By Ilana DeBare
Over 300 Golden Gate Audubon Society members and friends hit the streets, parks, shorelines, and golf courses of the East Bay on Sunday to defend the Oakland Christmas Bird Count’s size record…. and to spot a few birds too.
The sunny, mild weekend weather didn’t augur well for California’s water supply, but it made for a beautiful day of birding.
This was the 77th year of the Oakland CBC, and the 15th in which it was led by extraordinary co-compilers Bob Lewis and Dave Quady. For the past three years, the Oakland count has placed more people in the field than any other CBC in the world — and with over 300 people signed up, it looks like 2017 may continue that record.
(A few counts have a higher number of total participants because they have large numbers of Feeder Watchers, people who count in their backyards. But Oakland has the most people counting in the field.)
“How many species you see depends a lot on where you’re located,” Dave Quady told the crowd gathered on Sunday evening for the traditional festive compilation dinner. “What doesn’t depend on where you’re located is the number of people who come out to count. We had more people in the field than any other count in 2014, 2015 and 2016. Thanks to you all for that!”
The preliminary tallies for the day seemed to be within the normal range for the Oakland count’s number of species. Teams present at the dinner reported a total of 175 species, but that figure is likely to rise as a few more team reports trickle in.
Two notable sightings were made by one of the teams counting by boat on the Bay — a Fork-tailed Storm-Petrel and a Pomerine Jaeger, both of which are usually found on the open ocean.
“I guess it has to do with the (heavy) winds blowing things in,” Bob Lewis told the dinner crowd.
The storm-petrel won the honor of Best Bird for the 2017 count. Two Rhinoceros Auklets — also unusual within the Bay — were sighted by the Alameda team. On Monday, another rarity was added to the list when GGAS member Rick Lewis turned in photo documentation of a Lapland Longspur spotted by the team at the Berkeley Marina.
Dave Quady reported:
Other nice finds included a Ross’s Goose at Damon Slough, near San Leandro Bay; Snow Geese at two spots on the coastline north of the Bay Bridge and at Lafayette Reservoir; a Common Gallinule on a pond along Wilder Road; nice numbers of Surfbirds in the Emeryville area, with another individual at Pt. Isabel; a Lesser Yellowlegs and a Barn Swallow at San Leandro Bay; a Common Murre off the end of the Berkeley Pier; a half-dozen Tree Swallows over Lafayette Reservoir; a House Wren at the Tilden Park golf course; and single Nashville and Black-throated Gray warblers on Bay Farm Island. All these reports of rare birds are subject to confirmation.
The count’s first bird was a Northern Saw-Whet Owl spontaneously tooting at 2:30 am in Redwood Regional Park. Owling continued there and at several other locations under excellent owling conditions, with Barn Owl, Great Horned Owl and Western Screech-Owl also detected before dawn. Burrowing Owls were found after dawn.
The day provided its share of avian drama. The Dunsmuir area team — led by Pat Bacchetti and Sue Cox — had just started their count day in the parking lot of a McDonald’s in downtown San Leandro when they witnessed a Cooper’s Hawk taking a pigeon. They were almost as stunned to see pedestrians walking past this life-and-death drama without a second look.
Some teams expressed concern about low numbers of certain species. The South Boat team spotted no Greater Scaup in its portion of the Bay. Although other teams did spot large rafts of scaup, this could signal a worrisome decline for this diving duck species. In 2016, the Oakland count found a total of 24,000 Greater Scaup, more than any other CBC.
“The big shocker was Greater Scaup,” said South Boat count leader Glen Tepke. “Last year our team had over 14,000 and this year we had zero.”
The count received prominent coverage in the East Bay Times, which sent a reporter and photographer to cover the Lafayette Reservoir team.
Co-compilers Bob and Dave will provide final results from the count within the coming month. Meanwhile, THANK YOU to everyone who contributed to such a successful day — to Bob and Dave, to the count team leaders, dinner volunteers, office staff and volunteers, the volunteer photographers, and of course all the BIRDERS!
Next year’s Oakland count will take place own Sunday, December 16, 2018. Mark your calendar now!
Coming soon: Our 2017 San Francisco count on Wednesday, December 27, 2017.