The 2022 Christmas bird counts were a mixed bag – Fort Bragg Advocate-News


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FORT BRAGG, CA — The two bird counts are held on separate days, partially because many of the volunteers participate in both. The Mendocino Coast Audubon Society organizes the counts.  It was the 49th count in Manchester and the 12th in Fort Bragg.
In past years Manchester tended to have great weather for their count, and Fort Bragg often counted in less-than-perfect weather.  This year the tables turned. The Fort Bragg count was on December 19th, which was cloudy but not storming.  The Manchester count was on January 2nd during a major storm.  According to Dave Jensen, the coordinator for Manchester, weather impacts the count.  The last time they counted during a stormy day, they had 118 separate species.  This year they counted 129 species versus the 135 they got in good weather in 2021. Jensen attributes the higher number to the standing water along the south coast.  According to Jensen, the ponds were full, the creeks were flowing, and water meant food.
Fort Bragg counted 143 species of wild birds and the Mute swans often seen at Pudding Creek.  It was the best numbers they’ve had in several years, according to Tim Bray, who coordinates the Fort Bragg count. Mute swans are not considered wild.  They are often escapees from private or public water features and are considered feral pets.  They are countable in some areas of North America, where they have established a self-sustaining wild population that maintains itself and spreads.
Both Jensen and Bray agree that while species count is important and a valuable data set, it doesn’t take into account the decline in total numbers of birds.  While they have seen many species, they see fewer birds per hour. Bray says there is a worldwide decline in the total number of birds, which is a concern.
The Fort Bragg circle goes from Cleone to Big River.  The most unique bird that was seen was a Black and White Warbler.  Penny Lancaster spotted the bird off the haul road by Big River.  The warbler should’ve been in the Caribbean or Central America.  It was the fifth confirmed record of this species in Mendocino.
The Manchester Circle starts north of Elk to the north of Point Arena. They didn’t see anything exotic but were happy to spot a Long Tail Duck at the mouth of the Garcia.  The duck in question is a sporadic visitor.  Dave was also happy they spotted a Rough-Legged Hawk.  The hawks used to have fairly large numbers on the coast but have been harder to spot in recent years.
Dave also participated in the Ukiah count, where he saw a Yellow Warbler, a Nashville Warbler, and a Pacific Slope Flycatcher.  All three are warm-weather birds.
Owls did better this year.  In Fort Bragg, Bray got both Saw-wet and Pygmy owls. His team spotted Great Horned and two Burrowing owls.  They did not see Spotted, Barred, Screech or Barn owls. He says they need more volunteers to really get a good count on owls.  Owl counters need to be up and out before daylight. Jensen spotted a Barn owl while driving down to Manchester.
Some of the expected birds that were not seen were the Black Crown Night Heron and Northern Pintail.  Another bird that was scarce was the Kildeer.  This was the second year that Kildeers were mostly absent.  Bald Eagles have become common on the south coast, and there have been multiple sightings. This year, the Bald Eagle pairs at Ten Mile didn’t show themselves in the Fort Bragg circle.
Both counts are dependent on volunteers.  In Fort Bragg, they had between thirty and forty volunteers.  It was Esme Plascencia’s first count.  She is Latino Outdoors’s local coordinator and an avid self-taught birder.  She enjoyed the experience because of the numerous types of birds she had never seen before and because they had a very calming effect.  She encourages more people to go out bird-watching.  “It’s free, and you can do it alone or with other people,” Plascencia says. During the Fort Bragg count, she learned a lot about bird behaviors and the different sounds to listen for.
In Manchester, they had about thirty volunteers to cover seven territories. Dave is hoping to add some new birders to the Manchester count in time for the 50th anniversary next year.  He plans to make the next count special with an event held in Point Arena.
The Mendocino Coast Audubon Society leads bird-watching walks all year long.  To find out more, go to www.mendocinocoastaudubon.org.
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