Highlights from the 2017 Christmas Bird Count

The annual Christmas Bird Count (CBC) brings together advanced and novice birders to survey all the birds in their community.

Here are a few stories and photos from some of the Christmas Bird Counts.

Golden Gate Audubon

Every year, the Oakland CBC boasts the highest number of volunteers of any group (backyard feeder watchers excluded). One group starts at 2:30am to check for owls; 285 individuals surveyed 29 areas, covering all the diverse habitat of Oakland. Check out this great overview of the day. 

The San Francisco CBC was covered by the local CBS station.

Mt. Diablo Audubon

Green Heron. Photo: Jill Hedgecock

For the fourth year, Mt. Diablo Audubon's Young Birders Club surveyed Heather Farm and Howe Homestead Park as part of the Central Contra Costa County Count circle. They had two exciting finds, a Tropical Kingbird and a Snow Goose. Check out page three of the Diablo Gazette for more photos and stories from the day. 


On the Sonoma Valley Christmas Bird Count, a group in California's wine country returned to a landscape transformed by fire.

Stanislaus Audubon

Stanislaus Audubon CBC team. Photo: Sherrie Reeve

In Modesto, twelve birders helped with the Caswell - Westley Christmas Bird Count.

Ferruginous Hawk. Photo: Jim Gain

On the La Grange Waterford Christmas Bird Count, another team spotted a Ferruginous Hawk, Osprey, and a Western Tanager. 

Ventura Audubon

Another Christmas Bird Count was severely impacted by the recent wildfires.

Ventura hillside. Photo: Chuck and Cheryl Engel

The Thomas Fire in Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties was the second largest fire in California history, in an area exceeding 272,000 acres. Much of the Ventura hillsides and many of the prime birding areas and habitat burned. Ventura Audubon postponed their Christmas Bird Count for two weeks due to hazardous air quality and unsafe conditions.

Map of Ventura Audubon Society CBC Sectors with Burned Areas. Photo: Ventura Audubon Society

As you can see from this map, over 50% of the count circle was burned by the Thomas Fire, primarily the natural non-developed areas. The CBC presented a rare opportunity to collect data on what happens to wild bird populations after a major fire. The Ventura County Star shared the story of this unique CBC. 

Frank DeMartino, the organizer of the Ventura CBC, observed that many of the birds were clustered into the remaining intact habitat.

“For example, a lot of the lower stuff burned, so when they found a spot that wasn’t burned, they’d spread out into the condensed pockets,” DeMartino said.

Some rare birds were spotted, including a Golden-crowned Kinglet at the Ventura Settling Pond, a bird usually seen in the mountains. “It’s the most rare bird. I’ve only ever seen them twice at the Ventura Settling Pond, which I’ve been to a couple hundred times.”

Another unusual sight was a burrowing owl spotted in a palm tree. “Nobody sees them in palm trees. They usually hide in the ground, so to see it up in the tree was kind of strange,” DeMartino said.

At the end of the day, Frank’s team counted 175 species, which equals their long-term average.

Ventura Audubon members searching for birds at an interface between burned/unburned areas. Photo: Cynthia Hartley

A large number of new participants joined the count this year, many of whom counted birds in their backyards near the burn areas. These new participants welcomed the count team into their yards and homes to count the birds.

The Audubon Christmas Bird Count relies on “normal people who are not scientists or had any kind of training” added DeMartino.

“They’re just people who like birds and people who want to go out and contribute to this international effort of tracking a bird species,” he said. “And there’s something really neat about that.”

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