Christmas Bird Counts Gave the Atlas a Big BoostOur effort to coordinate Christmas Bird Counts with the San Diego Bird Atlas went surprisingly well for a first attempt. A big thank you to all the many count participants who diligently recorded their observations by atlas square. Anne and I are especially grateful to the count compilers, Claude Edwards (San Diego and Lake Henshaw), Bob Thériault (Borrego Springs), Dennis Wysong and Freeman Hall (Oceanside-Vista-Carlsbad), Robert Patton (Rancho Santa Fe), and Ken Weaver (Escondido), who integrated this extra complication into their long-established count procedures and sent us such superbly organized reports. All combined, the Christmas Bird Counts yielded 7374 records for the atlas, a huge step forward. They are making a major contribution toward meeting the threshold criteria for the winter season in many squares. When the atlas is done, it will have made the greatest use of Christmas Birds Counts ever in San Diego County.
Hail to our New Partnership
A major strength of our Bird Atlas project is its collaborative nature. Partnerships with agencies, organizations, and individuals are critical to our success. We are thrilled to announce that a new organization has joined us, and brings with it a financial commitment as well! The Zoological Society of San Diego (ZSSD), through its Conservation and Research Fund, has awarded the Bird Atlas Project $33,500 over the next two years to support staff salaries, recognition events and gifts for volunteers, and computer equipment. This year the Zoo funded only eight projects, with the Bird Atlas project receiving the highest award.
Having the Zoo as a major participant in the project is beneficial to all of us. It enhances the ZSSD as a supporter of local research and conservation efforts, as well as connecting it with a collaborative scientific research project. And we gain by having the credibility and stature of the ZSSD, and the knowledge and expertise of Bill Toone, Director of conservation Program, who now joins the atlas' advisory committee. Many thanks to Bill and Jeff Opdycke for shepherding the lengthy and complicated application process. We have already purchased a greatly needed new computer system, with GIS capabilities, for Phil and Ann to enter and manipulate data. And we are able to underwrite the costs of our event on 21 March. When you visit the lab that afternoon, you can take a gander at our state of the art hardware!
Our experiment with blockbuster weekends has gotten us into many poorly covered squares and generated a lot of useful data --1087 records from the first three weekends.
The Anza-Borrego Desert weekend on 10 and 11 January was threatened by rain, but on the desert floor the weather cleared at 7:30 AM, giving us good birding conditions, and we could not have asked for a nicer Sunday morning. Nine participants helped for at least one day, covering 11 squares.
Notable observations were of a Sage Thrasher at Barrel Spring in H29 by Phil Unitt and Jim Determan, remarkably high numbers (125) of the pale migratory subspecies of the Sage Sparrow along San Felipe Wash in I25 by Marcia Mann and Andy Mauro, and, totally unexpected, a Black-chinned Sparrow near Sunset Mountain in J26 by Jim Determan.
There are only six previous winter records of the Black-chinned Sparrow for San Diego County, all for inland valleys on the coastal side, except for one in desert-edge scrub on the 1994 Lake Henshaw Christmas Bird Count. Yet the species winters regularly in the Kofa Mountains of extreme southwestern Arizona. In the winter of 1955-56, a year of "unusual beneficial rains" according to the 1964 classic Birds of Arizona, that area experienced an unprecedented influx of Black-chinned Sparrows. According to long-time park biologist Mark Jorgensen, the well-spaced rains in the Anza-Borrego Desert this winter have been the most beneficial in 30 years. Did a Black-chinned Sparrow winter north of its usual range in response?
The Super Bowl gods smiled on our Dulzura/Potrero blockbuster on 24 and 25 January, yielding clear calm weather, 25 participants for at least one day, and enabling us to cover 14 squares. Those of us camping at Potrero County Park were treated to magnificent views of two Western Screech Owls, thanks to the owling skills of Geoff Rogers and Dave Seals. Highlights of the interesting observations were a Western Flycatcher (very rare in winter) along Marron Valley Road south of Dulzura in U17 by Clark Mahrdt, Orval Carter, and Wayne Pray, a California Gnatcatcher near Barrett Junction in U18, east of its previously known range, by Viviane Marquez and Geoff Rogers, two Long-eared Owls in a deep oak-wooded canyon along Highway 94 east of Potrero in U21 by Shauna Wolf and Andy Mauro, and a Steller's Jay near Lyons Peak in S17 by Marcia Mann (presumably it represents a sparse resident population in oak woodland far from conifers, since Steller's Jays, like many other mountain forest birds, are staying put in their breeding ranges this winter). Special thanks to Dr. William McNeely for allowing us access to his ranch in T20 for the weekend.
The threat of heavy rain shadowed the Valley Center/Pauma Valley blockbuster on 7 and 8 February, reducing the turnout to just eight participants, with only four of us camping at Hellhole Canyon County Park. Yet the days offered a lot of good birding time, allowing us to cover eight squares. Thanks to Dr. Willard Johnson for giving Shauna Wolf, Jim Determan, Jack Schlotte, and me the tour of Rancho Cuca in F14, which yielded a Lewis' Woodpecker, White-throated Sparrow, and adult Bald Eagle gliding overhead. A Gray Flycatcher, rare in winter, especially on the coastal slope, was an unexpected discovery along MacTan Road in Valley Center, square G12. Thanks to all the participants who made these weekends a success.
The winter blockbuster weekends were enough of a success to make them worth trying in the breeding season, too. So here is the rest of our 1998 blockbuster schedule:
18-19 AprilAnza Borrego Desert: Meet at 6:30 AM on Saturday 18 April at Tamarisk Grove Campground.
2-3 MayCampo/Boulevard region: Meet at 6:30 AM at the Buckman Springs Rest Area along Interstate 8.
16-17 MayDulzura/Potrero region: Meet at 6:30 AM at the Jamul Post Office, on the south side of Highway 94 just east of the center of Jamul.
6-7 JuneValley Center/Pauma Valley region: Meet at 6:30 AM at the Valley Center Post Office on the west side of Cole Grade Road, just north of Valley Center Road.
Spring Wing Ding
All San Diego County Bird Atlas participants are invited to our spring get-together at the Natural History Museum from 4:30 to 7:00 PM on Saturday 21 March. We will gather in the Museum's auditorium for news about the project and recognition of participants' accomplishments. Local bird photographer extraordinaire and atlas participant Tony Mercieca will treat us to a show of some of his work, which has appeared in many national magazines. Then we can enjoy some light refreshments and an open house of the Museum's library and bird and mammal department, including the collections. It will be an ideal time to ask question you may have about the project so we will get that answers to as many participants as possible.
There is no charge for atlas participants, $5 for guests. Please respond by 16 March, telling us how many in your group will be attending and sending a check made out to SDNHM for any guests. Look for an invitation in the mail shortly.
Questions? As always call Ann or Phil at 619-232-3821 ext. 235. We look forward to seeing you on 21 March.