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Avian adventures

National Christmas Bird Count comes to Pleasanton area for the first time

Rich Cimino traipsed the grounds of the Alviso Adobe Friday with his binoculars held up to his eyes. An Anna's hummingbird? Check. A pair of turkey vultures? Check, check.

Cimino was joined by city naturalist Eric Nicolas in their quest to count bird species in Pleasanton's native habitats. It's part of a larger effort that was being conducted this past week -- the National Christmas Bird Count -- led by the National Audubon Society.

"We're hoping to see over 100 species here," said Cimino, who has been a member of the local Ohlone Audubon Society for more than 40 years.

The national event is in its 113th year, an annual tradition featuring more than 3,000 separate counts that is rich in history. President Theodore Roosevelt participated the first year in Central Park, New York City. But this is the first year the local Tri-Valley area has joined, an effort Cimino has campaigned for a decade to have.

It started 10 years ago when the Pleasanton resident, who teaches courses about birds for Pleasanton Adult Education, was part of a state-sponsored wind energy committee that studied bird species that were native to the Altamont Pass region, where wind turbines now placate the skyline.

"It was really because birds were being killed by the wind turbines," he said. "I said we've really got to start counting these birds to create a baseline. That was sort of the alarm to stop thinking about it and start doing something."

The data that is compiled on how many birds live in different locations in Pleasanton and what species they belong to will be given to the Audubon Society, and the information will ultimately be added into a national database. Why is that information important?

"The public will be able to use it -- naturalists, environmentalists, wind power specialists, developers who may be interested in building something," Cimino said.

That information will be especially helpful to Nicholas, the city's naturalist who operates out of the adobe.

"We're a brand new place here at the adobe," Nicholas said. "Seeing what kinds of birds are migrating here is helpful to know, to see what the local habitat is like. I'll be able to use the information in my programs for kids."

The data will also show where the strongest bird populations are and where nesting boxes can be place to encourage avian residency here.

A total of 89 volunteers helped in the count (57 of them in Pleasanton), which spanned Pleasanton, Sunol and Livermore. Areas that were tracked included Harvest Park, Del Valle Creek, the Aquatic Center, the Marilyn Kane Trail, Koll Center, Arroyo Mocho and Shadow Cliffs. Volunteers walked each area in one direction, armed with binoculars, a bird species book and a checklist to tally whta they saw. Cimino said the count will now become a yearly occasion.

For more information on the count, visit http://ohloneaudubon.org.

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