them to remove duplicate counts of the same bird, such as when two teams birding adjacent areas report a Peregrine Falcon flying across the island; confirmed that a team actually saw a bird that is rarely seen in Alameda rather than mis-identified a more-commonly-seen bird; and added all the team reports together.

This year, rather than record numbers on paper lists, birders used an electronic phone app, eBird, created by Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology. Because not all the volunteers use eBird, Doug did have to enter some paper lists into eBird after the teams completed their counting.

Having compiling all the Alameda lists for 30 years, Leora knows a lot about birds counted in past years that are no longer common here. For example, Leora says that Soras, a small chicken-bird that can be heard and occasionally seen in Arrowhead Marsh at Martin Luther King Jr. Regional Shoreline, would “show up in winter every year at the brackish tidal pond below the tennis courts beyond lower Washington Park.  Even my very young son — [then] 8 years, maybe younger — would whistle to them and so enjoyed having a conversation.”
Some birds traditionally counted in Alameda were missing this year; for example, no one saw a Whimbrel, a shorebird seen on tidal mudflats. Yet the Crab Cove team saw two Rock Wrens, a tiny bird frequently seen on or near rocks, a new bird contributing to the 110 species seen in Alameda in the 2021 Count.

The Count on Alameda’s other island, Bay Farm Island, is also lead by a long-time birder, Rusty Scalf of Oakland, who started counting the birds there in 1988 and has been the area leader for most of that time. While he now walks the golf course looking for birds, he remembers walking the areas by the ferry terminal and along the bay when it was fields and marshes. While he now sometimes sees Cedar Waxwings feeding on ornamental plants in yards, he remembers seeing Burrowing Owls by the airport and birds of open fields near Harbor Bay Parkway. In addition to the Oakland Christmas Bird Count, Rusty participates in five other counts in northern and southern California. Between Rusty’s 44 years of CBCs on Bay Farm Island and Leora’s 48 years at the airport and then Alameda’s main island, we benefit from years of knowledge about birds that winter in Alameda, and the changes in those birds over time.

Leora is involved in many other volunteer activities in addition to serving as the area leader for the Oakland Christmas Bird Count. She has chaired the Golden Gate Audubon Society’s Alameda Conservation Committee, Friends of the Alameda Wildlife Reserve, which has included working to preserve the Wildlife Reserve and protect the endangered California Least Terns. Working with one other person, she has counted all the birds on the Wildlife Reserve twice a month for the past 20 years, an amazing record that documents many changes that have occurred over the years.

In the past several years she has counted the large roosting colony of Brown Pelicans on the rock wall between the Reserve and the USS Hornet. And monitored the Ospreys nest on one side or the other of Seaplane Lagoon. And members of the City Council know that she has testified on many issues related to birds, wildlife, and conservation over the years. Birders and nature lovers in Alameda owe Leora lots of thanks for her conservation work over the years.

Marjorie Powell is a member of the Golden Gate Audubon Society and birded as part of the Alameda team for the Oakland Christmas Bird Count.