By Ilana DeBare
Horacio and Mona Mena pulled up near the CVS at the Rockridge Shopping Center last Sunday just after 7 a.m. The sprawling, trash-dotted parking lot was not exactly a scene of pristine natural beauty.
But within ten minutes, the Menas had spotted a Black Phoebe, an Anna’s Hummingbird, plus several California Towhees, American Robins and White-crowned Sparrows.
The Menas were leading a team of volunteers covering the Piedmont/Rockridge area for the 72nd annual Oakland Christmas Bird Count organized by Golden Gate Audubon Society.
More than 200 birders fanned out in a 177-square-mile circle around Oakland from dawn until dusk, counting every single bird and species they could find from dawn until dusk.
A few started even earlier — at 2:30 am — in search of owls and were rewarded with sightings of four Western Screech Owls in Claremont Canyon and about a half-dozen Saw-whet Owls in Redwood Park.
The counts are a beloved annual tradition among bird lovers — a chance to get outdoors, see familiar birding friends and maybe add a new bird or two to their “life list.”
But they also serve a serious purpose in collecting data on bird population trends over time. CBC records are currently being used by researchers trying to predict the impact of climate change on birds and other wildlife.
“Christmas Bird Counts combine many of the things Golden Gate Audubon stands for,” said GGAS Executive Director Mike Lynes. “It’s a fun day with a serious purpose. Everyday volunteer bird-watchers become citizen scientists, contributing data that will help inform future decisions about Bay Area bird life and habitat.”
In the Piedmont and Rockridge areas, the Menas’ team covered sites including Mountain View Cemetery, the Claremont Country Club golf course, Piedmont Community Center, Dracena Park, Dimond Canyon Park and the Oakland Rose Garden. Other nearby teams covered areas such as Lake Temescal and Claremont Canyon. They also counted in a few private backyards where they’d been given permission by the owners.
Preliminary tallies showed the Oakland count with a total of 177 species — about typical for this area.
The Menas’ team by itself counted 52 different species, including a Merlin and a large flock of Wild Turkeys at the cemetery.
“One of the fun things with the Christmas Bird Count is that you get to go places you normally wouldn’t such as the country club,” Mona Mena said. “Then you have to dodge the golf balls. But we usually go there early on Sunday morning, when there aren’t too many golfers.”
If you’ve never birded but would like to learn, Golden Gate Audubon offers classes and more than 100 free bird walks each year. See the Education or Field Trips section of the GGAS web site at http://www.goldengateaudubon.org. For more photos and sightings from the 2012 Oakland bird count, see the Golden Gate Audubon blog at http://www.goldengateaudubon.org/blog-posts/oakland-christmas-bird-count-finds-177-species/.
Ilana DeBare is the communications director for the Golden Gate Audubon Society.
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