The number of birds counted was down from 2011 but three new species were added to the county list during this year’s Christmas Bird Count (CBC).
On Dec. 28, 30 volunteers traveled 514 miles by car and boat to count a total of 8,883 birds of 136 species during the 2012 count.
A year earlier, more than 24,000 birds were observed during the CBC and more than 10,000 were counted in 2010. Experienced birders said windy weather may have been a factor in the reduced number of birds observed this year.
Seen for the first time this year was a whimbrel spotted in the “Miles” region west of Apalachicola. This large wading bird breeds in the Arctic and migrates to South and Central America, Africa, south Asia, Australia and the southern United States for the winter. It uses its long, down-curved bill to probe deep in the sand of beaches for shellfish and other small animals, but also feeds on berries and insects.
Master birder John Murphy said he was surprised this species has not been observed in Franklin County in previous bird CBCs. Murphy organized the count this year stepping into the considerable shoes of Alan Knothe.
Another first-time species for the count was a barn owl spotted near the Apalachicola Regional Airport. Considered the most widespread owl species, it had never been spotted during a Christmas count in Franklin County.
A welcome and anticipated first was a buff-bellied hummingbird that has been haunting a residence in the historic district.
This Mexican native is larger than the ruby throated hummingbird commonly encountered in our area. Ornithologists believe this species is expanding its range into the southern US because so much of its Mexican habitat has been lost to agriculture. The bird was observed feeding on the flowers of a loquat tree. Buff-bellies nest in shrubs usually less than five feet from the ground.
Notable absences during this year’s count were the spotted sandpiper and rock pigeon.
Seven Sprague’s pipits were observed at the regional airport this year, a new record up from five spotted last year.
Once again a western kingbird was observed along Airport Road very near to where the same species was encountered last year. Sightings of this bird in the eastern US have become more common during the 21st Century.
The bald eagle population continues to flourish. This year 51 were seen around the county up from 46 last year.
The most commonly observed bird was the redhead duck; 5,500 were counted, 4,500 on Little St. George Island.
This year for the CBC became a free program. In the past, Audubon charged field participants a $5 fee. To minimize the effects of the loss of income, “American Birds,” the publication chronicling the bird count, will be delivered entirely online, no longer printed on paper and mailed to participants.
According to the Audubon website the CBC helps inform conservationists about local trends in bird populations and plan strategies to protect birds and their habitat. The Environmental Protection Agency has included Audubon's climate change work from CBC data as one of 26 indicators of climate change in their 2012 report.
Great Backyard Bird Count coming up
The CBC is over, but now it’s time to gear up for the 16th annual Great Backyard Bird Count Feb. 15-18. The GBBC is a four-day event that engages bird watchers in counting birds to create a real-time snapshot of where birds are across the U.S. and Canada.
The count is a joint project of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society to learn more about how birds are doing. Last year, participants turned in more than 104,285 checklists online, creating the continent's largest instantaneous snapshot of bird populations ever recorded. Watchers reported observing 623 species and 17,382,831 individual birds.
Anyone can take part in the GBBC, from novice bird watchers to experts. Participants count birds for as little as 15 minutes (or as long as they wish) on one or more days of the event and report their sightings online at www.birdcount.org.
On the web site, participants can explore real-time maps and charts that show what others are reporting during the count. The site has tips to help identify birds and special materials for educators. Participants may also enter the GBBC photo contest by uploading images taken during the count. Many images will be featured in the GBBC website’s photo gallery. All participants are entered in a drawing for prizes that include bird feeders, binoculars, books, CDs, and many other great birding products.
For more information about the GBBC, visit www.birdcount.org or contact the Cornell Lab of Ornithology at (800) 843-2473.