Amid the holiday flurry, many Sacramentans will take time out to count not presents or party guests, but birds.
During the 113th annual Christmas Bird Count, thousands of birders will report the winged holiday visitors to their hometowns. It's the world's longest-running "citizen science" survey.
"The counts are part of a countrywide program of the National Audubon Society in which thousands of birders at hundreds of sites tally bird populations during the Christmas holidays," said Bill Dillinger of the Sacramento Audubon chapter.
According to the national society, a record 63,227 observers 54,262 in the field and 8,965 at bird feeders participated in the 2011 Christmas count, which actually stretches over about three weeks in late December and early January. Society chapters stagger counts during that period.
The more eyes, the more likely a wide variety of birds will be spotted. In California, more than 5,000 volunteers will work the skies from the Salton Sea to Eureka.
Teams scout 15-mile circles and report the results. Several circles are scattered in our valley and foothills.
Volunteers are needed to survey birds in Sacramento on Sunday and in Folsom on Dec. 30. Beginners are welcome.
"It's both recreational and educational," Dillinger said, "but also provides valuable information on bird population trends helpful to research projects on endangered species, effects of habitat changes and many other matters of scientific interest."
Our location on the Pacific Flyway makes it ideal for spotting a wide variety of winter birds, some that may have traveled thousands of miles.
With good weather, more Christmas count records may fall. The Sacramento counters flirted with a feathered milestone last year when about 60 observers tallied 163 species, three shy of the area's all-time record set in 2010, said compiler Mark Cudney. That total ranked among the highest inland counts in the nation.
By comparison, a group of San Diego counters in 2011 logged a state-high 216 species.
Counters can be very busy. A team of 55 birders who worked the Stockton area in 2011 totaled 107,747 birds, according to compiler Jim Rowoth. The most abundant species: Brewer's blackbird (17,373), European starling (12,526) and sandhill crane (11,868).
Folsom counters, coordinated by Chris Conard, noted 135 species in 2011; that's about average for that area, Dillinger said.
Cudney and Conard again will coordinate the two teams. To participate in Sacramento, contact Cudney at firstname.lastname@example.org. For the Folsom count, contact Conard at email@example.com or (916) 203-1610. For more information on the count or birding, click on www.sacramentoaudubon.org.
A tree that lasts
Speaking of birds, you may attract more to your garden at least by the next Christmas count with a post-holiday addition: a living holiday tree.
According to the International Society of Arboriculture, living Christmas trees are a sustainable alternative to cut trees and made for procrastinators. They look their best when they spend less time indoors great for last-minute decorating.
Because their root ball remains intact, live trees stay fresher, too. An extra benefit of a live tree is that it can be added to your landscape after the holidays, providing habitat for birds and beauty to the garden.
If you're thinking about a live tree, visit a local nursery for the best selection including compact varieties. Full-grown pine, fir and spruce popular holiday trees can reach 50 feet tall and 20 feet wide.
Limit the tree's time indoors to five to seven days. Before bringing it into the living room, let the tree spend a day (or overnight) in the garage to acclimate it to warmer temperatures. Likewise, when it's time to go back outside, put the tree in the garage for a day again, say the arborists.
This transition helps cut down on the tree's stress.
Keep the root ball moist but not wet. And as with a cut tree, find a spot away from heat sources. For more suggestions, click on www.treesaregood.org.