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BIRD ENTHUSIASTS FLOCK TO THE WOODS FOR COUNT.

Byline: Gloria Gonzales Daily News Staff Writer

They're on the trail before the sun rises over the eastern peaks of Sycamore Canyon, stopping to peer through binoculars only when they hear a bird's call or the flap of its wings.

``We start at 7 a.m. and we'll go until sundown, counting as many birds as we can,'' said Angie Kobabe, one of about 80 Conejo Valley Audubon Society members out early Sunday for the Christmas Bird Count. ``The wind is not good for birding, because they really dig into the trees or the tall grass to get out of it. It's almost worse than rain. It makes them a lot harder to see.''

Angie's husband, Don, carries the group's official tally sheet, with a list of possible species. By 9 a.m., he has already carefully checked off about dozen species, despite the windy morning.

The wind also makes it more difficult to hear the birds, adds Jennifer de la Torre, and thus harder to catch a signal from one of the 160 or so species living in the Conejo group's district. The group's area covers a circle with a 15-mile diameter - or about 177 square miles.

Sycamore Canyon is near its center, and in addition to Kobabe's group, which covered the canyon, eight other groups counted birds in different sections of the large circular area Sunday.

``The entire area includes all of Newbury Park east to Westlake Village and southwest to Point Mugu, and we're just one small group covering upper and lower Sycamore Canyon today,'' said Don Coler, a birder counting species for the 10th year.

``The whole chapter covers a lot of different habitats, so we see dozens of different birds. We're usually among the top groups in the country in terms of the sheer number of species, though Santa Barbara has a few more and usually beats us.''

Last year, the Conejo chapter counted 162 species, and a total of 24,000 birds, ranging from shore birds to canyon dwellers. By 9 a.m. Sunday, the Sycamore Canyon group had already seen two types of hawks: red-tailed and the Harrier hawk. They've also spotted a red-chested American Kestrel, a family of barn owls, a Bufflehead duck and a shrike.

``The shrike gave us a beautiful demonstration,'' Coler said, pointing to a gray bird sitting high in a bare-limbed tree, with a tuft of white material dangling from its beak. ``They catch other small birds or mice and impale them on thorns or sharp branches, then they leave them to die and they come back for them later. That's a good bird. He performed the whole thing for us. Most birds are so secretive, but he didn't want to abandon his prize.''

The birders walk, count, note species and tell bird tales. There's the red-shouldered hawk that hasn't been seen since grading began at a nearby housing development, de la Torre said. There's the spot where they saw a Harrier hawk last year.

``Usually, you just want the greatest variety of species, but today's goal is also to get as accurate a counting of each species as possible, because it's a statistical study,'' Coler said.

The information they gather will add to the longest-running ornithological database in the nation. Like Coler, some 45,000 volunteers in 50 states counted birds Sunday, and apart from its attraction as a social and competitive event, the count reveals scientifically useful information and contributes to the database, which is now part of an even larger database: the federal government's Natural History Monitoring Database.

The Conejo group has been participating in the Christmas count since 1968. Nationwide, the practice began on Christmas Day in 1900, when 27 conservationists protested traditional holiday bird shoots by replacing the hunt with a bird count.

The birders have continued to count in late December because it is a stable time for bird populations, Coler said. Most birds travel in spring or fall, and have completed their migrations to winter homes by the last week of December.

``That's why we do it all the same time, if you counted at different times of year, you would get entirely different birds,'' Coler said.

For more information about the Conejo Valley Audubon Society, call (805) 289-0440.

CAPTION(S):

2 Photos

PHOTO (1 -- color in Simi and Conejo only) Margery Coler of Camarillo joins fellow bird watchers in scoping out the Conejo Valley's avian population in Sunday's bird count.

(2 -- color in Simi and Conejo only) A shrike, the impaler of the bird world, perches on a branch.

Evan Yee/Daily News
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No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1997, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Article Type:Statistical Data Included
Date:Dec 29, 1997
Words:763
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