Winter birdwatching is for the birds

Sequoia Riverlands Trust (SRT) and Tulare County Audubon Society (TCAS) invite all local bird-lovers to take part in a combination of fun and “citizen science” on the 26th annual Kaweah Christmas Bird Count (CBC) on Saturday, Dec. 22.

What is the Christmas Bird Count? From Dec. 14 through Jan. 5 each winter, tens of thousands of volunteers throughout the Americas take part in an adventure that has become a family tradition among generations. Families and students, birders and scientists, armed with binoculars, bird guides and checklists go out on an annual mission – often before dawn.

For over 100 years, the desire to both make a difference and to experience the beauty of nature has driven dedicated people to leave the comfort of a warm house during the Holiday season. Please check some of the stories on this link to learn about the history of the CBC, personal stories of bird counters, and how the CBC data contributes to bird conservation.

Each of the citizen scientists who annually braves snow, wind, or rain (or fog) to take part in the Christmas Bird Count makes an enormous contribution to conservation. National Audubon Society and other organizations use data collected in this longest-running wildlife census to assess the health of bird populations – and to help guide conservation action.

Everyone who takes part in the Christmas Bird Count does it for love of birds and the excitement of friendly competition — and with the knowledge that their efforts are making a difference for science and bird conservation.

Sponsored by National Audubon Society (Sequoia Riverlands Trust will coordinate this year’s event with the local Tulare County Audubon Society chapter), this event is the world’s largest all-volunteer wildlife survey.

As a birding event, the CBC has grown so much in popularity over the years that over 63,000 participants observed over 650 species in North America on over 2,200 separate CBCs that were conducted during the 112th count (2011-12). This includes over 2,000 counts in Canada and the United States (including Hawaii) and over 100 in Latin America, the Caribbean, and the Pacific Islands. CBCs are conducted within a circle 15 miles in diameter during a 24 hour calendar day.


History of the Kaweah CBC

Our local CBC, the Kaweah CBC is so named because its count circle is bisected by the Kaweah River and it encompasses the Kaweah Oaks Preserve and Kaweah Reservoir. When this count was first conducted in 1983-1985 it was called the Three Rivers-Woodlake count. In December 1986, the center of the count circle was moved to a spot 1.75 miles SSW of McKay Point so that it would cover the entire Kaweah Reservoir, and portions of Yokohl Valley and Dry Creek (all important bald eagle wintering areas) and would also include the newly established Kaweah Oaks Preserve (on the western edge of the official count circle). Other locations within the Kaweah CBC circle include the Kaweah Reservoir forebay, Saint Johns River, Woodlake and Bravo Lake, Antelope Valley, Elderwood, Wutchumna Hill, the entire town of Exeter, Badger Hill and Rocky Hill, Lemoncove and Mehrten Creek, the Monrovia Nursery, Charter Oak Drive, and the railroad N of Lort Drive. The ecological value of SRT’s special properties … the Kaweah Oaks Preserve (only ½ square mile of a 177 square mile count circle), Dry Creek Preserve, and Homer Ranch far exceeds their size. Impressive species diversity and large bird populations are noted at these Preserves every year. Several species in the Kaweah Count circle have only been found at Kaweah Oaks Preserve and along Dry Creek and several species are present in their largest local populations in the habitats at these Preserves.


Who Can Help?

As long as you can tell a hawk from a hummingbird and if you enjoy being outdoors where you can learn about birds as we tally their numbers, YOU can help SRT and TCAS with this birding event. To help on the bird count, you do not need to be an experienced birder; you just need to have a desire to help with a fun project outdoors. Finding as many bird species as we can within the count circle’s 177 square mile area requires tremendous observer effort; the more participants (organized into field parties of 2-4 birders) involved, the better the coverage. Good weather certainly encourages participation, both in the field and at bird feeders (feeder watchers participate in the comfort of the warm homes as they tally birds out the kitchen window). All participants will be part of a “party” (it even sounds fun) where there will be at least one experienced birder to help identify different species. Beginners can be valuable spotters; some participants enjoy keeping the tally. You can bird for as much (pre-dawn owling until dusk for die-hards) or as little (just a few hours) as you wish. Most parties see from 30 to 50 bird species in the territory they cover, depending on the habitat. If you are an experienced birder and would like to be a party leader, contact Rob Hansen soon. Please let him know if you have a habitat or location preference. In addition to the Kaweah Count, there are also CBCs in Springville (Dec. 15), Sequoia National Park (also on Dec. 15), Yosemite National Park (Dec. 16), Buena Vista Lake (Kern County) on Dec. 18, Bakersfield (Dec. 19), Los Banos in Merced County on Dec. 27, Carrizo Plain in San Luis Obuispo County on December 29, Lost Lake/Fresno (Jan. 5), and South Fork Kern River (Kern County), also on Jan. 5, 2013 (nearby counts are scheduled on separate days as much as possible with most occurring on weekends).


When and Where to Meet

This year we will try to have most parties organized ahead of time so you can coordinate with your party leader on a meeting time and place. If you have not been assigned to a party, please meet at the Kaweah Oaks Preserve gate (one-half mile north of Highway 198 on the west side of Road 182) at 7AM to join a party of birders. Even if you want to help for just a half day (morning or afternoon), Rob will help connect you with a crew leader somewhere in the field (but he does need to hear from you ahead of time to help make plans). At dusk we traditionally meet for pizza at Todd’s Pizza Factory in Woodlake to go over each party’s results and to compile a list of species seen during the day.

Please contact Rob Hansen (email at [email protected] or by cell phone 559/799-7181) as soon as you can to let him know that you want to help on the Kaweah CBC.

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