Terri Rust scans for birds across the pristine and glassy Snake Lake during the American Valley Christmas bird count Dec. 17. Photo by Darrel Jury

Audubon provides tally for Christmas bird count

A peregrine falcon takes in the view of the American Valley during the Christmas count this year. Photo by Ryan Burnett

Each year between Dec. 14 and Jan. 5, the National Audubon Society sponsors the Christmas Bird Count. This year marked 117 years of organized holiday counts for Audubon. For over a century, volunteer bird watchers, compilers and the Audubon Society have been collecting data on early-winter bird populations.

The data collected by participants in the annual count has become one of only two pools of information that can be used by ornithologists and other scientists to study how birds of the Americas have been faring over a long stretch of time.

There are several count circles in the Plumas, Sierra and Lassen regions. There are literally hundreds of counts throughout the U.S., Canada and many countries in the Western Hemisphere.

Each count takes place in an established 15-mile wide diameter circle and is organized by a count compiler. The compiler assigns groups to cover each section of the circle.

Every bird seen, or heard, is counted throughout a 24-hour day and marked on a tally sheet.  Really gung-ho birders even go owling.

Darrel Jury, American Valley count compiler and president of Friends of Plumas Wilderness, reports that the 2016 Christmas Bird Count was held Dec. 17.

It was the ninth time that the count was held in American Valley.

“The weather was exceptional, as it was the clearest and calmest dayof any of ourprior count days,” said Jury.

Ten volunteers spent the day birding, including six enthusiastic people who had never been on a Christmas bird count.

Because many of the regulars were unable to attend this year, we divided the count circle into three areas, rather than the usual five,” said Jury.

The organizer is hopeful that next year the timing will work better for more folks.

Seventy-two bird species were observed this year, slightly below the nine-year average of 80. For the first time, osprey and sandhill cranes were observed on the American Valley count.

A mass of Bohemian waxwings are counted as they perch on branches near Lake Almanor on Dec. 16. Photo by Ryan Burnett

The solosandhill cranewas seen in the meadow east of the wastewater treatment ponds and the individualosprey was seen over Spanish Creek near the treatment ponds.

The Lake Almanor bird count headed up by Ryan Burnett, Sierra Nevada director for Point Blue Conservation Science, took place Dec. 16. With only six participants on what turned out to be a cold wintry day, 73 species were sighted.

The day started at 7 a.m. in the parking lot of the Holiday Market with an unbelievable sighting by Burnett of over 30 Bohemian waxwings. This is a very unusual bird to be seen anywhere in our region.

That sighting turned out to be the highlight of the day.

“These birds are usually found much further north although our regions do see the similar cedar waxwings,” said Burnett.

Other unusual birds seen on count day were one Nuttall’s woodpecker, one Eurasian wigeon and a peregrine falcon. Burnett stated that the water levels in creeks, rivers and the lake were exceedingly high and in fact, he has never seen Lake Almanor so high this early in winter.

“We had a beautiful day, but with a low turnout of six participants we could only cover three of our usual five routes,” said Burnett.

On Dec. 20, Tim Manolis, long-time compiler of the Honey Lake count, organized his group of about 12 participants. A total of 102 species were seen on the day of this count.

The increase in species numbers from other counts in that area can be explained by the milder weather in the Honey Lake Valley. It was a bright sunny day for the count and there were more bird-counting participants. More participants means more eyes to spot the birds.

Manolis reported that any time the species count is more than 100, “that is a good count.” With 102 species spotted, 2016 qualifies as a “good year.”

The “best bird” was a long-tailed duck as it was the first time one has ever been recorded for the count.

Other species seen which are rarely found on the Honey Lake count were two cinnamon teal, one greater scaup, four sandhill cranes and a Thayer’s gull.

A rare hermit thrush was found just outside the count circle in the Wendel area.

During the Honey Lake Christmas bird count, a raft of ducks play in the water. Photo by Dan Williams

There was also a count in Sierra Valley. Unfortunately the Eagle Lake count had to be cancelled due to severe rains and predicted flooding for that day.

Since the Christmas bird count began over a century ago, it has relied on the dedication and commitment of volunteers. Organizers encourage the public to “not be shy.” The Christmas bird counts need more volunteers.

Novice birders are able to join in on the fun right away. Beginners are placed in a group that includes at least one experienced birdwatcher. Anyone participating becomes part of over 100 years of citizen science involvement.

“We would love to have you,” invites Plumas Audubon Executive Director David Arsenault.

Plumas Audubon will be leading bird walks in the spring. Any interested person is welcome to join and start learning how to spot and identify birds.

Online information and schedules are available at plumasaudubon.org.

Plumas Audubon is able to provide conservation outreach in coordination with the National Audubon Society to manage the CBC historic database and make it available to researchers. Both groups rely primarily on donations and volunteers.