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News: 01/15/2015

Valley birders post 164 species in annual bird count

In a true example of “citizen science” at its best, more than 100 volunteer birders fanned out across Sonoma Valley to observe and record bird species during the 10th Christmas Bird Count on Dec. 26. New bird species are discovered and recorded in Sonoma Valley annually as a result of the decade-old Christmas Bird Count (CBC), spearheaded by Sonoma Birding. This is the single largest “citizen science” event for local residents. The overall results are sent to the national database at National Audubon and Cornell University.

Lewis’s Woodpeckers were seen on Sonoma Mountain, a first for the Annual Christmas Bird Count. Photo by Alan Wright .
From dawn to dusk, more than 25 birding teams in cars, by foot, bikes and boats covered more than 500 miles in 15-mile diameter circles. An unofficial total of 164 species were tallied, which is an increase of nine species over last year. These included unique species like the Snow goose, Blue-winged teal, Mountain quail, Northern Pygmy-owl, and Rufous-crowned sparrow. Perplexing misses include Pacific wren, most often found in deep ferny canyons.

On the other hand, there were also some surprises. On lower Sonoma Mountain, not far from Glen Ellen, five Lewis’s Woodpeckers were spotted, a first for the Sonoma Valley CBC. According to Gene Hunn, the official compiler for the event, Lewis’s Woodpeckers have been showing up all around the North Bay since November. Lewis’s Woodpeckers can be as large as 10 to 11 inches in length and exhibit “insect hawking,” catching insects in the air during flight, unusual for woodpeckers. Another recorded first for this count were eight Red Crossbills (from the Finch family). The 12 members of the Glen Ellen teams record 69 species in their territory this year.

Bald eagle, Prairie falcon, Burrowing owls (a total of four), Short-eared owls and Northern Saw-whet owl, white-throated swifts, Palm warbler and Vesper sparrow were also of significant note across the Valley on this sunny December day. Also notable, good numbers of Hooded Mergansers, Buffleheads, and wood ducks, with the exotic Mandarin duck back in town. The recent rains made a difference in the water birds recorded.

Founders of Sonoma Birding Tom Rusert and Darren Peterie were honored at the evening dinner celebration for their efforts in establishing the Sonoma Valley CBC 10 years ago.

The results of over 2,000 CBC’s in North America will be reviewed by state ornithologists over the next few months. The unofficial results for Sonoma Valley will be posted on Sonoma Birding’s website later this month. Learn more at

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