Documenting Our Feathery Friends in Copeland Creek

ghitten by: Beverly Wong

One might notice the huge contrast between the atmosphere of  the different parts of Sonoma State’s campus. While there are herds of students buzzing and rushing about to get to their next class in the main area by the infamous ‘Bacon and Eggs’ structure, the atmosphere quickly turns peaceful and serene when they hit the outskirts of the campus — specifically where Copeland Creek crosses through our campus. The chitter chatter of students about the stresses of last-minute assignments and the massive deck of flashcards they have to memorize for an exam quickly becomes replaced by the squawks, chirps, quacks, and other birdy sounds once you hit Copeland Creek.

 

Copeland Creek

Copeland Creek (©Wendy St. John)

In fact, birds are a large indicator of ecosystem health due to their high sensitivity to ecological changes in a habitat and the large connection between habitat components and different avian species. Clearly, it was easy to tell that birds make up a significant part of the Copeland Creek community, with all the bird noises in the background. With the restoration of Copeland Creek in mind, it was crucial that our group focused on the avian community to document the various bird species,  the abundance of the birds, and to compare these results with the reports of species that were spotted in the creek years ago. This information will become incredibly useful in future restoration projects on Copeland Creek because you won’t know what needs to be done if you have no idea what is out there!

First, our group got together and created a game plan of how we were going to approach this task. In the beginning, it seemed straightforward.  First, you put on your shoes, hop out the door, and just go out there and point out every bird you encounter — right? Well, yes and no. We had to create a very specific procedure on how to record all of this bird data so that it would represent the avian community as accurately as it can. Therefore, we decided to record data four times in total, twice in the morning, when birds are known to be the most active, and twice in the afternoon.

Screen Shot 2016-12-12 at 10.49.48 AM.pngSince our feathery friend was being difficult in terms of having a picture taken of it, here is the exact picture we looked at on Google Images where we officially determined that the bird we were looking at was indeed the Spotted Towhee! © David Powell

 

 

With our plan set in stone, we were ready to begin. On our first morning, Paolo and Amy came extra prepared with the Merlin Bird ID App (free in the Apple App and Google Play Store) downloaded onto a phone, and pages of Google Image pictures of the most common species found in the creek. This came extra handy as it helped us identify lots of birds right then and there because you can never depend on the memory of a stressed out college student. It was pretty difficult at first because we were still familiarizing ourselves with common bird species, focusing the binoculars in on a bird before it flies away, jotting down the description of unidentifiable species, tallying the number of individual bird calls we heard, and dealing with the most frustrating fact of all — birds are exceptionally good at not staying still when you want them to be still. But after a trial run or two, we managed to have a steady system and were able to document and identify some bird species on our own! For example, there was a cute little bird with beady red eyes rustling around in a bush. Right as we saw it, we played around on our phone, flipping through numerous pictures of birds on Google Images, trying to identify it on the Merlin Bird ID App for a good solid five minutes until we finally concluded that it was a Spotted Towhee!

Screen Shot 2016-12-12 at 10.51.52 AM.pngPicture from Texas.gov. What our group will potentially look like when we are finished with this project.

The rest of our walks became less stressful as we got more comfortable with the routine of documenting the birds we found along the Creek. After all of the successful identifications and data analyses, we were confident that we were on our way to start our professional birding company.

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