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January bird count a success

James Hargrove Special to
the Times
The Apalach Times

On Jan. 2, a spirited group of 21 people conducted an all-day census of birds on the shores, woodlands and bay around Eastpoint, Tate’s Hell, and St. George Island.

Four wildlife professionals, 16 birders with a range of experience, along with a boat captain from Apalachicola National Estuarine Research Reserve observed 104 species and 7,675 individual birds. This was the second year count following a successful inaugural count of last year which observed 102 species. The information gathered will eventually be forwarded to the Audubon Society as part of their effort to census birds across the United States and Canada each winter.

A further seven species were observed during the week of the count, bringing the week’s total to 111 species. Besides our numerous common birds such as cardinals, house finches and great blue herons, a number of lesser known and rarer birds were recorded, including an anhinga, a frigate bird, a peregrine falcon, a short-eared owl, two red cockaded woodpeckers and a common yellowthroat (a warbler).

Duck hunters will be pleased to learn that more than half the birds seen were ducks. Estimates totaled 3,830 redheads, 473 buffleheads, 250 scaup (“bluebills”), and four ring-necked ducks. However, no geese were seen in the count circle centered as it is just east of the St. George Island Bridge. Canadian geese were once common on the bay, and snow geese are seen some winters.

Sharon Hutchinson, a resident of St George Island, teamed with visiting “snowbird” Donna Gail Gaudet, and the pair covered the shoreline from Cat Point to Yent’s Bayou.

“Donna and I successfully surveyed a large portion of Highway 98 and Eastpoint, seeing 48 different bird species – I learned a lot from Donna, and my step counter tells me I took over 16,500 steps during the day!” Hutchinson said.

The 15-mile-wide count circle was divided into eight areas. Professionals from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission, including Raya Pruner, Marvin Friel, Ezra Thompson, and Caity Reiland-Smith enumerated the shorebirds around the Dr. Julian Bruce St. George Island State Park. ANERR’s Peyton Aubin arranged permission to take James Hargrove and W.K. Saunders to survey the causeway from the old bridge, where the peregrine falcon was observed.

The Audubon Society’s Christmas Bird Counts are held annually between Dec. 14 and Jan. 5. In addition to the trial count reported here, official counts were also held in Apalachicola (including St. Vincent Island and Little St George), Alligator Harbor, Port St. Joe, Tallahassee, and St. Marks. Trial counts are initially held in order to build up a suitable pool of interested volunteers from which to make the bird count a successful ongoing annual event.

Christmas Counts have now been held for 119 years, providing a record of winter birds that range from Alaska and Canada through Mexico all the way to Peru. The counts document whether bird populations are stable, increasing or decreasing, and whether wintering locations are changing.

The count organizers will apply for formal listing as a regular Audubon Christmas Count in 2020. Interested people, whether novice or expert, are most welcome to contact James Hargrove for further information at or 927-4680.

Although the next Christmas Count will not be held until next December, volunteers can help observe spring migrants during Cornell’s Global Big Day to be held May 9, 2020.