WATSONVILLE -- A flock of red crossbills showed up in a regional bird census for the first time in more than a decade.
The crossbill, spotted in Corralitos, is a type of finch more generally found in mountain regions, and was one of the more surprising finds during a New Year's Day bird count centered in Moss Landing, said Pajaro Valley birder Bob Ramer.
The census was part of the 113th annual Christmas Bird Count, a nationwide effort that started Dec. 14 and ends Saturday. The Moss Landing count surveyed a swath of territory that included the Pajaro Valley, as well as North Monterey County. An earlier count looked at Santa Cruz County, from Capitola north.
The count, sponsored by National Audubon Society and involving tens of thousands of volunteers, provides crucial data to researchers and conservation advocates. Each count covers a circle 15 miles in diameter and lasts 24 hours, with volunteers heading into the field from midnight on.
Ramer, who organized the Moss Landing census, said more than 90 volunteers took part, covering 25 different units in groups of three to four people. They counted 195 species of birds. That's about average for the local census, he said.
He and wife Bernadette focused on Pinto Lake, and, as expected, caught a glimpse of a bald eagle. Eagle sightings have been reported in South County since September, leading to speculation that a pair that attempted unsuccessfully to nest at Pinto Lake last winter had returned. Ramer said the eagle he spotted was carrying nesting material, and that another birder spotted a pair not far away at College Lake.
"Definitely the bald eagles seem to be back," Ramer said.
Other notable finds in the Moss Landing count included several warblers that breed here but typically leave for the winter, including the hermit, Wilson's, palm and Nashville.
There was also a "very strange gull" on Jetty Road that was tentatively identified as an Iceland gull, a bird far from its home in the North Atlantic. Volunteers planned to try to find the bird again so they could photograph it.
"It's a very difficult gull identification," Ramer said. "Unless you can verify, it's probably not going to be accepted."
Some of the surprises came in what wasn't seen, including the short-billed dowitcher, a shorebird frequently spotted over the years at Elkhorn Slough, Ramer said. Other no-shows were pygmy owls, burrowing owls and the golden crowned kinglet, a songbird that turns up most years.
But even with the intensive canvass, not every bird in the area is counted. Much of the territory is off limits, either because it's private property or inaccessible.
Ramer said he and his wife didn't see anything "super rare" at Pinto Lake, but they did spot birds not seen everyday, including the bald eagle and California thrashers.
"It's definitely fun being out there in the field," he said.
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