Bay bird counts turn up some surprises

Every year around Christmas time, birders across the country grab their cameras, binoculars and notebooks to take part in what might be the world’s oldest example of crowd-sourced science.

Under the auspices of the National Audbon Society and its local chapters, the goal of the Christmas bird count is to observe and tally up as many birds and bird species as possible, providing valuable wildlife census data for researchers and conservationists.

Though the official count period continues through Thursday, Bay Area bird watchers are reporting unofficial results, including surprise and notable sightings of birds not often spotted in the region.

153 species were spotted in central Contra Costa County, with pacific loon and barrow’s goldeneye among the rarer sightings. In eastern Contra Costa County, 143 species were tallied including a long-eared owl, new to the count.

Palo Alto bird counters working between the Bay and Skyline Boulevard tallied 168 total species in their cold and windy Dec. 19 count. Rare sightings made this year included a male ruff in Crittenden Marsh, and a repeat sighting of a yellow-bellied sapsucker.

Jack Cole, coordinator of the Palo Alto count, characterized this year’s count to SFBay as “average” in terms of total species. Cole said areas along the Bay tallied tens of thousands of shorebirds, and he himself spotted an estimated 30,000 shorebirds at one time, both on the ground and in flight.

Also on the Peninsula, Half Moon Bay Patch reported the Sequoia chapter of the Audubon Society sighted 195 species, including a bald eagle at Crystal Springs Reservoir.

The results of the Christmas bird counts are added to a database maintained by the Audubon Society to help understand bird behavior and promote conservation.