By Ilana DeBare
The Bay Area’s welcome rainstorms let up for 24 hours on Sunday… just long enough for more than 200 birders to have a fabulous Oakland Christmas Bird Count.
Sunday December 14 marked the start of the 115th year of Audubon Christmas Bird Counts, and the 74th such count in Oakland.
Registration in advance came to 287 people, a new record for Oakland. Last year the Oakland count was the fourth largest in North America, and this year’s count is likely to be in the top five again.
With logistical planning that practically rivaled D-Day, count organizers Bob Lewis and Dave Quady sent 29 teams out into the field to tally birds on the bay and shoreline, on hilltops and in ravines, at cemeteries, college campuses, parking lots, city streets, and golf courses.
Then about 130 participants gathered to celebrate and compare notes over dinner at Northbrae Community Church in Berkeley.
The preliminary, incomplete tally was 176 species — short of the Oakland record of 183, but still a respectable total.
Notable this year were large numbers of Acorn Woodpeckers and Varied Thrushes, species that are not typically common in most of the Oakland count circle. The Tilden North count team spotted 74 Varied Thrushes, while Tilden South spotted 118!
“There were Acorn Woodpeckers all over,” count organizer Dave Quady said. “It’s probably due to some combination of a prolific breeding year and a shortage of acorns east of us” (where the birds are more typically found).
The count was featured in vivid news coverage by the San Francisco Chronicle, Contra Costa Times, and Channel 7.
It drew both longtime birders and people who were new to the CBC.
On the longtime end of things, the Merritt College team was made up of Anthony Fisher, his two brothers, and his nephew. The Fishers grew up in that neighborhood and used to bird there as kids when Campus Drive was a meadow rather than a subdivision.
“It was a rolling meadow above the quarry, with snags and Western Bluebirds nesting in them,” Fisher recalled.
On the newer end of things, this was the first count for Susanna Kwan, who started birding last January and joined the Mills College count team. “I had never noticed birds before,” she said. “Now I’m good at spotting them, although not so much at identifying them. I’ve gotten my backyard birds down pretty well.”
This year’s CBC didn’t offer up any individual avian celebrities like last year’s Painted Redstart. The familiar Tufted Duck at Lake Merritt hadn’t been seen yet this season, and didn’t turn up on Sunday either.
But there were plenty of memorable moments for count teams and individuals, such as:
- A female Kingfisher eating a fish at Lake Merritt.
- An Osprey over Lake Temescal, and two at San Leandro Bay.
- Lots of owls… Western Screech, Great Horned, Long-eared, Northern Saw-whet, Barn, and Burrowing.
- Seventeen Snowy Plovers in Alameda, and one at Middle Harbor Shoreline Park too.
- A Peregrine Falcon grabbing a Northern Shoveller in Alameda.
- A Bald Eagle and Golden Eagle in Lafayette.
- Sixty-nine White Pelicans at San Pablo Reservoir, along with a family of six river otters.
- Two Barn Swallows in Alameda — the only such sighting in the Oakland count circle in the past 40 years.
- Birding by golf cart at Sequoyah Country Club… and then meeting an unusual red-hued seasonal migrant there.
At the compilation dinner, Bob Lewis noted the presence of a new species on the count list for the first time — Ridgway’s Rail.
“This is the first time we’ve ever seen a Ridgway’s Rail!” he announced.
And then added, for anyone who had missed the news from last summer, “It’s the same old Clapper Rail. It just got a new name.”
For LOTS more photos of the count and the compilation dinner, see the two albums on our Facebook page. Do you have photos from the count? Post them on our Facebook page, and we’ll add them to the album.
Next year’s Oakland CBC — the 75th Oakland count! — will be held on Sunday December 20, 2015. Mark your calendar now so you can join the fun. Meanwhile, our San Francisco CBC is coming up on Tuesday December 30, 2014.