By Sandi Funke, Education Director
In the spirit of the annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count which is celebrating its 114th year, Pepperwood, along with Sonomabirding, Safari West, and the Petrified Forest joined forces to launch the Mayacamas Christmas Bird Count for Kids. The count was held on the chilly morning of Saturday, December 7th, 2013. The purpose of the event was to get young people out engaging with our local environment in a meaningful way while also having fun. The data that was generated will help scientists answer questions critical to the conservation of local bird species.
Our young scientists, expert birders from the community, and staff gathered at Safari West early that Saturday morning. The youngsters ages 7 to 17 and their families started the day at “Binocular Bootcamp” with Tom Rusert and Darren Peterie, founders of the Christmas Bird Count for Kids. Outside the Café at Safari West participants learned the basics of how to operate binoculars as well as how to spot birds using strategically placed signs with laminated pictures of birds . They learned how and where to look for birds!
After learning about binoculars it was time to head out. The chilled but excited group formed five teams and ventured forth to survey woodland, forest, chaparral, pond, and meadow habitats at Safari West, Pepperwood, and the Petrified Forest. Once reaching their sites, they spent 90 minutes in the field identifying and counting birds. The teams then returned to Safari West. Pepperwood staff and the participants tabulated the results at a celebration lunch. After the tabulation, the teams of young people named the “Juncos, Bald Eagles, American Coots, Living Dodos, and Stellar Juncos” presented their results to the entire group. Afterwards participants enjoyed a visit with an American kestrel and a great horned owl brought over by The Bird Rescue Center of Sonoma County. Safari West staff then ended the event with a walking tour of Safari West where folks could go to meet birds from other parts of the world.
The teams of young people, staff, and seasoned area birders did a fantastic job on this bitterly cold morning getting out and counting our local birds. The teams counted 54 species and over 900 individual birds. Some of the biggest groups included a murder of crows, several hosts of sparrows, and a paddling of mallards numbering 40! Several unusual birds were spotted including an accipiter, two northern harriers, and a purple finch. Some of the participants included Pepperwood’s TeenNat interns, siblings Ben and Emma Hoffman. Speaking about the experience Ben shared, “We both enjoyed ourselves quite a lot. It was pretty humbling to hear this one particular bird watcher name off birds as they flitted by. On the whole a very interesting experience and nice to get back with the TeenNaters that were able to come.” Ben’s favorite bird was a red tailed hawk that was in a tree about 30 feet away from the group.
Lisa Hug, one of our expert birders shared her thoughts about the experience, “The kids I had were a little older - mostly teens. They were fantastic. I was impressed with how they took charge of the situation and worked together on things. They passed the clipboard around by themselves and planned their presentation totally on their own. They were very ‘into’ the birds and appreciated them even though they were very cold.”
The data the teams collected is being uploaded to the eBird database. eBird is a real-time, online checklist program. Launched in 2002 by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and National Audubon Society, eBird’s goal is to maximize the vast number of bird observations made each year by bird watchers. It is amassing one of the largest and fastest growing biodiversity data resources in existence. For example in just one month in 2012 over 3.1 million observations were uploaded. As explained on the eBird site, “When you submit a checklist to eBird, you make your observations available to the global community of researchers, educators, conservationists, birders and anyone else with an interest in birds.” Dozens of scientific publications have used the eBird data to further our understanding of the biodiversity of the planet!
The Mayacamas Christmas Bird Count for Kids was a collaborative effort between Pepperwood, Sonomabirding, Safari West, and the Petrified Forest. WE enjoyed getting to know each other more and brining this valuable experience to our community’s young people. We hope to make it an annual event so stay tuned next December for our 2nd annual bird count!
Special thanks to Steve Murdock for sharing his wonderful photographs of the event!