18 spotted towhees were sighted during the Patagonia Christmas Bird Count. File photo by Eric Herman 

An enthusiastic group of 42 birders participated in the 50th Patagonia Christmas Bird Count (CBC) on Thursday, Dec. 15, 2022. Birders registered early in the morning at the Gathering Grounds in Patagonia and finished by turning in their count and species reports at the Wagon Wheel in the early evening. 

The first Patagonia CBC was held on Dec.26, 1962, with five participants. The National CBC had its start on Christmas Day in 1901 to promote counting and conservation in place of the tradition of shooting birds on the holiday. Now, 123 years later, tens of thousands of people participate nationwide, and in over 20 countries in the western hemisphere on a designated day sometime between December 15 and January 5. The Patagonia count is always on the third Thursday of December. 

The Christmas Bird Count is a citizen science program collecting data from the same areas during the same time of year. The areas for the count are predetermined with a center location and a radius of 7.5 miles. 

The Patagonia Count takes place in a radius circle with the center near the intersection of Harshaw Creek Road, Harshaw Road, and the San Rafael Valley. Once established, the designated count area remains the same every year for accuracy of bird population trends. Santa Cruz County has four other designated counts. Nogales, Buenos Aires NWR (just a small section includes SSC), Atascosa Highlands, and Appleton-Whittell (which is a private count). 

Birders are a hardy and diverse bunch of people. Some take off birding on Count Day one stroke after midnight with headlamp and winter gear hoping to identify owls. Most birders will carry on no matter rain, blizzards, or below zero degree weather, trying to keep their binoculars from fogging up. They might argue about a species identity or where does that radius circle line really end. After all there might be a great bird species just across the boundary line. They have been known to block up traffic, fall through ice, and occasionally get lost. One prerequisite is to have a sense of humor and adventure. All manage to make it back to the end of the day tally with great stories and thankful for a hot meal and good company. 

The Christmas Bird Count is open to all, no matter one’s birding ability. If you are new, you will be paired up with an experienced birder. No special education needed. This year, Patagonia CBC participants ranged from those with PhDs in science to those without any special training. People came from other parts of the state and even as far away as Ireland. 

Where else can you have a rousing discussion about the ten Townsend’s warblers, or 155 red crowned kinglets, brown creepers, and nuthatches, plus many more, than at the end of the day of another great Christmas Bird Count.