By Ilana DeBare
The El Niño rains took a short mini-siesta on Sunday… long enough for us to have a successful 2015 Oakland Christmas Bird Count!
This was the 75th anniversary of the Oakland count, and the first year that Oakland held the honor of more field observers than any other count in the world.
That distinction came from the 2014 count, when Oakland had 257 people counting in the field, one more than Santa Barbara. This year’s registration was even higher, topping 300.
Despite forecasts of rain, the day began with clear, starry skies for participants owling in Redwood Regional Park at 2:45 a.m. (Temperature 31 degrees!) Counters who started around 7 a.m. were greeted by a glowing red sunrise. The winds were calm enough to allow birders Betsy Littell and Leslie Levy to count by kayak on Oakland’s San Leandro Bay, and two teams to count by boat on the open waters of San Francisco Bay.
Through occasional drizzle that turned into rain in the afternoon, 29 count teams fanned out across the 15-mile count circle and found a preliminary total of 174 species. That’s less than last year’s total of 180, but still a respectable number for a rainy day.
Afterwards, participants gathered in the warm, dry, festively-decorated social hall at Northbrae Community Church to share results at the compilation dinner.
Count compilers Dave Quady and Bob Lewis shared some of the count’s history with the crowd, including a snapshot of the very first Oakland count in 1938: three participants, 9 ½ hours in the field, 78 species!
Among the highlights of this year’s count:
- A female Long-tailed Duck off of the Oakland Airport.
- A single Cattle Egret at the Oakland Airport, the first in the Oakland count since 2003.
- One Snowy Plover (a threatened species) at Middle Harbor Park and others in Alameda, where Golden Gate Audubon has worked with East Bay Regional Parks to provide a protected roosting area.
- A Ruddy Turnstone near Pt. Isabel.
- Small numbers of Red Knots along the Alameda shoreline, the Berkeley waterfront and near Garretson Point.
- An immature Glaucous Gull at the Davis Street transfer station.
- A Long-eared Owl in Redwood Regional Park.
- A male Black-headed Grosbeak back for its second winter at private feeders in Claremont Canyon.
The official Best Bird of the count was Red Crossbill, last reported in 1996. Two crossbills were found on the St. Mary’s College campus (Moraga), and another 15 were found in Leona Heights (Oakland).
We were delighted to include a number of first-time birders, young birders, and members of our partner organizations Outdoor Afro and Urban Tilth. We also had a big increase in the number of Feeder Watchers, people counting the birds in their backyards.
“Our team had 14 people including four who had never birded before,” reported Bob Toleno, who led the Lake Merritt count area with Juli Chamberlin.
Birds were hardly the only sightings of note. The Orinda team found two coyotes and a number of deer; the San Leandro Bay team found a red fox on the golf course near Oakland Airport; the Lake Temescal team found a river otter at 7 a.m.; and several teams were delighted to come across flourishing stands of colorful mushrooms.
There were also incidents of avian drama. Several teams reported viewing Merlins in mid-hunt.
“A nice Merlin came over, clutching a Black Phoebe, which took our count down by one,” said Kevin McKereghan, leader of the Point Isabel area team.
“We had a well-trained Merlin,” responded Pat Bacchetti, co-leader with Su Cox of the Dunsmuir/Knowland team. “It had a mouse, not a bird.”
On the down side, this was the second year in which no Tricolored Blackbirds were reported, at least in the initial tally. This species is in sharp decline, with its population dropping by 64 percent in the last six years. Audubon California is pushing to have “trikes” added to the California endangered species list; the Fish & Game Commission is currently considering granting it permanent status on that list.
The count received great coverage in the San Francisco Chronicle, San Jose Mercury News, and on KCBS radio.
Many thanks to Dave and Bob, our intrepid and good-humored count compilers; all the team leaders; the volunteers who made the compilation dinner a resounding success; and of course all the participants.
Let’s do it again next year… on December 18, 2016!
View lots more photos of the count on our Facebook page. We also have a Facebook album of photos from the compilation dinner. You can view these photos by clicking the links even if you do not have a Facebook account.
Support the Christmas Bird Count and other Golden Gate Audubon Society programs! Click here to make a tax-deductible year-end donation. All gifts made before December 31st will be matched by some generous friends of GGAS, so every dollar you give will become two dollars.