Vacation Interrupted — A Campus CBC

By Brad Rumble

Leo-Politi-CBC-12-29-13 Coopers-Hawk by-Homero-M.-grade-5

Cooper's Hawk, Photo by Homero, Grade 5

On a Sunday morning smack dab in the middle of a three-week Winter Break, school is probably the last place you’d expect to find students. Yet 16 of them bounded into Leo Politi Elementary in the Pico-Union neighborhood of central Los Angeles on the morning of December 29, 2013 to participate in the fourth annual campus Christmas Bird Count. They were joined by 15 parents and members of Los Angeles Audubon Society, including Vice President Margot Griswold and Brad Shaffer, Director of the La Kretz Center for California Conservation Science at UCLA.

Leo-Politi-CBC-12-29-13 by-brad-rumble web

An event called Christmas Bird Count would sound like a lot of fun to students who already have developed a love of birding, but the morning took on greater meaning as they gathered in the school library to read and discuss the event’s origins. They also were impressed to learn of the record 250 species observed on December 19, 2006 during the Matagorda County-Mad Island Marsh CBC and were eager to get out there and give it a go.

We prowled the eight-acre campus in one large group, thus fostering a sense of unity and collegiality. One of the beauties of birding for students is its social aspect. As an educator I appreciate the academic nature of their conversations on bird walks. The students’ powers of visual and aural observation are in full use. They debate their sightings and ask more senior birders nuanced questions, just as adult birders do. Several students and parents served as record-keepers on the walk.

We began and ended our walk at the school’s native habitat behind the school library. Yellow-rumped Warblers abounded. In fact, 12 in total were observed on campus. In the course of our hour-long roaming we would observe an American Kestrel, a Cooper’s Hawk, three Black Phoebes, 15 Mourning Doves, Anna’s and Allen’s Hummingbirds, and nearly as many Western Gulls (29) as Rock Doves (31). All in all, 16 species were observed and recorded by the students. The data was transposed onto eBird by Christian (grade 4) and Homero (grade 5), and when I checked it before submitting I saw no need to change anything. They’d gotten it all right. Here’s their list:

Students who had participated on our 2012 CBC were hoping for a repeat of the memorable flyover of a flock of Cedar Waxwings on the playground, but this was not to be. And the three Northern Flickers which had been hanging out in the native habitat played hard-to-get that morning. But this is part of birding, too: knowing that no two mornings are the same outside, yet it’s always interesting and illuminating.

Originally published by Los Angeles Audubon's Western Tanager Vol. 80 No. 4 March/April 2014