South Shore bird count to take place Saturday |

South Shore bird count to take place Saturday

Tom Lotshaw
Winter is here, but lots of birds continue to call the Lake Tahoe Basin home. In a Christmas Bird Count Saturday, participants will try to spot as many bird species as they can.
Tom Lotshaw / Tahoe Daily Tribune |

Birders are hitting the South Shore bright and early Saturday morning. Their goal: Spot as many birds as possible.

They’ll focus their efforts within a 7.5-mile radius around the mouth of the Upper Truckee River, tallying up each species they see for the South Lake Tahoe Christmas Bird Count.

“We go to Cove East, which consistently has some of the best birding in the whole Tahoe Basin. We go there a few hours then split up, and divide the rest of the circle trying to hit good habitats for diversity,” said Will Richardson, co-founder of Tahoe Institute for Natural Science, which is sponsoring the local count.

“We go off into the woods in search of woodpeckers, we’ll count a few pigeons around the casinos, everything we can,” Richardson said.

The count has been done locally since 1977. Richardson has been leading them for about a dozen years.

The South Lake Tahoe group usually spots 55 to 75 species. That includes everything from ducks to hawks and eagles, noisy blue jays and woodpeckers and little songbirds.

“There’s counts in California and Texas coastal areas that may get hundreds of species. We’ll never do that. But there are counts in the arctic of Northwest Canada where they get a couple ravens all day,” Richardson said.

“It’s a pretty good count for the Sierra Nevada. And it’s a social event, a birding event, a great excuse to get out and observe nature at a time of year when you might not otherwise.”

The group reconvenes at the end of the day for pizza and refreshments.

No one knows exactly what to expect in any given year. Much of the count depends on the weather the day of the count and in the days leading up to it.

Warmer weather means more open water in lake-level marshes. That’s usually a good sign for higher duck counts.

“There are a few species that only come in winter, so it’s nice to try to pick up visitors from farther north. Also we see behavioral stuff. We’ve watched hawks take other birds, we see lots of bald eagles,” Richardson said. “There are almost always one or two surprises — a warbler that should be somewhere warmer or some other rare visitor.”

Christmas Bird Counts are done nationwide each year and started in 1900. It’s regarded as one of the largest and oldest citizen science projects in the world with tens of thousands of volunteers heading out to count birds for a day.

Data is compiled for a big-picture look at bird populations and locations. The Audubon Society and other groups use the information to assess the health of bird species and help guide conservation decisions.

People who can’t or don’t want to go outside for the survey can still help by tracking and reporting the birds they see at feeders at their home.

Participation is free, but people are asked to let the group know they’ll be attending. For more information or to make reservations, call 775-298-0066 or email Robin Jones at

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