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NEIGHBORS : Fly-By Figures : The Audubon Society will be scouting for birds, keeping a particular eye out for the dickcissel.


Anyone seen a dickcissel?

"It doesn't usually come west of the Rockies," Tom Maxwell of the Conejo Valley Audubon Society said, "but we know that it's here."

The trick is to spot this bird, named after the sound it makes, during the Audubon Society's annual Christmas bird count, which takes place throughout the country just before or after the holiday.

"I'm sure we're going to find the dickcissel," Maxwell said. "Somebody will stay out until we do."

The Conejo Valley chapter will be doing its bird-watching Dec. 30, and the Ventura chapter will be going out Dec. 31. "We'll be compiling numbers and species of birds," Maxwell said. "Last year, our chapter had a total of 157 species and 38,355 birds."

Maxwell's most memorable find? "We saw two military macaws. They are usually in the Central Andes, but these were in my front yard. They were mating in a palm tree. I don't know if they belonged to somebody or took a wrong turn." Or is that wrong tern?

A dickcissel sighting was made several weeks ago by Audubon member Dr. Elliot McClure of Camarillo. "I caught it in my front yard where I do my banding," he said. "I just happened to catch him along with the other finches. He hasn't come back. He was just moving around anyway, so where he'll go I have no idea."

Ahhhh, Christmas in California. Only the most romantic folks are dreaming about a white one around these parts. The words painted on the front window of the Bumblebee Cafe in downtown Ventura sum things up pretty well:

"Merry Christmas

Air Conditioning"

The Oxnard Parks and Recreation Department is again sponsoring its New Year's Eve slumber party for youngsters at the Oxnard Community Center. According to the press release for the event, the party is intended to let parents "go out and celebrate New Year's Eve" knowing that their children are in good hands. The party ends at 9 a.m. Jan. 1.

Question: How much celebrating can the parents really do if they have to be awake enough to find their way to the Community Center by 9 a.m.?

There's at least one Ventura County resident who isn't holding out much hope that Santa will be coming down his chimney this year. As a master chimney sweep for the Flue Doctor, Daniel Drake knows better.

"The chimney is too small. The average size of a chimney is 8 inches by 17 inches," he said. "We usually get a couple of stories each year where some kid in Simi Valley or the San Fernando Valley loses a ball in a chimney, goes in and gets stuck."

Did you hear about the "Let It Snow" contest being put on by the Conejo Recreation and Park District? Friday, the winner will be awarded the grand prize for submitting the closest guess of the low temperature at the North Pole on Dec. 18. That grand prize is "three tons of snow."

As it turns out, though, the snow is somewhat bogus.

"Actually, we contacted an ice-making company in Ventura," said Tracy Tucker, recreation supervisor at the Borchard Center. "It's more an icy kind of snow, but it is white. We are promising a white Christmas. We're going to load up a dump truck, take it to the people's yard, dump it and shovel it to get the whole yard covered in snow."

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