Counting Our Friends

Dear Jane,

I enjoyed doing the Christmas Bird Count with you on Saturday– it’s a good feeling to be part of an historical tradition that goes back 115 years! I have done the CBC in previous years but this was my first time on the San Lorenzo River. With all our careful scanning and counting, did you realize that it took us more than 5 hours to cover our small patch along both sides of the river from the Trestle up to the Highway 1 Bridge? That’s not counting the short break we took for some hot chai at Hoffman’s!

The saddest moment for me in our count was tallying the two EARED GREBES, a pretty low number.

eared grebe
Eared Grebe

I only learned this year that, according to a recently published study by the Audubon Society, this species is threatened with the loss of 100% of its summer breeding range by 2080 due to climate change. That means that it will almost certainly disappear from North America. Future birders may not see this wonderful little bundle of energy that hardly stays above water long enough to catch its breath before it dives again after a new fishy mouthful.

I’m so glad that you spied the OSPREY as it sailed in briefly to say ‘hello’ and then zoomed out towards the ocean. I know it is an old friend of yours and that it surely would have wanted to be counted! This species was only seen a few times during the Saturday bird count so it was an important sighting. The Osprey is also on the Audubon list of 314 birds who are ‘threatened’ or ‘endangered’ by climate change. It barely recovered from the threat of DDT not that long ago. Now it is again threatened, this time by climate change – projected to lose 79% of its current summer range by 2080.

We saw lots of COMMON GOLDENEYES (118) and BUFFLEHEADS (51) so it is hard to imagine that they are also on the Audubon list. But, yes, sadly, the  Buffleheads are projected to lose 79% of their summer breeding range, and Goldeneyes expected to lose 61% by 2080. The other threatened birds listed by Audubon that we saw on the river on Saturday are


Many of these are ‘common’ birds that we take for granted. But the California Gull is predicted to lose 98% of its breeding habitat by 2080, and even the least threatened one on the list, the Common Raven, is predicted to lose 62% of its breeding habitat by 2080.   One Threatened species that is a regular on our river but that we did not see on our count was the BLACK-CROWNED NIGHT-HERON, which is projected to lose 89% of its breeding range.  That’s 14 species of river species that are threatened or endangered by climate change.

In all, we saw 50 species during our five hours on the river, so that still leaves 39 species that we counted and that Audubon has not yet put on the endangered list. That includes, thankfully,  the beautiful Great Blue Herons and Egrets. Let’s hope all species, endangered or not, figure out a way to survive and flourish in the coming decades. It’s the season of miracles, after all.

The most moving moment of the day, for me, was at the Countdown Dinner at the end of the day – when everybody returns from their long days in the field to share their sightings and calculate the total numbers of species as well as individual birds. The first thing that Eric Feuss, the CBC coordinator, did was to read out loud the names of each of the 183 species that each group had on its tally sheet.   After the name of each bird, leaders of each of the 16 sections would call out ‘yes’ if they had seen the bird. There would be a collective sigh of relief when there was at least one ‘yes’ after an uncommon bird. And when there was no ‘yes’, as in the case of the Clark’s Grebe, there was a painful silence as all the bird lovers in the room were reminded of the threat of development and climate change that continue to exact such a heavy toll on our precious bird populations.

At least the Santa Cruz Bird Club is keeping track of this threat. It felt so good to spend all day with this tribe of bird lovers.





2 thoughts on “Counting Our Friends

  1. That must have been a wonderful closing, reciting the birds sighted — birds and humans in a community. You bring us non-birders into your society.

  2. Thank you, Ed. Your comments always seem to go to the heart of what I am trying to communicate. More than I been realize sometimes. Yes, we are one family.

Leave a Reply to Ed Hurley Cancel reply