OCEANSIDE — On Dec. 26, Terry Hunefeld will coordinate the annual Christmas Bird Count at the Buena Vista Lagoon. The effort is part of the 110th Christmas Bird Count sponsored by the National Audubon Society from Dec. 14 to Jan. 5.
“It is citizen science at its best,” he said. “Birds are harbingers. The data we collect will help scientists 100 years from now.”
Hunefeld explains that counters will record what species they see and exactly where they see them. Results will be analyzed by scientists and Audubon experts to track changes in migratory patterns and how habitat loss and climate affect migration.
Birdwatching was not a pastime Hunefeld contemplated when he moved his family from Michigan to North County 12 years ago.
“Michigan is flat so I enjoyed hiking these hills every week,” he said.
He got hooked when he trained to become a trail guide for the San Diego Natural History Museum and a large part the curriculum involved ornithology.
“Birds are interesting because they’re always moving,” he said. “I also enjoyed the competitive aspect of compiling lists. I thought, ‘I need a hobby. I love this!’”
San Diego is a haven for birdwatchers because it lies beneath the Pacific Flyway where millions of birds make their way from Alaska and the Arctic to South America.
“It’s amazing to think that they’ll go up to the Arctic to breed, then return to the same tree six, seven, eight years in a row,” he said. “When they don’t return you know that they’ve died.”
Hunefeld explains that each year at least one unexpected bird is identified at the bird count.
An example is Allen’s Hummingbird that only began appearing here recently. In 2007, 17 were identified and in 2008 there were 28.
“They are attracted to Cape Honeysuckle which are used by landscape architects and are all over Carlsbad,” Hunefeld said. “The hummingbirds love it because it flowers all year round. We get to witness all of this by going out and bird watching.”
North County lagoons are a popular destination for birds because they are their first stop after a long flight over Los Angeles and Orange counties, which for the most part are covered in concrete.
“They also land in golf courses and public parks because there is so much exotic, well-irrigated vegetation,” Hunefeld said. “Birds that normally fly deep into Mexico stay here instead.”
Hunefeld expects about 190 species will be identified this year, placing Oceanside between 10th and 15th in the nation for cities with highest number of species. San Diego usually places third or fourth in the U.S., sometimes breaking 200 species.
He anticipates 100 to 120 counters will participate this year.
“Seventy will be regulars,” he said. “They’ll be 20 to 30 new counters who will begin by taking a class where they’ll learn what to expect and where to look. The most important thing is that they have fun.”
Those interested in participating for the first time should report to the duck landing at the southeast end of the lagoon at 8:30 a.m. For more information, visit www.bvaudubon.org.