Last year at this time, I wrote about Baykeeper’s first-time participation in the Audubon Society’s Christmas Bird Count and my experience as a novice birder on the Bay. This December, the Baykeeper boat was out on the Bay once again to assist with the 111th Christmas Bird Count, joining more than 60,000 people nationwide in documenting trends in bird population. We worked with both Marin Audubon and the Golden Gate Audubon Society to count birds spending the winter on the Bay. Over the course of two days, a team of Baykeeper volunteers and I spent about 13 hours on the Bay and identified 9,500 birds.
Our area for the San Francisco count included much of the central Bay, stretching down to the San Francisco Airport. Heading south along this wide arc, we saw numerous diving ducks this year, including every species of grebe and scoter that winters in the bay, many cormorants and buffleheads, and both Pacific and common loons. We also were lucky to see a Pigeon Guillemot, which is an ocean bird that usually is not seen on the Bay.
Coming back north along the San Francisco waterfront, we hugged the six-foot contour (which was about as shallow as we could comfortably take the Baykeeper boat), counting thousands of buffleheads and scaup. The Marin count circle started at the Marin Headlands, swept east to take in Red Rock Island near Richmond, then moved back west to McNears Beach. We covered the northern half of the area, while Helen and Bill Lindquist surveyed the southern portion in their boat.
Perhaps because the weather was rough that day, the Baykeeper team saw fewer diving ducks than last year, though surf scoters (a species that was heavily impacted by the Cosco Busan oil spill) were well represented on the open Bay. We also spotted a red-shouldered hawk on Marin Island and a male Peregrine falcon living under the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge. The most exciting report from the Bay that day came from the Lindquist boat. In the deep waters of Raccoon Straight, a giant crowd of about 10,000 birds, including pelicans, cormorants, loons, grebes and a somewhat rare Mew gull, were feasting on fish brought in with the high tide. Marine mammal sightings topped the day off, with numerous harbor seals, California sea lions and pods of harbor porpoises joining the frenzy in Raccoon Straight.
Baykeeper team member Bridget Greuel (an avian ecologist) contributed to this article.To learn more about the Marin, San Francisco, and Oakland Bird Counts, visit marinaudubon.org and goldengateaudubon.org.