By Ilana DeBare
Windy, windy, windy!
The 2014 San Francisco Christmas Bird Count will be remembered for its strong winds, which reached as high as 60 mph in some parts of the Bay Area.
One participant sustained a hand injury from wind-blown tree debris. The Ocean Beach/Zoo count team couldn’t count in Pine Lake Park (Stern Grove) due to a fallen tree there.
But about 150 intrepid counters braved the wind and the chill temperatures on Tuesday December 30 to document a preliminary total of 183 species – just short of last year’s record of 184.
The count covered a 15-mile-wide circle extending from the Presidio and Fort Mason south to San Francisco International Airport, Pacifica, and the Crystal Springs reservoir area in San Mateo County. Afterwards, participants gathered for a festive and delicious dinner at the Log Cabin in the Presidio.
Among the highlights of this year’s count, which was the 115th CBC nationally and the 32nd consecutive count in San Francisco:
- The famed Rustic Bunting in Golden Gate Park was found. (Collective sigh of relief.) The team had spent 45 minutes looking for it, when a photographer with “one of those 5 foot lenses” got the team on a bird that turned out to be the bunting.
- Josiah Clark’s team at the Presidio reported a great flyover: 19 Tundra Swans and one Greater White-Fronted Goose. They also managed to see a Nelson’s Sharp-Tailed Sparrow.
- Bob Power’s team found two Ancient Murrelets and one Brown Booby over the Sutro Baths/Cliff House area.
- The Lake Merced team found 50 White-throated Swifts furiously foraging and a flock of Tri-colored Blackbirds, as well as a Tropical Kingbird, Cassin’s Auklet, Great Tailed Grackle and a Yellow-Shafted Flicker.
- The Eastern Golden Gate Park team had dueting Great Horned Owls and a nice group of 148 Band-Tailed Pigeons. Plus that Rustic Bunting!
- Varied Thrush were abundant, as they had been in the Oakland CBC several weeks earlier. The Eastern Golden Gate Park team spotted 124 Varied Thrush – even higher than their American Robin count of 88.
- The Ocean Beach/Zoo team spied threatened Western Snowy Plovers overwintering along the beach, as well as a Species of Special Concern, Burrowing Owl. They also got a great look at an Anna’s Hummingbird landing on her snug little nest in the cold morning.
- Dominik Mosur’s team on the southeastern waterfront watched an American Bittern fly and then land in a eucalyptus.
- The Western Golden Gate Park team witnessed an immature Bald Eagle flying in the gusts, heading northeast, from the Bison Paddock.
- The Pacifica/Daly City team found two male Harlequin Ducks at Mussel Rock. One bird was back for its sixth year, while the second one was a newcomer. That team also included a visiting birder from London, Chris Spooner, who set this year’s migration record for SF CBC participants.
- The downtown San Francisco team found Orange-crowned Warbler, Varied Thrush, and Brown Creeper, the latter two very good birds for Telegraph Hill. They also witnessed a Peregrine Falcon swooping on a Red-tailed Hawk.
- Helen McKenna and Allan Ridley’s team at San Bruno Mountain struggled with the wind but got great views – the wind cleared the air enough for them to see beyond the Farallones! Less thrilled by the wind was a California Thrasher hunkering down in the chaparral.
- The Crystal Springs team missed finding any owls before dawn, but as compensation got spectacular views of a meteor shower.
- The Colma team found Hooded Mergansers, a glimpse of a Rhinoceros Auklet, and 100 (yes, that’s right – ONE HUNDRED) Anna’s Hummingbirds.
For all these great finds, there were also some distressing misses.
None of the teams reporting at the dinner found a Ruddy Turnstone. “That’s a species that’s disappearing,” said Alan Hopkins, one of the count organizers.
Only one single call of a California Quail – the official City Bird of San Francisco – was heard on count day. This is continuing sad evidence of the decline – and near extirpation – of quail in the city.
No Wood Ducks were spotted – a possible result of the high winds? No Red Knots either. And the one group of dowitchers was not identifiable down to the species level.
Want to view more photos from CBC teams in the field? Check out our Facebook page for over 40 photos. The San Francisco Examiner also published a set of photos of counting along the southeastern waterfront.
Many thanks to all the participants and team leaders who persevered through the wind to conduct the count and provide this important “citizen science” data.
And big thanks to the count organizers who put it all together – Alan Hopkins, Dan Murphy, and Siobhan Ruck!
Let’s do it again in December 2015.
Thanks to Carlo Arreglo and Cindy Margulis for contributing to this blog post.