Sonoma County watchers examine bird life during Audubon Christmas Bird Count
Unperturbed by the early Sunday cold, dozens of observers gathered at Bodega Bay pointed their shining binoculars at a towering tree as the yellow and black Townsend’s warblers swiftly soared from its tall branches.
“It’s 6 of them!” one person shouted.
Another participant, armed with a notepad, pen and paper, quickly recorded the number.
On Sunday, nearly 21 groups pulled out their binoculars, gathered in the cold, and counted the birds that hovered or hid in the trees of western Sonoma County as part of the 55th Annual Christmas Bird Count of the West Sonoma County Audubon.
The bird count, which began on December 19 and continues through January 5 in Sonoma County, is part of an environmental effort by the National Audubon Society, a non-profit organization dedicated to the protection of birds and their habitats.
The association holds counts each year across North America to collect data on demographic trends and bird health to educate conservation biologists and wildlife agencies on how to best protect them. birds and their homes.
Once the data is collected, each of the Sonoma County counting groups – some in western Sonoma County, Santa Rosa, and Sonoma Valley – sends a report to the National Audubon Society to track and analyze their findings.
The Sonoma County Chapter’s annual tally attracts counters from all over North Bay to participate for a variety of reasons.
“Birds add dimension to our sky. They are like paintings flying in the air. Love them, ”said Sheldon Murphy, a first-year bird watcher in Sevastopol.
A hobby for some, birding for others is a way to monitor the evolution of Sonoma County’s bird population over time.
“I used to wake up in the morning and hear the birds chirping until the afternoon. These days I barely hear anything, ”said Dan Argraves.
Yet others are fascinated by what they learn from bird counts.
“I have chickens and ducks at home and I love watching their behavior,” said Michelle Lanting, an eight-year bird watcher. “I like being able to identify birds based on their sound, their flight patterns, the hierarchy that exists for different species. I find it fascinating.
In 2021, 97 surveys were conducted in California with a total of 358 species recorded, according to the National Audubon Society.
Janeann Erickson, leader of the bird counting group for nearly 20 years, noted that an increase in developments in Sonoma County has disrupted bird homes and led to an annual decline in local bird species.
“There was a field of Meadowlark birds in this area,” Erickson said, pointing to a remote area of Bodega Bay. “Then we started to build houses and a lot of them were moved. Now I can’t see or hear them anymore.
“Due to climate change and human developments, we see many birds moving north in winter,” she added.
From hunting to counting
Prior to the 20th century, hunters participated in a holiday tradition known as the Christmas “side hunt” which, at the time, meant hunting birds and animals during the holiday season.
In 1900, concerned about declining bird populations, Frank M. Chapman, an ornithologist and Audubon Society officer, proposed a new holiday tradition.
Instead of chasing birds during the holiday season, participants were counting them.
This proposal is now attracting thousands of bird enthusiasts to take part in an environmental effort that keeps the data tracked and compiled in one place for people to find, share and think about.
“It gives us an idea of what is happening to the bird population,” Erickson said. “For a lot of us, it also makes us feel like we’re part of something bigger.”
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