The Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper

Vol. 13 No. 13 - January 9, 2013


Birds present and accounted for

Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

Seagulls and pelicans at Twin Piers in Bradenton Beach were counted.

They play games with you, these birds.

They twitter, then move, just as you think you’ve spotted them in the dense brush on Leffis Key, then tweet again to taunt you.

It’s almost as if they don’t want to be counted.

But that’s the purpose of the annual Audubon Gulf Circle Christmas Bird Count, which took place on Thursday, Jan. 3, on Anna Maria Island and Longboat Key.

The shy birds were no match for the birdwatchers, with their powerful telescopes and competitive spirit.

“There’s an osprey with a fish in its bill,” calls out one birdwatcher, while Wendell Graham writes it down on a chart.

“Five fish crows, six, 10,” says another, as she scribbles.

“Wow! Starlings – call it a hundred,” says John van Zandt about a flock moving too fast to count individually.

“See that speck on the fifth branch from the left, above the triple fork? That’s a cormorant,” another says.

Within a few minutes, white pelicans, brown pelicans and several other species had been spotted and accounted for.

This year, counters were keen on seeing a razorbill, a northern, penguin-like seabird that showed up here for the first time last month due to changing northern weather patterns. The birds are not surviving the relatively warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico. But no razorbills were seen during the count.

Since the year 1900, the count has provided data on trends in bird populations. Data from more than 60,000 volunteers in 2,000 circles is collected from all 50 states, every Canadian province, parts of Central and South America, Bermuda, the West Indies and the Pacific Islands.

The annual published report, American Birds, will go digital this year on the National Audubon Center’s website, saving more trees for the birds, according to Audubon.

“This is not just about counting birds,” according to Gary Langham, Audubon’s chief scientist. “Data from the Audubon Christmas Bird Count are at the heart of hundreds of peer-reviewed scientific studies and informd decisions by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Department of the Interior, and the EPA. Because birds are early indicators of environmental threats to habitats we share, this is a vital survey of North America and, increasingly, the Western Hemisphere.”

The counts have revealed the impact of climate change on birds and a decline in common birds, as well as identifying birds in need of conservation action, according to Audubon, which credits the counts for documenting the comeback of the bald eagle and significant increases in waterfowl populations, both the result of conservation efforts.

The count began in 1900 when Dr. Frank Chapman, founder of Bird-Lore, which evolved into Audubon magazine, suggested an alternative to the holiday “side hunt,” in which teams competed to see who could shoot the smallest game, including birds. Chapman proposed that people count birds instead.

This year’s numbers have not yet been tallied, but last year’s count shattered records, with more than 60 million birds counted.

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