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Don Roberson of Pacific Grove photographed this Eastern Phoebe at Carr Lake on Feb. 3, 2018. "This is a rare vagrant from eastern North America that has been present several winters at Carr Lake…. including this current winter," he writes. 

Here is a photo blog of the Return of the Natives winter bird count at Upper Carr Lake from Jan. 18, 2020. You can read the 831 story about that event here

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To wake up early and get to the outdoors to look for birds on a cold Saturday morning in January takes commitment. Or curiosity. About 50 people had both at Return of the Native's bird count. RON director Laura Lee Lienk told the gathering "This is a wonderful year for water."

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One birder brought this tripod-mounted Swarovski Optik STX bird spotting scope. That’s a $3,000 piece of gear.

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The Return of the Native table featured a waterproof pocket guide to 200 popular local backyard, trail and shore water birds of the Monterey Bay Area, and other birding reference material. 

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Ventana Wildlife Society was also representing, bearing news that condors are making a healthy recovery in the Central Coast. One of those condor feathers runs about 24 inches long. 

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This is the checklist that RON employee Ellie Rivera (who also translated in Spanish for one member of the group) used to keep count of the species and number of birds that expert birder Steve Rovell and his group spotted. It’s published by the Monterey Peninsula Audubon Society and is credited to Rita Carratello and Don Roberson (who also provided the lead image of the Eastern Phoebe in this photo blog). 

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Alisal High School science teacher and master birder Steve Rovell (with a camera and telephoto lens) led one of three groups. Here they have stopped at a lock that lets Upper Carr Lake's overflow water pass under East Laurel Drive, into a reclamation ditch, on its way to the ocean. 

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The group stops at the south end of the lake. If the group doesn't happen to spot a bird that Rovell (forefront) sees, he pulls it up on a birding app on his phone called Sibley Birds and shows them. Rovell can identify birds by their calls too, and they are counted even if unseen. "I hear a Northern flicker," he says. 

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One of several encampments Rovell's group passes by, populated by homeless people. This contributes much trash and debris around the lake. Laura Lee Lienk notes that the closest restroom is at nearby Veterans Park, and that closes at 5pm. 

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The group stops along a trail at the junction of an apartment complex that overlooks the lake. In the eucalyptus trees, Steve Rovell identifies many birds that feed on the nectar of its blooms. Behind the group is East Laurel Drive; 200 yards down that street is the East Alisal neighborhood. 

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After spotting sharp-shinned hawks, a dozen black crowned night herons, a great blue heron, and California gulls (Steve Rovell says there's no such bird named a "seagull"), the group crosses a bridge over this tributary. The trash we spot includes a Baskin Robbins cup, Clorox bleach bottle, several plastic soda bottles cut in half into makeshift cups, a bag of soiled clothes, Flaming Hot Cheetos, magazine pages and a shopping cart. "I'm glad [RON] is doing a trash clean-up," Rovell says. 

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A member of Ventana Wildlife Society senior biologist Mike Stake's tour group sports a jacket with a Lions Club badge and a pin from the Big Sur Land Trust, which purchased 70 acres of the land at Carr Lake for preservation. That group, which went up the slough to Natividad Creek Park, spotted Cooper's hawk, mallards, downy woodpeckers, and (by sound) Hutton's vireo. 

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A walking path defines the border of Carr Lake on the left and a residential neighborhood on the right. 

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A man rides a mountain bike through the grassy meadow at the edge of the north side of Upper Carr Lake. In the background is a high fence surrounding the First Tee golf greens. Behind that is the Gabilan Range from which the waters of Carr Lake originate. 

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Someone's makeshift shelter. 

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Laura Lee Lienk, standing in front of a bronze sculpture of the Gabilan Range and watershed that RON commissioned. 

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RON director Laura Lee Lienk demonstrates how precipitation at the top of Fremont Peak in the Gabilan Mountain Range runs down into three creeks that converge at Upper Carr Lake. 

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Eessa Vanderspek (kneeling), a RON Volunteer & Outreach Fellow, gets ready to demonstrate to the volunteer groups how to plant the native starts, all of which will grow into either food, habitat or roosting places. 

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Young people from local schools, including La Paz Middle School, clean up a section near Upper Carr Lake. RON director Laura Lee Lienk says that bigger clean ups will happen in seasons when the water table is lower, so they can get to more trash. In the past, 50 CSUMB service learners and 80 volunteers, including kids from Salinas High, have showed up for those clean-ups. 

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Near a homeless encampment, someone has planted cut roses. 

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Another makeshift shelter. This one had a firepit nearby that still had smoking embers. Two volunteers, both former military, saw a man run away as they approached to help the cleanup effort. "There was drug paraphernalia," one of them, James Casamassa, said. 

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Volunteers listen to instruction on how to plant the native cottonwood, sagebrush, sticky monkey, yarrow, wild rye and verbena. Aaron Edwards, who lives nearby, said "RON does great stuff. We try to walk the park every day." David Rodriguez, 70, and retired military, performed a perimeter check out of habit. He says he can't work due to his age and disability, so volunteering with RON gives him "something positive to do." Lachland Robnett of Seaside said, "It's surprising to find a place like this in an urban area of Salinas." Tejah, 14, of Soquel, said, "This is a pretty lake. There's room for improvement."  Denise Bloodsaw is an education programs coordinator for RON, and is originally from the East Coast where she worked at an aquarium. "I didn't know how many plant communities there are in Monterey County alone," she said. Days later, Eessa Vanderspek reports the numbers for the bird count: "Our volunteers observed 62 species of birds and 870 individual counts of birds. A list found on January 18 can be found here: https://ebird.org/hotspot/L769765." 

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