An enthusiastic group of 15 people, including four wildlife professionals and 11 volunteers with varying birding experience, undertook a trial-run Audubon Christmas Bird Count on Dec 29.

Bird numbers and species were tallied in a 15-mile-wide circular perimeter that extended south from Cash Creek in Tate’s Hell State Forest to the Gulf Beaches of St. George Island, and from East Bay to the east end of Dr. Julian Bruce St. George Island State Park and across to Yent Bayou.

Joshua Hodson, the state park manager, kindly granted permission to survey birds, even though park personnel are still repairing the damage caused by Hurricane Michael on Oct. 10.

Very successful Audubon Christmas bird counts have been annually undertaken for many years now, through Apalachicola-St. Vincent and Little Saint George, but St. George Island proper and Eastpoint were never previously counted. This inspired a few volunteers to organize a trial-run count that would include these important adjoining, yet uncounted, natural areas.

Despite a heavy fog that settled in along the coastline around midday, participants were able to successfully identify 102 species from 3,057 birds counted on the actual count-day, Saturday, Dec. 29. An additional nine bird species were identified through count week (Wednesday, Dec. 26 through Tuesday, Jan. 1), making for a total of 111 species observed.

Shorebird species of special significance that nest in this area include snowy plover, Wilson’s plover, and American oystercatcher. Snowy plover (20 individuals) and American oystercatchers (39 individuals) were well represented in the count. Three Wilson plovers were also reported.

Participants also observed a number of less common birds, including an American kestrel, a peregrine falcon, Caspian terns, a northern gannet, a loggerhead shrike, hermit thrush, and a black and white warbler.

With this initial success of the trial-run bird count for a St. George Island, Eastpoint and Tate’s Hell, the organizers will apply for formal listing as a regular Audubon Christmas Count for 2019, which is likely to be held the last week of December. Interested people, whether novice or expert, who might like to participate next year are most welcome to contact James Hargrove for further information, at jhargrov@gmail.com or 927-4680.