Fifty-three determined St. Augustine area birders counted 18,121 individual birds while participating in the National Audubon Society’s 120th Annual Christmas Bird Count Dec. 15.
The Christmas Bird Count is the oldest “citizen science” project for bird counts in the world. The first count was held on Christmas Day in 1900, when ornithologist Frank M. Chapman, an officer in the early Audubon Society, proposed a new holiday tradition, counting birds rather than hunting them. Twenty-five counts were held that day with 27 volunteers.
Since then, the Christmas Bird Count has grown tremendously and is now international, although the bulk of the counting is done in the U.S. Last year’s count included nearly 80,000 volunteers counting in 2,615 areas or 15-mile radius “circles.” More than 48.5 million birds were counted world-wide.
Data derived from counts over the past century allow researchers, conservation biologists, wildlife agencies and others to study the long-term health and status of bird populations across North America and the world. The data is accessible to anyone who needs it.
In St. Augustine, Leader Compiler Linda Burek, reported that the record number of birders, who ranged in age from 12 to over 70 years old, found 145 species within the 15-mile radius St. Augustine Circle. “To capture this count, 19 teams walked over 37 miles, drove over 311 miles, and boated the Intracoastal Waterway over 22 miles,” Burek said. The St. Augustine Circle count had two sponsors, the St. Johns County Audubon Society and the Guana-Tolomato-Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve (GTM NERR), local organizations that provided resources, participants, and in the case of the GTM NERR, one of the boats used in the count.
This year’s count was a bit lower than many prior years for several of the species that residents of St. Johns County generally see. However, some of the high counts included 2,221 Yellow-rumped Warblers, 322 Robins, 616 Red-winged Blackbirds and 549 Tree Swallows.
Shorebird numbers for the St. Augustine CBC are always of great interest and this year was no different. The birders found 919 Semipalmated Plovers, 1,384 White Ibis, 498 Brown Pelicans and 422 White Pelicans.
Burek said the teams also counted 18 Bald Eagles.