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Environment

San Diego Christmas Bird Count Sees More Species

San Diego Audubon Society volunteers Padma Jagannathan and Sree Kandhadai and Rebecca Schwartz, Audubon's conservation program manager, watch least terns nesting at Mariner's Point in Mission Bay, June 5, 2014.
Katie Schoolov
San Diego Audubon Society volunteers Padma Jagannathan and Sree Kandhadai and Rebecca Schwartz, Audubon's conservation program manager, watch least terns nesting at Mariner's Point in Mission Bay, June 5, 2014.

The annual Christmas bird count for the San Diego Audubon Society saw a spike in the diversity of observed species this year.

About 130 volunteers counted 220 bird species, up from 209 last year.

“Being able to see that many species on one day is pretty exceptional,” said Executive Director Chris Redfern.

The event took place over a 15-mile-diameter circle centered on the Sweetwater River in Chula Vista. It includes the Tijuana River Valley.

San Diego Christmas Bird Count Sees More Species
Volunteers for the San Diego Audubon Society counted more bird species this year than last. Experts say this will yield insights on climate change.
This Audubon Society map shows the study area for San Diego's Christmas bird count.
Audubon Society
This Audubon Society map shows the study area for San Diego's Christmas bird count.

Upcoming Bird Count Events

Tecolote Canyon Natural Park: Dec 26, 2015 8:00 am

Dairy Mart Ponds: Jan 2, 2016 8:00 am

South Bay Salt Works: Jan 9, 2016 9:00 am

Fledgling Birders at the San Diego River Estuary: Jan 11, 2016 8:00 am

Santee Lakes: Jan 16, 2016 8:00 am

Tecolote Canyon Natural Park: Jan 23, 2016 8:00 am

The Christmas count occurs throughout the United States, Canada and other parts of the Western Hemisphere, allowing Audubon Society experts to see how climate change is affecting bird populations.

“Birds for centuries have been indicators of the health of our ecosystem and our planet that we all depend on for survival,” Redfern said.

The exact meaning of the local results won’t be clear until they’re further analyzed, he added. In the past, the data has allowed experts to identify climate strongholds, or geographic areas that support bird populations in spite of climate change. Those areas can then be prioritized for habitat restoration or protection against fragmentation and urban development.

The data has also revealed which birds are climate-threatened, helping to focus conservation efforts.

Last year, San Diego was labeled the fourth-most diverse region in all of the Western Hemisphere’s nearly 2,500 bird study circles.

The greatest-ever number of species spotted in the local count was 222 in 1969, said Philip Unitt, curator of the San Diego Natural History Museum’s department of birds and mammals.

He said this year’s count found an increased number of brown booby birds, indicating successful breeding on the Coronado Islands.

“They’re clearly doing well, and obviously these record warm ocean temperatures of the past summer favor tropical ocean birds like the brown booby,” he said.

The seabirds arrived on the coast of San Diego in 1990, and they started nesting on the Coronado Islands in 2003, a few years after the last El Niño weather pattern warmed ocean temperatures.