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Santa Barbara Bird Watching

Great Egrets (pictured) and Snowy Egrets are a common sight in Santa Barbara-area waterways. (Photo: Ken Pfeiffer)

Great Egrets (pictured) and Snowy Egrets are a common sight in Santa Barbara-area waterways. (Photo: Ken Pfeiffer)

A group of Santa Barbara bird enthusiasts had their eyes to the skies (and seas) over New Year’s weekend.  Beginning at 12:01 AM on January 2nd, they spent 24 hours tallying up the many varieties of birds spotted in the area as part of the 116th Audubon Society Santa Barbara Christmas Bird Count. In recent years, Santa Barbara has ranked high in both diversity of species as well as the total number of birds. And, numbers from this year’s CBC indicate that the “American Riviera” is still a popular stop for feathered fliers.

Final numbers will continue to be crunched for the next few weeks. But, preliminary results show counters spotted 210 different species in the Santa Barbara CBC circle, which is 15 miles in diameter, centered at the intersection of Highway 154 and Cathedral Oaks Road.

Organizers are confident this number should be enough to put Santa Barbara in second place, behind San Diego (where 220 species were counted).

“Our total of 210 will most likely go to 211, but that will not be confirmed until after this weekend,” said Rebecca Coulter, with the Santa Barbara CBC circle (there were separate counting circles in Carpinteria, Cachuma, Lompoc and other parts of the county). “Either way, that puts us in second place statewide, behind San Diego’s amazing total of 220.”

“But remember, we are counting more than species. We are counting all the individual birds observed by the counters during that 24 hour period,” added Coulter. “The big picture is that it’s a census that gives us information about relative abundance or scarcity, in addition to species diversity. And because it’s the longest running citizen science project out there, there’s a lot of data to compare it to.”

Red tailed hawks can be spotted in trees, on poles or soaring over Santa Barbara (Photo: Ken Pfeiffer)

Red tailed hawks can be spotted in trees, on poles or soaring over Santa Barbara (Photo: Ken Pfeiffer)

This year’s highlights include the Tufted Duck, returning for a third winter, on a private reservoir in north Goleta. And, a bald eagle was spotted soaring over South La Cumbre Peak. Organizers say notable misses include the Ross’s Goose, Snow Goose and Yellow-Billed Magpie.

“It should be noted that we were second in the state this year but 5th in the country. The first 3 spots were all Texas. Last year we were 2nd in the country, ahead of San Diego and behind only Mad Marsh/Matagorda Texas, which had 234 species last year to our 214 and had 239 this year,” added an EdHat reader who posted this comment on my story at the Santa Barbara community news website.

Bird Watching in Santa Barbara

It’s easy to spot a variety of different bird species while walking in Santa Barbara. Long-legged Great blue Heron and Snowy Egrets are a common sight in waterways from the Coal Oil Point Reserve next to UC Santa Barbara to Carpinteria’s Salt Marsh Reserve.  I love seeing the array of shorebird species walking on the beach. And, it’s not unusual to spot rare hawks or other raptors from hiking trails, or perched on a telephone line.

Last weekend, photographer Ken Pfeiffer and I walked from the now-defunct Ocean Meadows Golf Course in Goleta to the Coal Oil Point Reserve. Here are some of the bird species we spotted along the way.

Other good places for bird watching in Santa Barbara include the Andree Clark Bird Refuge. Click here to find more Santa Barbara birding hot spots.

Click here for a more comprehensive guide to Santa Barbara bird watching.

Check out ebird for more details on Santa Barbara’s Christmas Bird Count. And, for a guide (including photos) to some local urban birds, check out this Birds of Santa Barbara Guide for Kids and Grown Ups.