Christmas Bird Count

2017 Christmas Bird Count

White-tailed Kites. Photo by Richard Pavek.

This year between December 14 and January 5 will be the 118th season of the National Audubon Society’s Christmas Bird Counts. It is the longest-running citizen science program in the world. Its long history and wide scope (there are now over 2,300 individual count circles) provide invaluable information about the long-term status of bird populations across North America.

The Marin Audubon Society sponsors three counts in Marin County with hundreds of participants. Each covers a 15-mile diameter circle in which teams of volunteers, from novice to expert, count every bird they encounter during the entire day. For more information about Christmas Bird Counts go to http://www.audubon.org/conservation/science/christmas-bird-count.

Everyone is encouraged to participate in one or more of Marin’s Christmas Bird Counts. The following is basic information about our three local counts.

2017 Cheep Thrills Christmas Bird Count
Thursday, December 14, 2017

Join us for Cheep Thrills, the north Marin/south Petaluma CBC that was started in 1978, conducted for ten years and then revived in 2011 by Marin Audubon and Rich Stallcup. As always, this count is dedicated to the memory of Rich, our great friend and teacher, who generously shared his astounding knowledge of birds, dragonflies, and all natural creatures and who also taught us the importance of striving to be what he called "good humans."

Be prepared to start out early, struggle through any kind of weather, and wonder why on earth we don’t hold these counts in the spring or early summer. For answers, read National Audubon’sHistory of the Christmas Bird Count,” at  http://www.audubon.org/conservation/history-christmas-bird-count. Don’t miss the section called “What conservationists have learned through Christmas Bird Count data.”

For more information or to sign up for this count, visit the Cheep Thrills CBC website at http://cheepthrillscbc.blogspot.com/ The compiler (Susan Kelly) will gladly respond to all your inquiries.

Point Reyes Christmas Bird Count
Saturday, December 16, 2017

The 48th Point Reyes Christmas Bird Count, sponsored by MAS and Point Blue, will be on Saturday December 16, 2016.  The Pt Reyes count was started by Rich Stallcup, Jon Winter and others in 1970. Since then, the count is consistently in the top ten in the USA for the number of species sighted.

The total number of individual birds seen in 2016 was  up 32% 2015 numbers. There are always some unexpected finds; in 2015 participants saw Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Mountain Bluebird, Cliff Swallow,  Least Flycatcher, Northern Waterthrush, and Black-headed Grosbeak -- very good birds for winter.

The 27 territories within our circle are centered around Tomales Bay, stretching from Drake's Bay and Abbotts Lagoon to Walker Creek and the Chileno Valley. The Point Reyes count welcomes participants of all ages and skill levels. Bird counters are also welcome to attend the compilation dinner held at the Dance Palace in Point Reyes Station starting at 5PM.  For complete information about the count and dinner and to register go to http://tgaman.wixsite.com/prcbc.  John Longstreth & Tom Gaman are compilers.

Southern Marin Christmas Bird Count
Saturday, December 30, 2017
The Southern Marin Christmas Bird Count will be held on Saturday, December 30.  The count circle covers a wide variety of habitats and includesthe ocean under the Golden Gate Bridge on the south, Terra Linda on the north, Bolinas Lagoon on the west, and San Francisco bay and marshes on the east.  Areas covered include the Audubon Canyon Ranch, Stinson Beach, Muir Beach, Fort Cronkhite, Muir Woods, Tennessee Valley, Sausalito, Tiburon Peninsula, Ring Mountain, MMWD watershed and lakes as well as the towns of Mill Valley, Corte Madera, Larkspur, Fairfax, Ross, San Anselmo and San Rafael.  Weather permitting boats are used to count in San Francisco Bay and in the ocean outside the gate within the count circle.

Sign up on line by December 26 by completing the registration form online at  www.marinaudubon.org/cbc_form.php or contact compilers Ed Nute and Bob Hinz at smcbc.marinaudubon@gmail.com .

If you’d like to become involved in the Christmas Bird Count, but will not be participating in the actual count, please consider volunteering for the Christmas Bird Count Compilation Dinner immediately following the count.

2016 CBC Reports

Southern Marin 2016 CBC
The 2016 South Marin Christmas Bird Count was held on Saturday, December 31. The count day was dry and mostly in the 40s with light northerly winds. There were approximately 100 volunteer counters and leaders to cover 22 diverse count areas ranging from the bay to the top of Mount Tamalpais including urban areas. Baykeepers was kind enough to provide a boat for Peter Colasanti to count the birds on the bay from San Rafael to Sausalito. We were not able to secure a boat for the ocean count area, which is outside the Golden Gate.

The provisional tally has 177 species and about 52,000 individual birds. The number of species is a bit below the circle average of 182, but the number of birds is far below the all-time average of about 92,000 and even far below the average of about 78,000 for the last ten years. Only in 2002 on a rainy day were fewer birds recorded, and last year the number of birds was 92,000. Go figure!

A few rarities were spotted including Nashville, Tennessee and Palm Warblers and two unidentified Empidonax flycatchers. “Empids” of any kind were reported only three times in previous years.

No Green Herons and no eagles were spotted but the numbers of Sora (10) and Osprey (17) were relatively high. The total of Western and Clark’s Grebes (669) was an all-time low, but it was probably hurt by the lack of an offshore boat. American Kestrels (32), Varied Thrushes (49) and Red-breasted Nuthatches (2) were relatively few, but Blue-gray Gnatcatchers (14) hit an all-time high. Obviously, many species, even Wild Turkeys, were below average with few above their averages.

Christmas bird counts are sponsored by the National Audubon Society and are the longest- running Citizen Science surveys in the world and provide valuable information on bird popula- tions and trends. This count has been conducted since 1975 and is one of three local counts sponsored by the Marin Audubon Society.

Cheep Thrills CBC Report:
By David Sexton, co-compiler
Centered in northern Marin, the 2016 Cheep Thrills Count on December 15 put the rain back into the CBC adage “Rain or Shine.” On a day that saw frequent flash flood warnings, 60 volunteers counted all the birds they could find through the downpours.

Considering the weather, the count dinner total of 133 species was impressive, not that far from the average of about 160 species. The biggest surprise was some of the common species that totally avoided detection. There were no sightings of Band-tailed Pigeons, Downy Woodpeckers, Brown Creepers, and Wrentits.

The best group total was Jim White’s Rush Creek area with 75 species. Other notable sightings were Bob Atwood’s Bald Eagle at Stafford Lake, David Herlocker’s count of 4 Lark Sparrows hiding under a log on Mt. Burdell, and Ed Nute’s Blue-winged Teal at Soulajule Reservoir. Mary Anne Flett’s group at Sonoma Baylands provided 6 Black Rails for the count, and Heather Cameron’s Bahia group added Barrow’s Goldeneye, Red-breasted Merganser, and a Greater White-fronted Goose.

The count dinner, organized by compiler Susan Kelly, was lightly attended by around 40 participants, since many chose to go home and dry off. But the pizzas were great and enthusiasm was high after a day that was described by Dave Shuford as “pleasantly miserable.”

Point Reyes CBC Report:
The 47th annual Point Reyes Christmas Bird Count, sponsored by Point Blue and Marin Audubon, was held on 17 December, a spar- kling early winter day, followed by the annual Compilation Dinner at the Dance Palace. Owlers started as early as 4 a.m. and were rewarded by slightly above average owl numbers. By later morning 197 birders, organized into 29 groups, were in the field. One hundred ninety- seven species (unofficial count at this date) were seen in the count circle during that day.

The total (again unofficial) number of individual birds seen in 2016 was 111,188, up 32% from 83,590 in 2015 and 85741 in 2014. The last time this many birds were seen on the Point Reyes Count was 2011 when 122,207 birds were observed, so the 2016 numbers reversed a 5-year decline.

The most common bird in the count area this year is the Common Murre (14,058 reported, up from 4,855 in 2015) on the ocean, which accounts for much of the total bird population increase. This is good news because ocean food stocks have been dwindling in recent years, but are seemingly abundant this year. Bufflehead were up (7,741 in 2016 vs. 6,394 seen in 2015) and Surf Scoter were just below normal (4,729 seen vs. 5,166 6-year average seen). American Wigeon populations were down to 2,682 from 4,232 in 2015.

Many species are at less than 25% of their6-year average: Hooded Merganser, Tricolored Blackbird, Short-billed Dowitcher, White- winged Scoter, Thayer’s Gull, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Horned Lark, Tree Swallow, Varied Thrush, Lark Sparrow, Killdeer, Band-tailed Pigeon, Ancient Murrelet, Ring-necked Duck, and Hermit Warbler.

However, on the bright side, there is quite a list of birds that more than doubled their running 6-year averages. These are: Northern Mockingbird, Mew Gull, Marbled Murrelet, Semipalmated Plover, Bald Eagle, Red- winged Blackbird, Northern Fulmar, Western Gull, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Wilson's Warbler, Long-tailed Duck, Spotted Owl, Swamp Sparrow, Sanderling, California
Gull, White-throated Sparrow, Burrowing Owl, Common Murre, Blue-winged Teal and Cackling Goose.

Notably 138 Snowy Plovers (average 90) and 13 Marbled Murrelets (average 5) were seen. Altogether the groups saw 76 Northern Fulmars. Rarities included Mountain Bluebird, Black- vented Shearwater, Short-tailed Shearwater, Long-eared Owl and American Avocet. Of course it was a great day, the reunion of many happy birders, and we saw 197+ species in all.

The data for all 2016 count areas are presently being compiled and will be available by early February. For prior count totals by area, maps, and count details please visit: tgaman.wixsite.com/prcbc and click on the data links where the historic bird data, compiled 1970- 2015, are available for download.

2015 CBC Reports

Cheep Thrills CBC
The 2015 Cheep Thrills Christmas Bird Count, centered on Mount Burdell, took place on December 17th. We were all in good spirits because El Niño gave us a break for the day and although it was freezing cold in the early morning hours, the welcome sunshine brought out plenty of birds later in the day. Over 80 volunteers participated and we counted about 50,000 birds of 159 species. The most unusual sightings were the Grasshopper Sparrow that Josiah Clark found at Simmons Slough after carefully combing through several hundred sparrows; over 1,000 Glaucous-winged Gulls seen by Lisa Hug, Barbara Salzman and Lowell Sykes at the Novato landfill; and a Turkey Vulture flying a few hundred feet while carrying a dead Coot.

The species countdown at the compilation dinner was led by Dave Shuford, a senior biologist at PRBO (d.b.a. Point Blue Conservation Science). Dave was the first Cheap Thrills compiler and he led the effort from 1978 through 1987, when the count was called “Cheap” not “Cheep.” The website Who’s Who in California Birding considers Dave “one of California's leading experts on the State's bird populations, their ecology, and our threatened and endangered species” and we’re grateful to have his help and expertise.

Final results for 2015 will be posted by the end of January on the Cheep Thrills blog, at http://cheepthrillscbc.blogspot.com/. There you can download and study results for all the previous years that this count has been conducted.

As always, Cheep Thrills is dedicated to the memory of Rich Stallcup, our great friend and teacher, who generously shared his astounding knowledge of birds, dragonflies, and all natural creatures, and who also taught us the importance of striving to be what he called "good humans."

Point Reyes CBC
The 46th annual Point Reyes Christmas Bird Count, sponsored by Point Blue and Marin Audubon, was held on 19 December, followed by the Compilation Dinner at the Dance Palace. Owlers started as early as 4 a.m., and by early morning 197 birders, organized into 27 groups, were in the field. One hundred ninety-nine species (unofficial count at this date) were seen in the count circle during that day. The weather was clear and sunny, in-between rain storms. Judging from reports at the dinner, all groups enjoyed counting birds.

The total number of individual birds seen in 2015 was 92,462 vs. 95,615 in 2014 and a continuing decline--an overall a 25% drop from 2013. The most common bird in the count area this year is the Bufflehead (6394 seen) followed by the Surf Scoter (4895 seen). Interestingly there were 4855 Common Murre seen in the count area this year, a vast increase because Common Murre food supplies in the ocean seem to be vanishing. American Wigeon populations more than doubled from 1956 to 4232. Greater Scaup held constant. Brants were fewer, Dunlins were greatly increased. The Common Loon population is up 6-fold.

White-crowned Sparrow and Golden-crowned Sparrow were the most common land birds and populations were up. The most rare of our regular “common” count birds were Greater White-fronted Goose, Blue-winged Teal, Redhead, Hooded Merganser, Whimbrel, Pomarine Jaeger, Spotted Owl, Loggerhead Shrike, Wilson's Warbler and Swamp Sparrow with one of each seen. Rarer birds seen included Barrow's Goldeneye, Spotted Sandpiper, Black-vented Shearwater, Black Turnstone, Lapland Longspur, Tufted Duck, Yellow-bellied sapsucker, Black-headed Grosbeak, Northern Waterthrush and Least Flycatcher. Peter Pyle also saw several species of Shearwaters.

The data for all 2015 count areas are presently being compiled and will be available by early February. For prior count totals by area, maps, and count details please visit www.forestdata.com/cbc and click on the data links where the historic bird data, compiled 1970-2014, are available for download.

South Marin CBC
The 2015 South Marin Christmas Bird Count was held on Saturday, December 26. This count has been conducted since 1975. The South Marin count circle is centered in Corte Madera and extends from Terra Linda on the north to the Marin headlands on the south, the Tiburon peninsula and Sausalito on the east and Bolinas Lagoon on the west and includes parts of San Francisco Bay and the ocean outside the Golden Gate. This circle includes exceptionally diverse habitats ranging from ocean and bay waters to marshes, uplands, chaparral, and the top of Mt. Tamalpais as well as urban development.

Despite being a supposedly wet El Niño year the count day was clear but cold and windy in the morning. There were more than 130 volunteers who ventured out for the day to survey 22 of 23 count areas. This year we were not able to secure a boat for the ocean count area, which is outside the Golden Gate. Baykeepers was kind enough to provide a boat for Peter Colasanti to count the birds on the bay from San Rafael to Sausalito.

We were fortunate to have five young bird enthusiasts participating in the count, thanks to Wendy Dreskin and kids from several families including two vacationing families, one from Chicago and the other from Hawaii. These young people were very knowledgeable and eager. Colin Morita, the young man from Honolulu, succeeded in seeing a Pileated Woodpecker in the Fairfax count area, which was a life bird for him - they don’t have woodpeckers in Hawaii. It is encouraging to see young people becoming interested in birding as so many of us become old-timers.

Scaup sp., Bufflehead, Common Goldeneye and Ruddy Ducks were all far more numerous than last year. The rare one was a Long-tailed Duck, the first ever for the Strawberry count. However, after four years of drought the numbers and variety of land birds appeared to be somewhat low. This may be due to a lack of insects and fresh plant growth. However, there were about 7,400 American Robins, almost double last year’s total, feasting on red toyon berries. Varied Thrushes were far fewer this year than last.

The preliminary final tally was 180 species and over 90,000 individuals. This was over 20% more birds than last year. One or more Bald Eagles were notable observations from several of the count areas, including one perched in some tall trees at the end of the Tiburon Peninsula. Although no one observed them feeding, the Bald Eagles may be snatching ducks off the bay or stealing fish from Osprey’s or Cormorants. A Mute Swan was a new species for the count area; unfortunately these swans are non-native and aggressive toward our native waterfowl.

Christmas bird counts are conducted by the National Audubon Society and are the longest running Citizen Science survey in the world and provide valuable information on bird populations and trends.

Southern Marin Christmas Bird Count: Historical Data By Species Area and Maps
2012: Three Successful Marin Christmas Bird Counts
CAMC 2012 results by Area.pdf
2011 CAMC by Area.pdf
Southern Marin Christmas Bird Count: Historical Data by Species and Area Maps

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