Franklin County proved an important part of Global Big Day 2019, an annual birding event that attracts over 30,000 people worldwide.

On Global Big Day 2019 on Saturday, May 4, expert and local participants collectively compiled 122 bird checklists for Franklin County, which was the most of all counties in Florida. They also identified 135 separate bird species, placing Franklin second to Duval for total species identified in the state.

Global Big Day is a worldwide, single-day, birding event that has been undertaken every year for more than 30 years. The event is coordinated with the eBird website (ebird.org/home) and is managed by the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology.

Begun in 2002, eBird is the world’s largest biodiversity-related, citizen science project, with more than 100 million bird sightings contributed each year by eBirders around the world.

This year, four members of “Team Sapsucker,” as the experts from Cornell refer to themselves, came specifically to Franklin County, one of the three areas of focus on the Gulf Coast, that also included Galveston County in Texas and Mobile County in Alabama. The team, Drew Weber, Heather Wolf, Jessie Barry and Steve Kelling, began their count at 4 a.m. Saturday, finishing with a total of 120 separate bird species identified as of 8 p.m. Particularly notable was a sandhill crane, identified near Cash Creek.

Local birding enthusiasts were also big participants in Big Day 2019. Local participants posting to ebird identified 89 separate species, and a small group from St. George Island and Eastpoint identified 77 species. The contributions from local birders pushed Franklin County from what would have been a 12th place rank to the runner-up position in all Florida.

The day brought lots of great experiences. Local birders Elaine Rosenthal and Lauren Levi, residents of St. George Island, targeted the Unit 4 reserve from 6th East to 11th Street on the island. “While working the bay shoreline, a great blue heron was so determined not to leave its fishing spot, we literally nearly brushed against the bird as we tried to pass,” Rosenthal said.

Big Day 2019 was also a chance for novices to try out the sport. Island resident Jim Hargrove and snowbird Donna Gail Gaudet took time to walk some new birders around the Dr. Julian Bruce St. George Island’s youth camp area.

“I never fully realized the tremendous diversity of bird life at our doorstep,” said Karen Rudder, an island resident who came out to see the action. “It is just a matter of taking some time, and pausing to carefully look around. Very inspirational!”

The spring is a great time for birding on the Gulf Coast. Scientific data compiled indicates 2.1 billion birds migrate each year across the Gulf Coast, heading north to their breeding grounds. It is a great chance for local residents to see new or unusual bird species that they may not ordinarily witness.

Big Day 2019 saw 257 species identified in Florida, 719 species identified nationwide and 6,844 species identified worldwide. This year over 33,490 people participated.

If you are interested in participating in next year’s Global Big Day or the St. George Island Christmas Count, please contact James Hargrove at jhargrov@gmail.com