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The Christmas Bird Count on the Merced Vernal Pools and Grassland Reserve, by Nathan Parmeter

On December 21st, 2017, a small group entered the Merced Vernal Pools and Grasslands Reserve (MVPGR), armed with cameras, identification guides, binoculars and spotterscopes. The group was part of a larger group of birdwatchers in eastern Merced County, scouring the land for birds in an area ranging from the UC campus to Lake McSwain in Mariposa County. This event, known as the Lake Yosemite-Merced Christmas Bird Count (CBC), was part of a larger event organized by the Audubon Society in which amateur birdwatchers find and record as many birds as possible within a pre-determined 15-mile diameter circle from sunrise to sunset on a predetermined date. The CBC season lasts almost a month from mid-December to early January, and counts are held everywhere from Manhattan to remote parts of Montana and Utah, which also includes California’s diverse ecosystems. Data from each CBC is used by National Audubon Society, birdwatching clubs, researchers and amateur birders to pinpoint birdwatching hotspots, track population patterns and find new information about birds’ habits and behavior.  


Figure 1: A Rock Wren seen just outside the reserve on CBC day. These small  birds are common in the area during the winter and can even be seen on the UCM campus.  Picture © Nathan Parmeter

The Lake Yosemite-Merced CBC was coordinated by Nathan Parmeter, a fourth-year UC Merced student (Political Science major), who sports huge interest in natural history, wildlife and the outdoors. This CBC circle contained three “zones”, where different groups went to observe birds in those zones. Nathan led the group that went to the MVPGR and solo-birded the campus (which comprised the Science and Engineering 2 pond and campus quad). The count totaled 108 species across all zones, and the UCM Campus/MVPGR zone netted 50 species, with 33 observed at the reserve. The birds observed on the reserve include a Rock Wren, 2 Prairie Falcons, 6 Bald Eagles (including 4 feeding on a cow carcass), a Burrowing Owl and many birds commonly seen on the reserve, such as Horned Larks, Savannah Sparrows, Killdeer and Say’s Phoebes. The full checklist of birds seen at the reserve can be found here:, and for the campus:

The Lake Yosemite-Merced CBC is planned to be held once again in the 2018-19 Christmas Bird Count season, and if you are interested in joining Nathan, email him at No experience is necessary to be a birdwatcher!



February 12, 2018