By Ryan Nakano
When the first Christmas Bird Count (CBC) started back in the early 1900’s, conservationists were attempting to square the circle, i.e. tackle a seemingly insurmountable problem. At the time, hunters carried out the Christmas “side hunt” and bird populations were noticeably dropping at an alarming rate. In response, conservationists counted birds on Christmas, kicking off a tradition that is now in its official 121st year of existence.
This year, Golden Gate Audubon is squaring its own circle with the addition of a new Christmas Bird Count in Richmond, CA. The initial problem being, the circle itself.
According to the National Audubon Society, who oversees the CBC’s led by local Audubon volunteers, each count must cover a unique 15 mile in diameter circle. Each circle can’t overlap another circle.
This technicality of shape and size, made it impossible to capture the Richmond area for an official count, as already established count circles from Oakland, Benicia and South Marin rule out the region.
Is this what early conservationists had in mind when they pitched the holiday tradition over 100 years ago? Maybe. Maybe not.
Regardless, Golden Gate Audubon decided it was high time to address this underserved region abundant with birdlife and bird lovers alike, expanding the most important circle of all, our ever-growing birding community.
“I live in West Contra Costa County and I bird here. I know it’s rich with birds,” Karyn Noel, Richmond CBC co-compiler said. “Having this count is important for bringing more visibility to birds and birding across West County.”
Even National Audubon, which denied requests to legitimize the Richmond CBC, recognizes the North Richmond Wetlands to be an important bird habitat and site for birding, calling Point Pinole Shoreline and Wildcat Regional Marsh “tremendous natural resources for the surrounding urban neighborhoods”. It also identifies both Brooks Island and Eastshore Wetlands to be prime birding sites as well.
To honor these important habitats and prioritize community involvement with this new Richmond CBC, co-compilers Karyn Noel and Derek Heins have been busy finding local count leaders, defining zones between the Carquinez bridge and El Cerrito, and conducting outreach to Richmond based community groups.
“What we’re really trying to do here is run a CBC plus have it be one of the most diverse bird counts in terms of who the birders are by age, gender, ethnicity. We want it to look like the Bay Area,” said Richmond CBC co-compiler Derek Heins.
And this, in many ways, is the most exciting part of the new count. By shifting the focus away from antiquated perceptions of what makes a Christmas Bird Count legitimate, the Richmond count will help increase awareness and involvement from communities that have historically been left out of the conversation and off the map from the nation’s longest running community science bird project.
“Right now we’re building the structure, modeling it after the existing Oakland count,” Noel said. “Because it’s new territory, we’d like to have it come from people who live within its footprint. We see that as an important part and we’re going to create it.”
In addition to getting more women, People of Color , and younger people involved to lead groups for the count, Noel and Heins also hope to get at least five to six community groups out to take part.
Adding a new count is ambitious. With the San Francisco count over 100-years old, and the Oakland count just over 80, starting up in Richmond presents its own challenges and considerations. And yet, isn’t this how the first Christmas Bird Count started, as a means to square the circle, to overcome the odds, starting a new tradition that would last well beyond its origin.
If you’re interested in helping make this Richmond CBC a success, please consider participating by registering here before Dec 12. Also, co-compilers Heins and Noel are looking for two boat captains to take three birders each out by boat to cover the 30% of the circle that lands in the bay. If that’s you, contact Heins and Noel at RichmondCBC@goldengateaudubon.org.
The first-ever Richmond CBC is scheduled for Sunday, January 2, 2022. Register at the Golden Gate Audubon website between Oct 18 and Dec 12, or contact Richmond CBC Compilers Derek Heins and Karyn Noel at RichmondCBC@goldengateaudubon.org.