LAFAYETTE -- Armed with binoculars, cameras and pocket reference books, about 230 people scoured the East Bay on Sunday looking for warblers, cormorants and dozens of other birds.

The 114th annual Christmas Bird Count, or CBC, organized by the Golden Gate Audubon Society, will continue Dec. 27 in San Francisco with about 115 people. It is part of a larger international count organized by the National Audubon Society that takes place from Dec. 14 through Jan. 5, and involves tens of thousands of volunteers throughout North America.

"The data collected by Audubon's citizen-scientists in the Christmas Bird Count is more important than ever because of climate change," said Michael Lynes, executive director of the Golden Gate Audubon Society, in a news release. "Information from the Christmas Bird Count can help us understand and respond to the impacts of climate change on wildlife."

A white pelican swims across Lafayette Reservoir during the 114th annual Christmas Bird Count on Dec. 15, 2013, in Lafayette.
A white pelican swims across Lafayette Reservoir during the 114th annual Christmas Bird Count on Dec. 15, 2013, in Lafayette. (Aric Crabb/Staff)

About nine volunteers hiked around the Lafayette Reservoir, led by veteran bird counter George Griffeth. After hours of squinting through binoculars and gazing into the sky, the group had counted about 60 species of birds, including a black-crowned night-heron, a white-breasted nuthatch, lesser goldfinch, osprey and fox sparrow.

But Griffeth, who played bird calls on his iPod or made a swishing sound called "pishing" in the hopes of attracting birds, said he was most pleased about having seen a rare sora.

"It's a very secretive bird that hides in the reeds most of the time," said Griffeth, who lugged a large spotting scope around the reservoir to help identify faraway birds. "We had a very unusual sighting where one came out feeding by the water. That's new for the count here."


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In Oakland and Berkeley, longtime bird counter Dave Quady and his teams were most excited about seeing a very rare painted redstart.

"It's a gorgeous little bird, and there are very few records of the bird in Northern California, and this one is the first one in Alameda County," said Quady, who helps compile the Golden Gate count. "Certainly weather has an effect, especially on birds that are insect-eaters, but not so much on the seed-eaters. If the insects are killed by the cold, many of them don't make it. But the painted redstart did. It lives another day."

Seasoned Audubon Society bird counters were joined this year by newcomers, as well as some nature-lovers who have participated in previous years. Tom and Jane Graly, of Berkeley, had a reference book handy as they easily identified birds for others who were less sure of what they were seeing.

"I'm here because it's important for us to speak for nature," said Jane Graly, 67. "This is a way for us to observe and to record, because if you don't know what you've got, how do you know if it's better or worse? You have to have knowledge before you can protect."

Roseanne Warren, a 27-year-old Berkeley resident and first-time bird counter, impressed the rest of her group when she spotted a red-shouldered hawk in a tree with her binoculars.

"I wanted to learn more about birds," she said.

By the end of the 2.7-mile walk around the Lafayette Reservoir, she had counted 53 species, exceeding her goal of 50. Smiling broadly, Warren said her real goal was to count more than her parents, who were participating in a bird count in Calgary, Canada.

Alison Hill, a 73-year-old Lafayette resident, said this was her third year counting birds around the reservoir.

"We need to track the bird population as one indicator of what we're doing to the world -- man's devastation of nature," she said. "There are many species that are extinct and many heading that way."

Contact Theresa Harrington at 925-945-4764. Follow her at Twitter.com/TunedToTheresa.

MORE INFORMATION
Additional details about the Golden Gate Audubon Society are available by visiting www.goldengateaudubon.org.
To see video clips from the Lafayette Reservoir bird count, visit www.contracostatimes.com.