Birds’-Eye View: Survey takes bird counts along Bear Creek

Community scientists document bird activity near Bear Creek for a scientific survey. KBO photo
January 9, 2023

Burn area had differing impact on various bird species

By Elva Manquera-DeShields

The Bear Creek Community Bird Survey (BCCBS) has been an ongoing community science project for the past two years (2021-2022.)

This survey aims to measure riparian bird abundance along Bear Creek between Ashland and Central Point. This project was made possible by community scientists and local partners at the Klamath Bird Observatory (KBO), Rogue River Watershed Council (RRWC), Rogue Valley Audubon Society, and Southern Oregon Land Conservancy.

These surveys are conducted year-round, but data collected during the breeding season are the current focus of analysis by KBO. While migration and winter habitat are also essential for birds, it’s easier to obtain reliable bird counts during the breeding season because male birds sing consistently to attract mates and mark their territories. Survey data are collected and stored using eBird NW (ebird.org/pnw/home), an easy-to-use tool for community scientists and professional biologists to input bird sightings and contribute to a worldwide database. 

The surveys were conducted at seven sites between Central Point and Ashland. Five of those sites were burned during the 2020 Almeda and Central Point Fires, providing a unique opportunity to observe the changes in bird populations immediately after a fire and long-term post-fire recovery. In spring 2021, there was a notable difference between birds considered habitat generalists and those considered riparian specialists.

The American Robin, a ground-foraging generalist, was equally or more abundant in burned sites than unburned sites. At the same time, riparian specialists Yellow-breasted Chat and Yellow Warbler were much more common in unburned sites in the post-fire conditions of 2021. By 2022, there had been substantial regrowth of willow, ash, and cottonwood seedlings, which these species can use as nesting and foraging habitat. American Robin abundance decreased, while Yellow-breasted Chat and Yellow Warbler increased or remained stable across most sites.

Yellow warbler

A set of 13 focal bird species were identified to help assess habitat quality along Bear Creek. The species used are expected to be common in a healthy riparian habitat in Southern Oregon. In 2022, only one of the seven sites had 10 or more focal species in sufficient numbers: North Mountain Park. This gave Bear Creek Greenway a poor rating.

This isn’t unexpected with the Greenway being located in a relatively urban setting and the impact of the 2020 fires on riparian vegetation. This snapshot of Bear Creek riparian bird population health may improve as natural vegetation regrowth and active restoration efforts are underway. Bear Creek community bird survey data will provide a measuring stick for tracking future changes in bird populations that may occur due to ongoing restoration efforts (or adverse effects of habitat loss, climate change, etc.)

The results of this effort will be combined with other metrics — water quality parameters, fish abundance, fish habitat accessibility, affordable housing, air quality, etc. — collected by RRWC or other partners to create a Rogue River Basin report card that will be useful for tracking watershed and community conditions, and for community outreach. The first report card is scheduled for release in spring 2023. In 2023, RRWC plans to expand the current survey to additional watersheds in the Rogue River Basin.

The Klamath Bird Observatory (KBO) is a nonprofit organization based in Ashland that advances bird and habitat conservation through science, education and partnerships. Working in the Pacific Northwest and throughout the ranges of migratory birds, KBO emphasizes high-caliber science and the role of birds as indicators to inform and improve natural resource management. KBO also nurtures an environmental ethic through community outreach and education.

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