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Grab your binoculars for the Great Backyard Bird Count

Volunteer birdwatchers of all ages can take part in four-day census

A California scrub jay visits a Carmichael backyard. California last year submitted the most bird lists during the Great Backyard Bird Count, which runs Feb. 16-19 this year.

A California scrub jay visits a Carmichael backyard. California last year submitted the most bird lists during the Great Backyard Bird Count, which runs Feb. 16-19 this year. Kathy Morrison

This weekend, grab some binoculars and participate in one of the world’s largest citizen science projects. All it takes is 15 minutes in your own backyard or neighborhood park. And the whole family can get involved.

It’s the Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC), a four-day snapshot of avian diversity that’s become a worldwide phenomenon. More than 555,000 birders participated in 2023 with expectations of even more this weekend.

Held over the long Presidents’ Day Weekend (Feb. 16 through 19), volunteers of all ages and abilities take part in this census of our feathered friends. Because its emphasis is on backyards and neighborhoods, the count helps build awareness of our suburban wildlife while serving as a measurement of bird diversity since 1998.

To get you started, the organizers are hosting a free webinar via YouTube at 10 a.m. Tuesday, Feb. 13. “Panelists will explain how to participate in this exciting global event and how participation might extend past your back door,” say the hosts. “Discover how to join a group taking part in the GBBC and explore fun ways to involve kids. From bird ID tips to counting birds with ease, this webinar is your ticket to an engaging and confident GBBC experience.”

Sign up for it here: https://www.birdcount.org/

Co-hosted by the Audubon Society and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the GBBC is open to birdwatchers anywhere. And it’s free to participate.

The challenge is simple: Count how many birds you see during a 15-minute period (or more) during the four-day event in a specific space, such as your backyard. You also can count birds in a neighborhood park, along a stream or river, or wherever you like. The key: Document what you see including the bird species as well as number.

Handy tools are offered online to help with identification, such as Merlin Bird ID. (It can ID most of your sightings with three easy questions.) Also, take photos to help with that ID process (and to document your observation – experienced bird watchers will review your findings). Then, submit your list of birds to the GBBC using the eBird tool (also available online).

A source of fun and fascination during the COVID lockdown, the bird count has continued to grow.

In 2023, nearly 335,000 checklists were submitted from 202 countries, including 236,904 in the United States. That’s a 34% increase from pre-pandemic 2020.

In the U.S., California submitted the most checklists – 21,585, nearly a 7% increase from 2022.

With more eyes came more diversity of birds. Worldwide, 7,732 bird species – about two-thirds of the planet’s known species – were observed and 7,538 were verified, about 800 more than 2020.

U.S. participants recorded 674 species in 2023. California birders spotted 389 species, the most of any state.

In Sacramento, 660 checklists recorded 170 species, topped by the western screech owl. (Crows, of course, were also very common as well as blackbirds.) Sacramento even had a confirmed bald eagle sighting at the Kiefer landfill.

In the U.S., the birds appearing on the most checklists were distinctive species that are easy to spot (and tend to love bird feeders): Northern cardinal, house finch and dark-eyed junco.

GBBC isn’t limited to home landscapes. Locally, birders reported 70 species along the American River Parkway, one of several local hot spots.
To participate or learn more: https://www.birdcount.org/

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Dig In: Garden Checklist

For week of March 3:

* Celebrate the city flower! Catch the 100th Sacramento Camellia Show 3 to 6 p.m. Saturday, March 2, and 10 a.m to 5 p.m. Sunday, March 3, at the Scottish Rite Center, 6151 H St., Sacramento. Admission is free.

* Between showers, pick up fallen camellia blooms; that helps cut down on the spread of blossom blight that prematurely browns petals.

* Feed camellias after they bloom with fertilizer formulated for acid-loving plants.

* Camellias need little pruning. Remove dead wood and shape, if necessary.

* Tread lightly or not at all on wet ground; it compacts soil.

* Avoid digging in wet soil, too; wait until it clumps in your hand but doesn’t feel squishy.

* Note spots in your garden that stay wet after storms; improve drainage with the addition of organic matter such as compost.

* Keep an eye out for leaning trunks or ground disturbances around a tree’s base, a sign of shifting roots in the wet soil.

* Fertilize roses, annual flowers and berries as spring growth begins to appear.

* If aphids are attracted to new growth, knock them off with a strong spray of water or insecticidal soap. To make your own “bug soap,” use two tablespoons liquid soap – not detergent – to one quart water in a spray bottle. Shake it up before use. Among the liquid soaps that seem most effective are Dr. Bronner’s Pure-Castile Soaps; try the peppermint scent.

* Pull weeds now! Don’t let them get started. Take a hoe and whack them as soon as they sprout.

* Prune and fertilize spring-flowering shrubs after bloom.

* Cut back and fertilize perennial herbs to encourage new growth.

* Make plans for your summer garden. Once the soil is ready, start adding amendments such as compost.

* Indoors, start seeds for summer favorites such as tomatoes, peppers and squash as well as summer flowers.

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