HUGH RANSON PHOTO” width=”225″ height=”300″>
Hollister School fifth-grader Luke Larson surveys the birds at Lake Los Carneros.
HUGH RANSON PHOTO
was privileged to participate in last Saturday’s Winter Bird Count 4 Kids, organized by the Santa Barbara Audubon Society. We were fortunate to have a beautiful morning for the event with sunny skies and little breeze; the weekend was sandwiched between two with plenty of inclement weather.
I was impressed by how well the event was organized. Volunteer naturalists were on hand to lead small groups of children and their guardians around Lake Los Carneros. The kids received a T-shirt commemorating the occasion, a snack bag, and a checklist of the birds of the lake. The checklist was impressive and included photographs of each species, all taken by local photographers. Children without binoculars were given a loaner pair and instructed on how to use them.
A little before 9 a.m., the youth began arriving; there were more than 60 in all, ages 8 through 16. I was lucky enough to be in the first group to head out on the trail. We were instructed to avoid the grounds around Stow House, as a wedding was in progress. This precluded us from seeing many of the common woodland species, but there was still plenty to observe.
We stopped to look at northern mockingbirds, acorn woodpeckers and yellow-rumped warblers. I was able to get a singing California thrasher in the spotting scope for all to see. The youngsters were impressed with the curvature of the thrasher’s bill. I heard a white-tailed kite calling, and we soon spotted one atop a star pine close to Stow House. Through the scope, we were able to see the bird’s red eyes, the first of four species for the morning to share this trait.
A double-crested cormorant flew overhead and appeared to drop into the lake, but we couldn’t find it once we’d arrived at the water. The lake was quite full after the recent rains. A nice bonus was another ruby-eyed bird, an adult black-crowned night heron that rested on the edge of the tules and gave us good scope views.
My group, adults and children alike, was really interested in all the birds and was soon checking them off the list. We chalked up several species of gulls: ring-billed, California, western and glaucous-winged. Ducks, though not in large numbers, were represented by a variety of species. Gadwall, North American ruddy duck and Mallard were the most numerous, with smaller numbers of ring-necked duck and northern shoveler evident at the north end of the lake. A nice surprise was the sighting of another red-eyed bird, the cinnamon teal; we saw two drakes and a duck. They are rather shy and took to flight shortly after seeing us.
The east side of the dam, where people often feed birds, was a great place to stop and see several species up close. Most obvious were the two swans that seem to spend most of their time nowadays at Lake Los Carneros. One is a mute swan and the other is the hybrid swan, written about in a past column, that has been at various spots in Santa Barbara over the past couple of years. Both are escaped (or released) birds from someone’s collection.
Our final red-eyed bird of the day was sighted here, as several of them clumped about on the concrete. Ungainly on land, the American coot is in its element on the water. Coots are unusual in having all-white bills. We were able to study their webbed green toes as the birds came close, hoping for a handout that was not to arrive.
When we arrived back at headquarters, there was a call-out of birds seen, just like at the grown-ups’ count. I’m not sure of the final tally, but my group alone saw 37 species. The morning proved to be great fun, and I’m already looking forward to next year’s event. It’s gratifying to see the interest shown by our local youth.