Christmas Bird count successful

We forgot take a photo before splitting up into the field. Here are some of us that did the 2018 Todos Santos CBC.
We forgot take a photo before splitting up into the field. Here are some of us that did the 2018 Todos Santos CBC.

This year’s Todos Santos Christmas Bird count was an unprecedented success for our area. I hope in future years we’ll be able to look back and see it as the start of a new day for citizen science in our part of the world. Twenty people from three countries speaking at least two languages got together and split up over 170 square miles of terrain to count as many birds as they could in one day. The first three years of counting only uncovered 74, 66, 44 species respectively.  We got 51 species with my team alone on CBC day. Our combined CBC circle teams tagged at least 109 species together. (An increase of 47% on the best year and 147% on the worst.) We don’t have the final numbers yet because only half our teams have submitted their completed tally sheets. Among those species seen were prized endemics found only in Baja California Sur: the San Lucas Robin, Xantu’s hummingbird, the Gray thrasher, Cassin’s (San Lucas) Vireo, the Vioscosa’s Band-tailed pigeon, and the Acorn woodpecker. Some people may quibble over endemic status for some of these but our Baja pride dictates we support the local UABCS scientists working so hard on the status of these birds. There were a couple other subspecies seen, too, but I can’t recall which right now.

I am eternally grateful to all the hard working bird professionals that came out to support the community effort. Staff and students of the Autonomous University of Baja California Sur gave up a day of their holidays to ensure our success. Burt and I are will continue to do what we can to help your programs succeed. Many thanks also to the expert guides and non-professionals who lent their eyes and ears. Your love of the birds is inspiring. And finally, to the newbies that were eager to learn and offered any support they had with driving, navigating, and feeding of teams. May you continue to learn and share all you have. Here’s who turned out: Emer Garcia, Gerardo Marrón, Victor Armando, Joaquin Corrales, Daniel Galindo, Andrea Quintaro, Kurt Radamaker, Cindy Radamaker, Bequia Martel, Damian Gonzáles, Pablo Gonzáles, Bobbi McElravey, Bill Levine, John Konovsky, Don Martin, Alejandra Yarely Barrios, Osiel A. Flores Rosas, Haidé Cruz, Burt Mittelstadt and me.

The week before the count Burt and I drove a lot of miles to make sure we knew the most productive areas and the best routes through the mountains. The results show our prep work proved worthwhile. Many people were surprised the mountain endemics were in our circle but we knew where to find them and those sweet birds showed up on the big day. What a relief. Thank you woodpeckers and robins.

My own personal day was spent slogging through my home turf of downtown Pescadero. But before that I had to get everyone else split into teams and out in the field. That night my fitbit said I slept 3 hours. Adrenaline was pumping as soon as my head hit the pillow. Thoughts kept popping up: Did I have enough maps, cars, snacks? Will they find the snipe at the dam? What about those Harris’s hawks? Do I need to bring sunscreen and bug juice? What if nobody helps me in Pescadero? When was the last time I saw a gray thrasher? What if nobody shows up? The alarm went off at 5 AM and I was in Todos Santos at our meeting point at 6:45. Burt arrived 15 minutes later in a spare vehicle. By 7:15 it was obvious we had enough experts and support to cover all the areas I had hoped to reach. I showed the teams my suggestions and we split up the people into teams of experts and support. There was a mild squirmish over the mountain areas. Our main coastal oases were so familiar to the best birders that they hoped for a day in the new terrain. Burt wound up in a car with 5 people, all of them with strong local skills and two of them at the expert level. That A team headed to the mountains. We had six teams. Three coastal oasis and town with agricuture and desert, and three in the desert to the edge of the mountains with some agriculture.

As for me, I had two amiable and kind helpers the first three hours but the slogging through sewage ponds and desert thorns under an unrelenting sun burned my guys out by lunch time. after a quick count at my feeder and some lunch I finished the lonely afternoon chasing sparrows and birds of prey in our agricultural fields. Around 3 PM Emer called in to say his team was done and back in Todos Santos. They had done the Santa Inez dam and its environs. We agreed to regroup and have a snack with the teams that were in from the field in Todos Santos. I did  a rough run through of total species seen. Aside from the endemics we added 12 species that weren’t even expected to be seen in our count during the CBC. I’ve got my work cut out for me explaining all the new birds.

After the snack groups went home to Cabo San Lucas, San Jose del Cabo, and La Paz. Kurt’s team was unaccounted for until 5 PM. They finally retired and headed to their hotel and Gerardo, Burt and I headed out to try and pick up some missing species and the night birds. Finally at 8 PM we showed Gerardo our guest bed and crashed. You might think the next day we would give it a rest but I had one of Baja’s best birders in my guest room and he was willing to bird my backyard and see what Pescadero had to offer so no, there was no rest for us.  Burt and I took Gerardo to our local black water effluent and Gerardo got to work. He confirmed my find of the endangered Belding’s Yellowthroat in our local cesspool, but where I was lucky to see one, he found six. This bird is a difficult ID. It is easy to wishfully call a common yellow throat a Belding’s so I was eager to confirm I wasn’t seeing things. I am very relieved. Gerardo is our local eBird reviewer and the only person ahead of me for number of checklists submitted to eBird in 2018. I tease him because if I was here full-time we’d have a real competition. And so we spent another day birding in the company of the amiable and productive Gerardo. We went to Elias Calles and La Poza, too. At 3:00 we parted because Burt and I had a tennis match with my dad and Sara Gay. After that I collapsed.

A special shout out to Jackie Lewis and Bonnie Bowen for encouraging me and Todos Santos EcoAdventures for passing the baton.

One of Baja's endemic species.
One of Baja’s endemic species, the gray thrasher. He sat there and said, “Count me!”
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Todos Santos Christmas Bird Count Tomorrow

Todos Santos Christmas Bird Count Circle. It’s 176.6 square miles or 457.4 km2 or 45,739 hectares. It’s big.

Did you know in the late 1800s there was a Christmas tradition of the Christmas side hunt? Parties would divide up and head into the wood in a competition to see who could kill more things, feathered or furred. Charming. If you think we’ve evolved since then remember we still do this with coyotes and rattlesnakes and other ‘vermin’, just not as a Christmas tradition. In 1900 ornithologist Frank M. Chapman came up with a new idea. Frank said, “Hey, it’s getting kind hard to find all those animals. Maybe we should count them and see how many are left.” No, not really. What is true is that Chapman was justifiably concerned about the birds and he proposed the switch from killing to counting. That first count had 27 counters in 25 locations. They found 89 species. You can see the results HERE. I’ll bet a librarian deserves credit for us knowing those very first results. Conservation was a new idea and what is now known as the CBC or Christmas Bird Count is still going strong. Here’s a link to what the North American coverage looked like in 2014.

The CBC has grown and overtime developed standard protocols. The result is a powerful data set fueled by citizen scientists over the course of more than a century. The cumulative years of methodically counting have netted priceless scientific insight. Many conservation advances of teh past can be credited to the sound scientific conclusions from this long view of nature. Sadly, there’s a lot more work to be done. The rapid pace of climate change is outpacing nature’s ability to adapt. Using this data we can see population shifts in real time. Many species will not make it as food and precipitation cycles gyrate wildly. The NY Times just published a story on one special spot on our globe. You can read it HERE. We can relate to this anecdotal story of boobies and penguins and iguanas but the truth is this is a global disaster and it’s happening all around.

Despite the horrifying news we chose to move forward in hope and continue to collect data. It might only be an exercise in respect and acknowledgement as we consciously observe the destruction we have wrought but perhaps it will help provide answers on how to move forward. I don’t know but I’m going to go out and count.

So tomorrow is our big day. Birders from all over the area are coming here to lend a hand. Novices and experts will work together to take stock of our treasured birds. We meet at 7 AM at the Todos Santos Bus Station. I have maps and snacks. Bring your sunscreen, bug spray, binoculars, and hats.

Desert Stink Bug
Desert Stink Bug
Class prep
Class prep
Decorations in downtown Pescadero.
Decorations in downtown Pescadero.
My lonely tree.
My lonely tree. Every last kid in town has a stomach bug.

 

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La Paz, BCS, México CBC

La Paz Christmas Bird Count circle
La Paz Christmas Bird Count circle. Check out the unique geography.

Christmas Bird Count season is upon us. That’s something to celebrate. This is the 119th anniversary of the largest citizen science project in the world. It’s successful because humans all over agree to go out and focus their birding efforts in a tight circle on a scheduled date. The collective CBC circles cover an area and span of time to have produced the most important bird trend data in the world. Burt and I were lucky to have participated in a Portal, AZ count a few years ago.  We followed our friend Peg Abbott of Naturalist Journeys as she birded her way up a mountain road over the course of a day. Peg explained the science of the CBC and shared her incredible bird identification skills while we spotted and kept count for her. We are hooked on birding in large part because people like Peg have generously spent time helping us learn the birds.

Yesterday Burt and I went to La Paz to help count in their amazingly diverse circle. They’ve got desert and agriculture and miles of shoreline and the open water of La Paz bay. Daniel Galindo-Espinosa is the compiler for La Paz and he welcomed our participation and has agreed to come to Todos Santos and help me out this week when we do ours. We were assigned to help our buddy Emer Garcia of the UABCS birding program at the city’s wastewater treatment plants. This might seem like a loser spot but it is actually one of the most important habitats in the Baja Sur region.  I kind of hoped for a new area and new birds but I was relieved for two reasons. Emer is a pro and Burt and I had birded the area the day before so we knew what to expect. Still it was also kind of overwhelming. The volume of birds on the treatment lagoons can make you crazy when you’re desert rats like us. We are used to spotting birds as individuals. Counting entire flocks and picking out unique individuals inside of heavy flocks is tiring work. It takes practice. Our team of 5 set to it with Emer keeping us under control and we think we did a pretty good job. Our search revealed 59 species and over 1000 individuals. There was nearly 100 white-faced ibis alone. And the ducks. Holy quakery, Bat Man, there were a lot of ducks.

Meanwhile Burt and I have been driving roads to make sure we can get people out to the areas we want birded this Thursday. Today we are taking one last excursion to the border of the Sierra de la Laguna. I saw something I’m hesitant to report just yet so we’re going to try and find it again and also check out some other spots.

Join us Thursday at 7AM (12/20) if you’d like to participate in the Todos Santos Christmas Bird Count.

The big wigs of BCS birding. Some of them.
Some of the birding people.
Our team at the La Paz sewage lagoons.
Our team at the La Paz sewage lagoons. The ducks were far away and tightly bunched.
This guy lost his tail while dancing like michael jackson. Thanks, Melissa
This guy lost his tail while dancing like michael jackson. Thanks, Melissa
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Exhaustion Week

 

Tilt
Tilt

The first week in Mexico is a tug of war between getting settled and reestablishing social connections. Our yard was weeded by our neighbors Vikki and German before our arrival. Having that chore done in anticipation of landing is a tremendous improvement over past years of wallowing around in thigh high stickers and thorns. But once we get here there’s a lot more to do. The water system and electricity need to be reconnected. Our hot water heater is a glassed in box with a few score feet of black tubing. That system needs to be rebuilt and the pump reinstalled. Our water tank must be refilled. The electricity comes from our solar panels on the trailer. Thant gets reconnected. Then there’s some bugs. Usually our bathroom and rumpus room have some insect squatters. This year there were some termites in the bed frame. Add rebuilding the bed to the list of chores. The usual roaches and spiders and six months of dust were cleared out with a broom. The trailer itself also requires a seasonal purge after the summer of constant motion and the 1,000 mile drive down the dusty peninsula. The rugs, bedding, and towels from trailer and bodega all go to the laundry. Then the furniture needs to be moved out of storage and into the yard. It’s kind of an ordeal but not to terrible an ordeal.

Meanwhile it’s Christmas week. People from all our social circles want to see us and I’m just not a party girl. Despite appearances Burt is not much of a party guy either. Many years we arrive in Baja after Christmas and are able to avoid the manic crush of seasonal events.  This year we’ve landed at Christmas and our week of adapting is overlaid with a flood of invitations for holiday parties and the return of routine activities like Bridge, tennis, Spanish class, yoga, and the kid’s group. Add in the Audubon Christmas bird count, too.  Oh, and my mom’s brother and his family are in town. Seven rarely seen family members are in Cabo for nearly a week. They are penciled in for lunch tomorrow. Phew. I just want to sit down and have a cup of tea and read a book. Instead I’m pondering how to construct sentences in the subjunctive (past, present, and future) and thinking up a lesson plan for the kids and wondering what to bring to that pot luck. I can hardly find time to walk and practice the fiddle.

Today is the morning of day 6 since our arrival. The home front was officially under control yesterday afternoon. The rumpus room was restored to order just as the kids arrived. One kid, La Frixia, arrived 2 hours early but that’s another story. I set Frixia to coloring in the Jaguar reserve coloring book while I packaged up 12 sets of Christmas presents. Class was a smoothly chaotic session of the words of questions, Christmas vocabulary, and notes to Santa. We only had seven students. The tweeners didn’t show up. Not a surprise. They are always welcome but every year as soon as they hit 12 or 13 the kids start doing other things. And it’s Christmas vacation. Santa was asked for a doll, games, clothes, a trip to Sinaloa, and a trip to Europe. Vikki, the mom, wants Europe. I wish I could take her.

Things will settle down soon.

Surreal landscape is real.
Surreal landscape is real.
Christmas Bird Count
Christmas Bird Count
English Class
English Class
Christmas Goodies
Christmas Goodies. I had to sort and package.
Troop of girls
Troop of girls
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Audubon Christmas Bird Count

Peg Abbot looking for birds. She can find them despite the conditions.
Peg Abbot looking for birds. She can find them despite the conditions.

My feet are finally warming up. Today was the 116th Annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count. This is the longest running citizen science project in the world. We joined our friend and professional guide, Peg Abbott, for a day of finding and counting birds high up in the Chiricahuas. As you can see from the pictures, the weather was suboptimal. The morning temperature was sub-freezing. I think it never got above 44 degrees F. Most of the day we were shrouded in damp fog. There was no wind. A wind might have made it intolerable and the birding would have been much less successful. It was gorgeous but tough work.

This past spring we went out with Peg on a warm sunny day in the Peloncillo Mountains. We had Pat along as our scribe. Where were you Pat? I had to do the note taking today. Accounting for the types and numbers of species is hard work. The birds all have abbreviated names to make bookkeeping easy. The first two letters of the (usually) two names. AM RO is American Robin, BA EA is bald Eagle. You get the idea. After 6 hours and over 5 miles of hiking in a variety of terrains we managed to see 30 species. There were over 300 individual birds. A few times I was confused by the bird code names. I embarrassed myself when I had to ask Peg what a CO RA was. It was a bird I found. The Common Raven. Oops.

Last Spring the MO DO was our most common bird. Morning Dove. This winter the most common bird was a DE JU. Dark Eyed Junco. Nearly 100. Except that the DE JU is split into the OR JU, the PS JU, SC JU and the RB JU. And I guess, the plain old dark-eyed Junco. That’s the Oregon Junco, the Pink-sided Junco, the Slate-colored Junco and the Red-backed Junco. Then there’s the Yellow-eyed Junco. My notes are quite a mess on this Junco issue. We saw nearly 80 that we could only identify as DE JU but we saw a smattering of all the rest, except the Slate-colored JU. The other very common bird was the NO FL, the Northern Flicker. Some 30 of these were in a flock just outside of Paradise.

Our route took us through several layers of the Chiricahua micro-climes. In each we found multi-species flocks. Peg could hear the birds and woo them in with a swishing sound she makes. Burt and I were auxiliary spotters and counters. The day was a great success but we missed seeing the Turkey and Montezuma Quail both of which we have seen anytime we weren’t actually looking for them.

This census is a big event all across the country. More than 50 people were counting in the Chiricahuas today. My friends Ed and Rosemary were counting in Death Valley. Tomorrow more people will head into the Peloncillos in neighboring New Mexico. We head back to the regular grind. Big thanks to Peg who makes the day so fun and educational.

Burt in a brief moment of sunshine.
Burt in a brief moment of sunshine.
Peg leading us to the Pygmy Nuthatches.
Peg leading us to the Pygmy Nuthatches.
Near Onion Saddle. We popped out of the fog for a few minutes.
Near Onion Saddle. We popped out of the fog for a few minutes.
Our birding range.
Our birding range.
My notes. Picture blurry but you get the idea.
My notes. Picture blurry but you get the idea.
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