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SMITH: Big cats crash birders' counting party

More than 100 of Sonoma County's hardiest naturalists fanned out to count birds for 24 hours at year's end. Yet, a good many came back talking about cats.

Volunteers in the Madrone Audubon Society's 46th annual Christmas Bird Count on the seaward side of the county couldn't help but notice an abundance of bobcats.

There were 11 sightings of the gorgeous stub-tailed cats. The scientific conclusion of Peter Leveque, the retired SRJC field biology instructor and dean of local naturalists: "That's a lot."

Seriously, the bird counters don't know what to make of the wealth of bobcat sightings, but they suspect it's a good sign for the environment.

Peter says the birds appear to be in pretty good shape, too.

Covering a circle 15 miles in diameter, volunteers in the Audubon Society's year-end West County count tallied about 20,000 individual birds — three of them bald eagles — in 183 species.

Solidly average, Peter said.

Though it's too early to say how this year's total of species observed will compare with those from other areas across the nation, Peter said we typically finish among the top 20 or 25.

Given the experience in West County this year, the National Audubon Society, which has encouraged and coordinated the end-of-year bird census since 1900, may now rank sightings of bobcats, too.

But don't count on it.

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