Christmas Bird Counts

Short-billed dowitchers on a dock at Vilano Beach in Florida.

I was the lead compiler for the St. Augustine Christmas Bird Count (CBC) on December 19. Fifty volunteers tallied 149 total species and 24,687 individual birds. It has been a joy to lead the St. Augustine CBC for the last three years because it was a joy to work with people who love wildlife. I have been fortunate that the Guana-Tolomato-Matanzas Estuarine Research Reserve and St. Augustine Ecotours has provided boats the last few years to allow us to count birds along the Tolomato and Matanzas Rivers. The last few years, I was on the GTM boat. This year, the volunteers on the boats found over 100 more American white pelicans and over twice as many American oystercatchers as last year. Additionally, we noted a significant increase in laughing, ring-billed, and herring gulls and a decrease in black skimmers and roseate spoonbills from last year.

The annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count began with an idea to count birds on Christmas Day rather than shoot them, which was the usual activity. The effort evolved into an annual event in which participants in the Western Hemisphere count birds within specific circles on a designated day during a two-week period around the Christmas Holiday. Circles are 15 miles in diameter based on a central point. According to the National Audubon website, there are over 2,500 circles in the Western Hemisphere. The center of the St. Augustine circle is just east of Fort Mose Historic State Park and the first count in the area was conducted in 1975. More information about the Christmas Bird Count, including historical data, is available at  Christmas Bird Count | Audubon.

Regis and I participated in the Matanzas CBC today. We recruited four wonderful friends to join us and Zach McKenna from St. Augustine Ecotours graciously took us out to count birds. We had a wonderful time and saw four Whimbrels. I have only seen a couple whimbrels and they were always alone. What a treat.

Whimbrel

I find it difficult to count birds out on the water but would not have it any other way. Birds hang out in the hundreds or thousands on the oyster rakes and certain docks. Trying to count from a moving boat is difficult when so many of the birds are hard to identify. Take a look at the photo below from today.

A variety of shorebirds hanging out on a dock in the Matanzas River.

Because it is so difficult, I have started to take pictures of the birds and count when I get back home. This works best on the docks so I can use the pilings to ensure I do not double count the birds.

It soothes my soul to see so many amazing birds hanging out not far from us. They are hard to see from the shore, but they are nearby. I hope we make it possible for them to continue to hang out.

White pelicans on the Matanzas River.
Green heron on the Matanzas River.
American oystercatchers on the Tolomato River.
American oystercatchers on the Tolomato River.
White pelicans on the Tolomato River.

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