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North America’s most popular sport (where to look for what)

Tuesday, January 8th, 2013 | Posted by

Western Bluebird (Ragle Park)

Sea and Shorebird Orientation for would-be monitors will take place from 10 a.m. to Noon on January 10 at Stewards’ conference room in Armstrong Woods. When you arrive at the park you can drive in without paying a fee. Stay to your right and follow the signs to the picnic area. Then continue to your right and you will end up in the parking lot where Stewards’ office is located. There will also be signs along the road.
On Thursday, January 17,  training will follow  on the coast. Says Stewards director, Michele Luna, “the group will be in the field for the morning session and then the afternoon will most likely be spent at our Visitor Center in Jenner where we will have presentations and discuss logistics. You will want to bring a lunch that day or you can purchase lunch at Aquatica Café in Jenner.”

If you know where and what to look for you should be able to tell a willet from a

Northern Oriole (Monte Rio)

whimbrel from a dowitcher from a godwit. There are several  unique habitats each of which provide nesting and food for particular species and if you know where to look, it’s easier to find what you’re looking for.
Many species may be found in several habitats but birds have needs and preferences which lead to their being attracted to those which serve their needs best  and these habitats are distinguished by distinct features.

In their book first published in 1978, “Birds of Sonoma County California”, Gordon L. Bolander and Benjamin D. Parmeter have named and described  habitats such  as Pelagic, Coastal Waters, Rocky Shore, Coastal Strand, Tidal Flats, Salt Marsh and others where the species that will be monitored may most readily be found. If you know what species prefers which habitat(s) it makes it easier to locate and  identify them.
Parmeter and Bolander also name specific locations where certain species have been seen and this is of invaluable use in knowing where to look for which species.
Aside from the many visual bird guides available, this book, available in the Sonoma Count library system, is packed with information that’s specific and extremely useful. Additionally, anyone who has birded with Dr. Parmeter knows the value of being able to identify birds (often hard to see) by ear. There are

Black Oystercatchers

several cds available which have bird calls of all the North American species. Of course a good, lightweight pair of binoculars is invaluable as well.
Shakespeare mentioned “going a-birding” (Merry Wives of Windsor) in 1602, “Bird” has been a verb since 1918 and according to a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service study in 2006, birdwatchers contributed  $36 billion  to the US economy , and one fifth (20%) of all Americans are identified as birdwatchers.

Another useful book is “Sonoma County Breeding Bird Atlas” , a project of the (local) Madrone Audubon Society, edited by long-standing member Betty Burridge. First published in 1995, this book has detailed maps and accounts for all of Sonoma County’s nesting birds.

An unusually  diverse area, Sonoma county has open ocean, rocky coasts, beaches, estuaries, bays, rivers and streams, chaparral, forested hills, ranch and farmland,  oak savannah and more and a total of 394 species of birds, 159 of which were found to have breeding evidence have been recorded in Sonoma county. This despite construction, a growing population, agricultural endeavors, housing developments and the fact that most of Sonoma’s forests have been cut at least once. Ring-necked pheasants, Short-eared owls and Ferruginous hawks which favor weedy and grassy fields are seeing their habitat rapidly disappear,

Acorn Woodpecker

and with it,  the birds that favor it.
For these reasons it’s important that the numbers of each species is regularly kept track of and thus it’s imperative that citizen-birders and those who care,  get involved in tracking them. The annual Christmas count is nationally competitive and great fun, but in-depth surveys (requiring attentive people and many hours) are even more important. If you have the time and energy, Stewards requests that you join them in their efforts.

All photos: Stephen D. Gross

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Stephen Gross, The River correspondent

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