Archive for the ‘Citizen Science’ Category

PBCS logoThe Drake’s Beach Sanderlings 

A Point Blue Conservation Science, Rich Stallcup Bird-a-thon Team

Dear Sponsor,

The Drake’s Beach Sanderlings met again this year on the 24th of September for our 17th annual Bird-a-thon. As always, this was a fast paced day with a lot of jumping in and out of cars at sites all over Marin County. This year was another drought year for California with little or no water at many of the sites visited. Additionally, with a light breeze and clear skies for the proceeding several nights, many migrants were able to continue their journeys. This resulted in some very quiet sites. But each quiet site only inspired us to search every bramble, examine every bird, and after a day of fighting for every species, we ended with a lot of birds on our list and had a simply splendid day!


The 2016 Sanderlings group photo (Photo by Cheryl Ishida).

The team, this year was comprised of Ellen Blustein, Aaron Haiman, Catherine Berner, Lyell Nesbitt, Jonah Benningfield, Max Benningfield, John Myles, Eddie Monson, and Connor Cochrane. And the level of enthusiasm on this year’s bird-a-thon was at a particularly high mark which made the day particularly special.

We began at the Bear Valley Visitor Center to try to hear some owls. Under a spectacular starry sky, this was our first indication that we were going to have to work hard for our species. Generally, the Great Horned Owls around Bear Valley, but that morning was silent. We quickly decided to move on and headed to Olema Marsh where Ellen clapped the rails into chorus. Then it was off to Five Brooks Pond where we finally heard Great Horned Owls calling back and forth. After searching for songbirds despite a very mild dawn chorus we began our crisscrossing of Marin from Stinson Beach to the Outer Point to the interior of the county and the east side. Some of the birds and stops that were especially notable included: the Swainson’s Thrushes we heard at Five Brooks; a little flock of Pygmy Nuthatches and a spectacular set of chases by Parasitic Jaegers going after Brown Pelicans or Elegant Terns at Stinson Beach; while the ranches on the Outer Point were pretty empty, we did enjoy the flocks of Tricolored Blackbirds, and at our stop at the Elephant Seal Overlook we were treated to a Black Oystercatcher and a Rock Wren which are both species we usually miss;  at Las Gallinas we picked up a Palm Warbler and a Lesser Scaup! Finally we ended at the Embassy Suites Marsh for a final Ridgeway’s Rail as the sun set!


The Drake’s Beach Sanderlings birding on Drake’s Beach (Photo by Kristin Myles)

After all was said and done, and we had searched Marin County for 14 hours, we spotted a total of 131 bird species (see below) and learned and laughed a lot! It was terrific to be out in the field with such a great group, and we are already looking forward to next year.

Thank you for your support of this amazing team, of Point Blue Conservation Science, and of birds in general. Your donation will be used to help study and protect birds and the ecosystems in which they live against climate change and habitat loss. It also sends an important message that people care about the natural world. We hope you will choose to support us again in the future.

With Gratitude,

The Drake’s Beach Sanderlings


Total Species List 2016:


Red-throated Loon, Pacific Loon, Common Loon, Pied-billed Grebe, Western Grebe, American White Pelican, Brown Pelican, Double-Crested Cormorant, Brandt’s Cormorant, Pelagic Cormorant, Great-Blue Heron, Green Heron, Black-crowned Night-Heron, Snowy Egret, Great Egret, Canada Goose, Wood Duck, Green-winged Teal, Cinnamon Teal, Northern Shoveler, Mallard, Northern Pintail, Gadwall, American Wigeon, Lesser Scaup, Surf Scoter, Red-breasted Merganser, Turkey Vulture, Osprey, White-tailed Kite, Northern Harrier, Cooper’s Hawk, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Red-shouldered Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk, American Kestrel, Peregrine Falcon, California Quail, Ridgeway’s Rail, Virginia Rail, Sora, Common Gallinule, American Coot, Black-bellied Plover, Killdeer, Black Oystercatcher, Black-necked Stilt, American Avocet, Greater Yellowlegs, Willet, Spotted Sandpiper, Long-billed Curlew, Marbled Godwit, Least Sandpiper, Long-billed Dowitcher, Parasitic Jaeger, Heermann’s Gull, Ring-billed Gull, California Gull, Herring Gull, Western Gull, Glacous-winged Gull, Elegant Tern, Forester’s Tern, Common Murre, Pigeon Guillemot, Mourning Dove, Band-tailed Pigeon, Barn Owl, Great Horned Owl, Vaux’s Swift, Anna’s Hummingbird, Belted Kingfisher, Acorn Woodpecker, Nuttall’s Woodpecker, Pileated Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, Pacific Slope Flycatcher, Black Phoebe, Say’s Phoebe, Barn Swallow, Steller’s Jay, California Scrub-Jay, American Crow, Common Raven, Chestnut-backed Chickadee, Oak Titmouse, Bushtit, White-breasted Nuthatch, Pygmy Nuthatch, Brown Creeper, Rock Wren, Bewick’s Wren, Pacific Wren, Marsh Wren, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Western Bluebird, Swainson’s Thrush, American Robin, Wrentit, Northern Mockingbird, Hutton’s Vireo, Warbling Vireo, Yellow Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Black-throated Gray Warbler, Townsend’s Warbler, Palm Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, Spotted Towhee, California Towhee, Savannah Sparrow, Fox Sparrow, Song Sparrow, Golden-crowned Sparrow, White-crowned Sparrow, Dark-eyed Junco, Red-winged Blackbird, Tricolored Blackbird, Brewer’s Blackbird, Great-tailed Grackle, Brown-headed Cowbird, House Finch, Lesser Goldfinch, American Goldfinch, Mute Swan, Wild Turkey, Rock Pigeon, Eurasian Collard-Dove, European Starling, House Sparrow


Stripped Skunk, Coyote, Raccoon, Mule Deer, Humpback Whale, Harbor Seal, Sonoma Chipmunk, River Otter, Grey Fox


Monarch, Western Tiger-Swallowtail, Green Darner, Black Saddlebags, Vivid Dancer


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Wrentit (the 2015 Bird-a-thon mascot)

Dear Friends,

For over 15 years, The Drake’s Beach Sanderlings have participated in the Point Blue Conservation Science Rich Stallcup Bird-a-thon, and in so doing provided dozens of young birders the opportunity learn about birds, bird conservation, and ecosystem stewardship.

Planning for the 2016 Rich Stallcup Bird-a-thon is underway now and your help is needed for this event’s continued success! Sponsor support has provided thousands of dollars towards environmental stewardship and conservation of the ecosystems on which we all depend. Further, your support of the Drake’s Beach Sanderlings encourages young people to go out and engage with birds, the birding community, and the natural world as a whole.

We can meet the challenges that the future is presenting, but it will only be possible with the generous contributions of our sponsors.

The Drake’s Beach Sanderlings take pride in their tradition of providing education and stewardship for young and old. Participants learn how to protect the environment and the avian creatures we love so much. We also visit a wide range of locations and habitats and so gain a better understanding of the range of biodiversity that exists in Marin County.

PBCS logoThe Drake’s Beach Sanderlings was the first youth bird-a-thon team supported by Point Blue Conservation Science. Over the years, the extraordinary efforts conducted by members of this team have helped to foster a deep seated passion for wildlife and conservation in young people. These young people have then carried that passion and knowledge into the world with them as they have expanded and spread to a wide range of endeavors.

I am excited to report that in the 2015 Bird-a-thon, the Drake’s Beach Sanderlings:

  • Birded for over 14 hours, beginning at 5:30am.
  • Covered over 100 miles, zig-zagging across Marin County.
  • Saw a total of 142 species of bird.

As we prepare for the 2016 Drake’s Beach Sanderlings Bird-a-thon, we know the time and support of our team members is priceless, but the financial support from you and others like you is what makes it possible for the bird-a-thon and Point Blue to grow and improve year after year.

So stand out as a leader! Donate $15.00 or whatever you can as a sponsor of the Drake’s Beach Sanderlings. Your support provides opportunities for young and old to demonstrate environmental stewardship, experience the rewards of connecting with their environment, and make a real difference in their communities and the world. And donating is easy! Just go to our team website: http://birdathon.kintera.org/faf/search/searchTeamPart.asp?ievent=1164352&lis=0&kntae1164352=3E274B2B05C54EDE984F8053552EF68D&team=6822398 and click on the “Donate” button.

We very much appreciate your support. If you have any questions about The Drake’s Beach Sanderlings, the Rich Stallcup Bird-a-thon, or our any other aspect of this event please e-mail or call me at aaron.haiman@deltaconservancy.ca.gov or 510-289-7239.


Aaron N.K. Haiman

Drake’s Beach Sanderlings Team Co-Leader




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You Are Invited to Help Save the Delta!


A pile of garbage illegally dumped along a roadway in the Delta

Trash in the world’s waterways and oceans has been making a lot of news lately. A recent report from the World Economic Forum estimates that by 2050 there will be more plastic in the oceans of the world, by weight, than fish. The report further calculates that amount of trash flowing into the oceans is equal to about one large dump truck load being dropped every minute. All this garbage has far reaching effects such as the beached whales around the world that are frequently found with 20-30 lbs or more of plastic in their stomachs and the 1 million or more seabirds that die from plastic ingestion every year.

It has been estimated that about 70% of all this trash originates on land…from humans…we are the problem!

Want to be a part of the solution?

The Delta Conservancy is hosting Delta Waterways Cleanups as part of Creek Week, an event organized by the Sacramento Area Creeks Council, to help stem the flood of trash to the waterways and the ocean. On April 9th we will be organizing two sites in the Delta. One site is located along the shore of Sherman Island. The other site is in the Sacramento Bufferlands along Lower Morrison Creek. Join with hundreds of other volunteers and come spend the morning with us pulling all manner of trash out of the waterways of the delicate ecosystems of the Delta. If you do, you will be helping to keep our waterways, our planet, clean and healthy.

Online Registration is at: http://www.creekweek.net/vdelta.html and additional information on the sites and detail for the day can be found at: http://deltaconservancy.ca.gov/waterway-cleanups-0/

Please feel free to share this invitation widely with anyone who may wish to join us.

If you have questions, contact me at: aaron.haiman@deltaconservancy.ca.gov

I hope to see you there!

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I have been spending a decent amount of my birding time, recently, going to local spots near my house and seeing what is flying and hopping around there. In so doing, I have been thinking a lot about how much time it takes to really know a place.

While looking at eBird, the worldwide birding database run by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, I found that it has some really interesting and fun ways of depicting the data that birders have entered. One such was are the bar charts that eBird will generate for any birding site. If you do so, you will see that eBird lists what species have been seen at a particular location (Yellow-rumped Warbler, Swainson’s Hawk, etc.) and also the frequency that this species is encountered (every list submitted has Yellow-rumped Warbler, but only a quarter of the list submitted include Swainson’s Hawk, etc.). By looking over this type of data you can get a sense of when birds show up and how often they do so. You would be able to see that at some of the sites near me in West Sacramento, CA, that there are a lot of Yellow-rumped Warblers that are seen very frequently in the non-breeding season, but that they leave in the breeding season. You would notice that in the breeding season there are Swainson’s Hawks around, but not as many individuals as Yellow-rumped Warblers, and that the Swainson’s Hawks leave in the non-breeding season.

Having all this information at our fingertips is pretty awesome! But, when you start to look at what it takes to get this data, you will notice that it is a lot of work! You will also notice how many holes there still are in these datasets.

Picture, if you will, a favorite birding spot. Some place that you go to often and feel that you know quite well. Hold that favorite spot in your mind as we go forward. EBird organizes a lot if its data by week. So there are four weeks in each month. That means that to create a compete record of birds with a full set of data points on the chart for your special spot, you will need to go once per week for a year, or 52 times. And even that will only give you one observation for each of those weeks. To really get a sense of the bird community at your favorite birding spot, you should probably go more than once. So, if you want a more realistic picture of the birds at your favorite birding spot, you will need to go something like 100 times! And that is just to a single location. How many birding spots out three have you visited 100 times? I have a few, but not many.

To really know a place requires a significant effort. Sure, after a visit or two, you may have a pretty good idea of the kinds of birds you might find there, but in any detail. That does not come easily. That requires time and energy. But it is so eminently worth the time and energy! If you know a place in all its seasons, in all its moods, you will develop a special bond with that piece of land. You will have a better understanding of that particular corner of the world than any other. And that is no small accomplishment!

So go out to your local, special, favorite birding spots, and go often. Forge your bonds!

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The Great Backyard Bird Count is fast approaching! Every year, birders take to their yards and have a look around. This is the essence of the Great Backyard Bird Count, or GBBC as it is sometimes referred to. The idea is that, like a Christmas bird count or breeding bird survey, individuals can all contribute to a snapshot of bird activity over a large geographic area. This year, the dates are between February 12th and 15th. By comparing these snapshots over time, a lot of amazing observations can be made.

One of the great things about the GBBC is that it is so easy to participate in. You do not need to drive far, there is no difficult terrain to overcome, you don’t even have to get in touch with an organizer in advance and tell them you are coming! All you need to do is go to your backyard and count birds for as long or short a period of time as you like, and then post the list of what you saw online. That’s it!

One of things that makes the GBBC special is its place in the history of birding. In 1988, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society got together and launched a project where individual birders could individually count birds and then put them online. Now remember, in 1988 birding was not very digital. This was actually the first time that a nation wide attempt like this had ever been made! It was a huge success, and the GBBC took off. Even larger efforts like eBird may not have happened if not the pioneering idea of the GBBC. The rise of citizen science was likewise fueled by the success of the GBBC.

This year, the GBBC has a theme: Take someone birding! The idea this year is to share birding with someone else. Maybe it is someone who has never birded before. Maybe it is someone how birds, but does not add sighting to online databases. Maybe it is someone how is a serious birder who you simply don’t go birding with very often. Whatever the case may be, this year (starting tomorrow) go out and bird with someone!

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With the year’s end drawing near, wordpress.com has been creating annual reviews of blogs that they host. The 2015 Annual Review for ABirdingNaturalist is here, in case you want to have a look at what kind of activity goes on in this little corner of the blogsphere. The number that I like a lot is that people from 91 different countries stopped by for a read during 2015. I think that is pretty cool.

Happy New Year, and see you in 2016!

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Dear Friend,

Fifteen years ago, I was one of the founding youth members of a youth bird-a-thon team. The team was organized and lead by birding greats Rich Stallcup and Ellen Blustein as the first youth team for what was then, the Point Reyes Bird Observatory and what is now Point Blue Conservation Science (PBCS). It was an amazing experience, and has turned into a recurring amazing experience every year since. We are now preparing for the youth bird-a-thon, again, and since this year is our 15th, it makes it a particularly special one, or at least note-worthy.

Over the past 15 years, this team has taken to the field alongside so many amazing birds as they get restless and begin to move on their fall migration. For the birds, fall migration has been happening almost exactly the same way for millions of years, and it is still a feat that boggles the human imagination. For our bird-a-thon team, the Drake’s Beach Sanderlings, fall migration has come to include this exhilarating day to witnesses the birds as they move through central California.

Each year many bird-a-thon teams ready themselves for the fall. These teams pick a day and go out in search of the avian wanderers as they pass by; keeping tallies of who stops to visit. On September 26th 2015, the Drake’s Beach Sanderlings will be doing just that, and we are lining up another great group of youths (in age and spirit)!

As in past years, this is not only an opportunity to see beautiful birds, learn as much about migration patterns and identification as possible, and spend time in great company. It is also a time to give. The PBCS is a recognized leader in conservation of avian biodiversity and the ecosystems that they, and we, depend upon. To do this requires money. It takes money to keep the banding stations running as they monitor population trends. It takes money to assess the loss of habitat that urban development causes. It takes money to set aside critical habitat and so insure that future fall migrations will continue this millions-of-years tradition. Funding is often hard to come by, and so we ask you, birders, environmentalists, friends, to become sponsors of our team and PBCS. Now, don’t think we won’t work for those donations. You can pledge a fixed sum, or you can tell us that you will give a small amount for every species we see. That way we will have a large incentive indeed to try our hardest to find every last species we can. In the past we have seen around 150 species, so a pledge of $0.20 per species will mean a total donation of around $30. Any amount that you can give will be valuable and tremendously appreciated, and donating is easy. Just go to: https://www.kintera.org/faf/search/searchTeamPart.asp?ievent=1144989&lis=1&kntae1144989=C5D14E3E269D41A49AD34C0C31A09C59&supId=425784227&team=6495414

and click on the ‘Donate Now’ button on the right side of the page. In this time of drought, the conservation of habitat and bird populations is all the more challenging and critical. Your donation will aid the cause of bird conservation throughout the western hemisphere, and you will join a fifteen year long tradition of helping to inspire the birding leaders of tomorrow!

Thank you for your support,

The members of the Drake’s Beach Sanderlings

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