Science for a Blue Planet

Featuring cutting-edge work, discoveries, and challenges of our scientists, our partners, and the larger conservation science community.

East Bay is for the Birds

by Manuel Oliva, Point Blue Chief Executive Officer

This has been a year like no other, one that has challenged each of us on so many levels. For me, one of the biggest challenges has been a separation from community. So as our annual Rich Stallcup Bird-A-Thon approached, I was excited to form my own team and spend the day outside observing the birds of the East Bay. I chose the team name Oystercatchers as a tribute to all who came before and helped create this wonderful event, which has been part of the spirit of Point Blue from the beginning.

East Bay Oystercatchers (Left to Right): Josh Dieterich, Julian Wood, David Myles, Mani Oliva, Meredith Elliott

Ready with masks, the team was excited to come together last Saturday. Led by two of our expert staff, Julian Woods and Meredith Elliott, we began our day before sunrise in the Berkeley Hills. The other members of our team included David Myles, Josh Dietrich, and myself. After a bit of coffee and checking the air quality, as well as our Sibley Guide one more time, we finalized our itinerary: Start in the hills, work our way down to the Berkeley Marina, head to Merritt Lake in the middle of Oakland, up once more to the hills and end in the marshlands of Oakland.

Meredith Elliott (R) and Mani consulting the bird field guide in the field.

I think of birding as a similar experience to scuba diving – you immerse yourself in the environment and dedicate yourself to observation. The observation is not just of birds, but also the environment that they inhabit – the very same one we do. These moments of immersion are powerful reminders to me of why Point Blue’s work to protect biodiversity and ecosystems is so important, not just for our health and wellbeing, but because it nurtures us.

As we began our day of birding I was struck by how the early morning multitude of songs seemed almost deafening at first, but I soon began to zero in and hear the unique calls of a few species around me, such as the Dark-eyed Junco, the Hermit Thrush and the California Scrub Jay (that last one is hard to miss). And then there were those moments where everything seemed eerily quiet as we silently watched a Virginia Rail explore a nearby pond, or tried not to scare off a Great Horned Owl that landed on a branch right above us. The hills were abundant with birds and although we considered staying longer, we wanted to find some seabirds, so we headed to the Berkeley Marina.
At the marina, we were welcomed by the expected Canada Geese and Western Gulls. We quickly found ourselves under the watchful gaze of a few Black Crowned Night Herons in the trees along our path. At the edge of the marina we recorded quite a few sightings, including the Brown Pelican, the American Coot and a Pelagic Cormorant. When we finally found three Black Oystercatchers sitting along the sea wall, I felt like we truly earned our team’s name.

Julian Wood (R) pointing out a bird for Josh Dieterich.

Lake Merritt and the hills around Oakland were our next stops, and although we didn’t find as many birds as we hoped, each provided some great experiences. We met a fellow birder at Lake Merritt who briefly explained the types of birds she has seen around the lake and even offered to search with us for a while. Her stories of learning to observe and care for the wildlife (including a female American white pelican named Hank) around the lake was a testament to the power that nature can have for all of us.

We finished our day at Arrowhead Marsh in Oakland and counted lots of shorebirds, including the Black-bellied Plover, Willets and Marbled Godwits. The few minutes I was able to clearly follow a Ridgway’s Rail walk along the dense vegetation of the marsh was an experience I won’t soon forget.
Our final count was 90 species! And as we sat on the boardwalk of the marsh verifying our count and watching the sun flicker on the horizon, everything felt right. We shared our stories and laughed. We felt physically tired but spiritually rejuvenated having spent the day doing what we love.

Bird-A-Thon is a celebration of the work that our staff do every day, observing nature and developing the science that will help us preserve nature for many generations and many Bird-A-Thons to come.

To our staff I am grateful for all of your hard work and dedication. To all of our supporters and followers, thank you for your encouragement. To all birders, thank you for your passion.

Mani Oliva

Our List:

One of Point Blue’s founding logos featured the black oystercatcher.

Great Horned Owl; California Scrub Jay; California Towhee; Acorn Woodpecker; Anna’s Hummingbird; American Robin; Red-shouldered Hawk; American Crow; Wrentit; Chestnut-backed Chickadee; Hermit Thrush; Black Phoebe; Oak Titmouse; Bushtit; Wilson’s Warbler; Dark-eyed Junco; Fox Sparrow; Warbling Vireo; Song Sparrow; Spotted Towhee; Wild Turkey; Nuttall’s Woodpecker; Hairy Woodpecker; Brown Creeper; Hutton’s Vireo; Ruby-crowned Kinglet; Townsend’s Warbler; Steller’s Jay; Virginia Rail; Northern Flicker; Red-breasted Nuthatch; Pacific Wren; Common Raven; House Finch; Bewick’s Wren; Common Yellowthroat; Purple Finch; Golden-crowned Sparrow; White-crowned Sparrow; European Starling; Mallard; Double-crested Cormorant; Belted Kingfisher; Lesser Goldfinch; Lincoln’s Sparrow; Pygmy Nuthatch; Swainson’s Thrush; Red-winged Blackbird; Canada Goose; Cedar Waxwing; Ring-billed Gull; Western Gull; American Coot; American Wigeon; Green-winged Teal; Brown Pelican; Rock Pigeon; Horned Grebe; Osprey; Black-crowned Night-Heron; Great Egret; Black Oystercatcher; Great-blue Heron; Spotted Sandpiper; Pelagic Cormorant; Forster’s Tern; American White Pelican; Western/Clark’s Grebe; Greater/Lesser Scaup; Snowy Egret; Pied-billed Grebe; Ruddy Duck; Western Tanager; Turkey Vulture; Cooper’s Hawk; Band-tailed Pigeon; White-breasted Nuthatch; Northern Mockingbird; Ridgway’s Rail; Northern Harrier; Black-necked Stilt; Killdeer; Willet; Say’s Phoebe; Greater Yellowlegs; Black-bellied Plover; Marbled Godwit; Marsh Wren; Dowitcher; and Mourning Dove.