The white-crowned sparrow is common in Ventura County in winter and residents are likely to see them at their backyard feeders. Photo by David Pereksta. 

by Kimberly Rivers

krivers@timespublications.org

On Saturday, Jan. 4, members of the public can be part of the longest-running citizen scientist event in North America: the Christmas Bird Count. Counters include veteran birders as well as folks who have never gone birding before. Volunteers all over North America and parts of Latin America count birds and identify species in designated areas in an effort to collect data that demonstrate changes in population and migration.

“The count has changed over the years in that more and more people are becoming involved. Not only that, but birds are moving around gradually over the years,” said Frank DeMartino, a member of the Ventura Audubon Society who heads up the annual count. “Ventura Audubon Society keeps a database of the local count info and you can view population trends over the years. It’s pretty fascinating.”

Anyone can help with the bird count.

The count area in Ventura County is a 15-mile radius centered roughly on Cañada Larga Road in West Ventura. The circle is divided into eight sectors. People who live in the circle can count from their own backyard and folks from other areas can join a sector group to count with. Several local property owners allow access.

“We tend to get rare birds almost every year. Some of the interesting birds are ones that should have migrated farther south, but end up spending the winter in Ventura instead,” said DeMartino. “Sometimes we get really rare birds that are almost never seen in the county, like a rare Inca dove seen a couple years ago. You just never know what will show up on count day!”

History of the Bird Count

In the 1800s, hunters in the United States had a holiday tradition called the “Christmas Side Hunt.” Teams would form, and whoever brought back the most quarry would win. As the new century approached, scientists and members of the public noticed reductions in bird populations, fostering the idea of conservation. Frank M. Chapman, an ornithologist and early board member of the Audubon Society, wanted a new holiday tradition, and on Christmas Day in 1900 the Bird Count was born. That first census of local bird populations included just 25 birders in 25 locations, ranging from Toronto to Pacific Grove, California. Birders tallied 90 species in that first count.

Today, thousands of volunteers join together, contributing data that helps conservation efforts and tracks bird population health. The data is used by wildlife agencies, researchers and biologists, and allows them to see how the continent’s bird populations have changed over the past century. The information is vital in efforts to protect habitat for populations that may be declining.

Painted redstarts are rare in Ventura County, but this one has been at Arroyo Verde Park in Ventura since it was spotted on Nov. 21, 2109. Ventura Audubon members are hoping it will be around for the bird count.  Photo by David Pereksta.

The first count in Ventura County took place in 1980. Later, local Audubon member Karl Kraus served for 18 years as compiler for the Ventura Audubon Christmas Bird Count. He compiled data going back to 1980 with more recent data. Then, Brad Sillasen built an interactive online program to allow the data to be used by anyone at www.serpentrack.com/cbc/.

Data compiled in the bird counts contributed to the Aububon’s 2014 Climate Change Report detailing how over 500 bird species will be impacted by climate change.

Join the Ventura Christmas Bird Count

“The most important thing to know is that anyone can help out regardless of skill level,” said DeMartino. “People who live within the count area can count birds in their own backyards.”

If folks want to work with other counters, they can help by spotting birds, or tallying the count on the count form.   

The day ends with all volunteers, Audubon members, friends and guests coming together for a potluck to discuss the county and tally results. See the Ventura Audubon website for details.

Sign up to be part of the Christmas Bird Count by contacting Frank DeMartino at 856-906-8733 or visit www.venturaaudubon.org for information on the section leaders.