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Birders bring binoculars, joy to count to Marysville

Outsiders came Thursday to Marysville wearing camouflage, carrying binoculars and taking notes.

The Christmas bird count sponsored by the National Audobon Society sent Tim Manolis, 61, of the Sacramento chapter, and other birders into sites, including the wooded area north of Beckwourth Riverfront Park near the railroad tracks known as Thorntree.

"We've had some things," Manolis said late in the morning. "We had the mew gull."

That's a white-headed gull whose "mewing" sounds of its breeding calls led to its name.

The golden crowned sparrow also appeared and brought the birders — a term the trio said they prefer to birdwatchers — around the camera of a news photographer who captured the sparrow on film.

Manolis, joined on the trek by John Lewis of Chico and Dale Rubach of Grass Valley, said more birders once resided here, but that their local chapter kind of faded away. Birdwatching, however, has not, said Rubach, 69, a retired teacher for the Placer County Office of Education, who has traveled as far as New Zealand to pursue his hobby.

"Birding is a big deal now," agreed Lewis, 78, a retired pharmacist.

He said watching birds is a safe hobby but did remember a moment in Mexico when a Humvee sped by with men armed with assault rifles to arrest a murder suspect.

The task before the trio of volunteers Thursday was to spot the birds, record their appearances in notes and then gather for dinner at Casa Carlos restaurant in Marysville with others involved in the Christmas count. Tens of thousands of volunteers around America participate from Dec. 14-Jan. 5 in the count, according to the National Audobon Society.

"Each of the citizen scientists who annually braves snow, wind, or rain, to take part," the society's website adds, "makes an enormous contribution to conservation."

The three men in Marysville had only to face 50-degree weather and a stopped train they had to walk around to get to the river bottoms.

This region and the rest of the Sacramento Valley, said Rubach, is a perfect place to see waterfowl, although the population of one bird is declining.

"West Nile virus has done a pretty good number on the Yellow-billed Magpies," he said of the crow found in California.

Grass Valley provides its benefits to birders, Rubach noted.

"A lot of things come from down the mountains," he said of the Sierra.

Manolis, asked about changes in Thorntree near the Feather River, said the number of homeless has grown tremendously over the past decade. The area, he said, used to be "a little less occupied and more wild."


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