Science for a Blue Planet

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

Virtual Vultures Bird Three Lagoons at Once!

Written by Lishka Arata, Point Blue Senior Communications Coordinator

It was a calm, cloudy late September morning. Some tink tinks of the California Towhee, high pitched barks of the Song Sparrow, and a few chatters from Bushtits and Chestnut-backed Chickadees. I grabbed my backpack with layers and water, slung my camp chair over my shoulder, got my scope and binoculars, and headed down the shrub- and tree-lined levee path to the water’s edge of the Laguna de Santa Rosa in Sebastopol, California. I also toted along some tech supplies–my smartphone, a small tripod, and an external power bank to keep my phone charged–because this was the morning for the Virtual Vultures’ Big Sit for Point Blue’s 43rd annual Rich Stallcup Bird-A-Thon

View of the part of the Laguna de Santa Rosa in Sebastopol, CA. Photo by Stacey Atchley-Manzer

Over the course of the last year and a half under the pandemic we realized that going virtual was one of the best ways to stay connected and a way that we could invite participants from further afield to bird together at the same time for our annual Bird-A-Thon fundraiser. Last year we did an epic three hour Facebook Live for the Towhees’ Bird-A-Thon Kickoff team, where my colleague Point Blue Avian Ecologist Mark Dettling and I birded from our respective backyards in Petaluma and Bolinas. This year Mark and I kept it simple for our virtual option and offered just one hour of Facebook Live birding from 8 to 9am, open to anyone to take part.

We had a lovely handful of folks join us from Lompoc, San Rafael, east of Sonora, and as far as Florida. We learned from one of our viewers and co-birders that Lompoc is a Chumash word meaning lagoon, and it’s pronounced LOM-POKE. Not LAM-PAC. Very good information to be aware of and it was a delight to know that we were simultaneously birding from three different lagoons across the state that provide extremely important habitat for birds, other wildlife, and human communities: Laguna de Santa Rosa in Sonoma County (me), Bolinas Lagoon (Mark Dettling), and Lompoc (Dan Robinette, our Coastal Program Leader). 

Since we birded from many locations, our bird list for one hour was impressive. We had 48 species from over 20 different bird groups! (see list and diagram below). The Sierra birds were a great addition to an otherwise coastal bird list. Brown Pelican and White-headed Woodpecker in one same-day list? Yes! As far as highlight observations for the morning, at the Laguna de Santa Rosa a friendly passerby pointed out a Green Heron across the water, hopping along logs, looking for breakfast, that quickly became part of our bird list for the morning. It was a double treat to see this mostly skulky, elusive bird right out in the open and include a surprise in-person nature and bird lover in our Virtual Vulture Bird-A-Thon hour.

At the Bolinas Lagoon, Mark was able to capture and show our mascot bird, the Turkey Vulture, through his spotting scope. That was a real treat. Lastly, we got to hear from Dan about his current work at Point Blue to better track an important seabird species, the Ashy Storm-Petrel. The first ever range-wide survey of Ashy Storm-Petrel breeding sites is being led by Point Blue. This is an international effort as we are partnering with biologists in California and Baja California, Mexico. The effort is being funded by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and we are very excited to learn more about this elusive bird that breeds small crevices on offshore rocks and islands. You can view the recording of our birding hour on Facebook or on our Youtube channel.

It was another successful virtual experience that brought people together when we were physically apart and helped bring a larger diversity of birds, wildlife, and nature into our day via our little digital devices. We thank all of you who joined us and all who donated to the Virtual Vultures team. There’s still time to support the Vultures and any other team or counter. Just visit and you’ll see the button to donate. Each donation no matter how big or small helps ensure that the beautiful and important habitats that we love to go out and bird in remain available and healthy for generations of birds and people to come. 

 Number of Species per Bird Group Breakdown:

Species List:

  1. Red-winged Blackbird
  2. Chestnut-backed Chickadee
  3. Oak Titmouse
  4. Mountain Chickadee
  5. Bushtit
  6. Lesser Goldfinch
  7. House Finch
  8. Pine Siskin
  9. Black Phoebe
  10. Ring-billed Gull
  11. California Gull
  12. Western Gull
  13. Turkey Vulture
  14. Red-shouldered Hawk
  15. Anna’s Hummingbird
  16. California Scrub-Jay
  17. Common Raven
  18. American Crow
  19. Steller’s Jay
  20. Belted Kingfisher
  21. Brown Pelican
  22. Mourning Dove
  23. Double-crested Cormorant
  24. Long-billed Curlew
  25. Willet
  26. Greater Yellowlegs
  27. American Avocet
  28. Killdeer
  29. Song Sparrow
  30. California Towhee
  31. Dark-eyed Junco
  32. White-crowned Sparrow
  33. Spotted Towhee
  34. American Robin
  35. California Quail
  36. Common Yellowthroat
  37. Snowy Egret
  38. Great Egret
  39. Great Blue Heron
  40. Green Heron
  41. Nuttall’s Woodpecker
  42. Hairy Woodpecker
  43. Acorn Woodpecker
  44. Downy Woodpecker
  45. White-headed Woodpecker
  46. Bewick’s Wren
  47. Pacific Wren
  48. Wrentit