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Richmond comes in third in the state during the annual bird count

on March 8, 2012

On a February weekend, Nick Despota and Nel Benningshof left their house in Richmond two to three times a day, sometimes at dawn, sometimes at dusk, strapping on their binoculars and carrying a notepad and a short, durable scope—12-15 inches long attached to a tripod.

Despota and Benningshof spent about 16 hours that weekend listening for great-horned owls in Wildcat Canyon and counting woodpeckers in the Point Pinole Regional Park during the Annual Great Backyard Bird Count. The scope was especially useful to them in distinguishing certain species searching for food far out in the mudflats common to the shores of Richmond.

The annual bird count—which this year took place from February 17-21—is free and helps gather information about migratory patterns, habitat preference, and the stability of the world’s bird populations, conducted by the Audubon Society. This year, Richmond ranks number three in California for most species in the region, just behind Napa and San Diego, respectively.

The Great Backyard bird count works by simply asking community members to go out to whatever locale they want—their backyard, a regional park, or a the local creek—and to sit and count birds, noting the species.  Birders then submit their results on the Great Backyard Bird Count.

These counts show scientists a range of information that would be hard for them to gather on their own. Last year, counts showed that the certain birds’ migration patterns that were more extensive than the year before. The data collected also provides valuable information on endangered bird populations’ numbers.

This year, birders in Richmond saw a total of 130 species and 10,410 birds. The Double-crested Cormorant topped the list, with 1,288 sightings. The common Cormorant is black, with an orange beak and likes to hang out on the coastline of states from Alaska down to South California. The rarest bird on the list was the Tropical Kingbird, a small grey bird about the size of a canary, with a yellow breast and a forked-brown/grey tail, which isn’t usually seen in the area, according to Benningshoff. It was only spotted in two other regions in California during the Great Backyard Bird Count.

Benningshof gives the Tropical Kingbird some credit for Richmond’s high ranking. “The uncommon bird hanging out on the shoreline brought out other birders,” she said.

Having extra birders means there are more eyes to spot more birds. Though Benningshof and Despota spotted 98 bird species last year with only the help of one or two other birders, the birding team knew that they were missing out.

This year, Benningshof reached out on popular birding listservs asking for other volunteers to come help and it paid off.  “I kind of put out a little appeal,” she said.

Napa might have gotten second place for the number of species spotted because their area covers not just the city, the areas beyond it, says Benningshof. But, she said, Richmond also did well because its diverse ecosystem provides enough distinct habitats to house a large variety of birds.

Between the shoreline, the watershed, the hills and the mudflats, Richmond provides a great home or an ideal stopping ground for all kinds of birds. ­“When you put it all together, this is a great place to live if you are a bird,” Despota said. “The crime rate doesn’t affect the birds.”

Great Scoup image courtesy of Wiki-user Calibas. All other bird images courtesy of National Digital Library.


  1. Catalin on March 8, 2012 at 10:13 pm

    I was going to forward this article to several friends and relatives until I got to the last line. I am so tired of negative stories about Richmond! Why does this otherwise nice article have to end with what feels like yet another tired dig at Richmond’s expense?

  2. lanita on March 9, 2012 at 8:05 am

    Agreed. Great little environmental story flipped at the end with a gratuitous reference to crime.

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