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Count blessings and birds this holiday during annual Christmas Bird Count

By Staff | Dec 11, 2009

There was a time when Christmas was not the most favorable time to be a bird.

Hunters would come out on Christmas and shoot birds flying through the sky. That was in the early 1900s.

Fast forward to now.

Instead of hunters, preservation-minded folks join in a Christmas Bird Count. The Christmas Bird Count (CBC) is the brain child of Frank Chapman, an American ornithologist that wanted to counter the hunting event. The Christmas Bird Count (CBC) has since been an important monitoring census for tracking birds, according to Sanibel-Captiva Audubon member and local CBC coordinator Bill Jacobson.

For those looking to be part of this long-time event, and contribute to the information gathering needed to ultimately protect wild fowl, the San-Cap chapter of the Audubon Society – an organization dedicated to the preservation and conservation of birds – is recruiting volunteers for their annual Christmas Bird Count on Saturday, Dec. 19. Participants will work in small groups on Sanibel and Captiva to spot birds and record findings. Birding skills are helpful but not essential.

Anyone interested in participating needs to call Jacobson at 395-1878 to be placed in a group.

The count on the islands has been going on for decades, according to Jacobson.

On average about 18,000 birds within 101 species are counted on the islands, Jacobson said. Last year, however, the bird count was down to about 11,000. Though data must be analyzed by experts, Jacobson surmises that last year’s weather could have contributed to the lower count. He also said Some migratory birds might not have arrived yet during the time of the count.

Around 135 people organized in about 40 teams volunteer for the Christmas Bird Count every year, Jacobson said. During the count, volunteers who are divided into birders and recorders scour the islands for birds. They use all means of transportation to get accomplish the mission, including golf carts, boats, cars, bikes and by foot.

The San-Cap Audubon tends to draw enthusiastic volunteers every year.

“You have the chance to be part of a big birding operation,” Jacobson said.

People on vacation participate in the bird count as well as residents.

For Sanibel resident and long-term birder Tim Gardner the event is a way to help keep track of birds as well as enjoy the company of like-minded people.

“It’s fun,” he said.

Gardner said he will be taking a team out on his boat for the Christmas Bird Count.

But aside from the fun and social aspect of the event, participants help birds worldwide by providing tracking data that experts analyze and act on if need be.

“They’re helping ensure birds prosper and survive,” Jacobson said.

For those that can’t make it to the Count, the San-Cap Audubon sponsors numerous guided walks throughout the season. Hugh Verry who coordinates the bird walks said last year they averaged about 29 people per walk.

“A lot of people make this a destination for birdwatching,” Verry said.

The area which Verry said is a feeding area and stop-off for migratory birds creates a rich birding zone. The bird walks which take place all around the island and on Fort Myers Beach, include The “Ding” Darling Wildlife Refuge, Bailey Tract and Bunche Beach.

Bird watchers get a chance to learn where and how to spot birds during the about 2 1/2 hour walks. Walks start at 8 a.m. and are led by several knowledgeable birders.

Nothing too high tech is needed to be a birder. But a few elements are important including, good binoculars, eyesight, memory and practice, Verry said.

And for those looking to enjoy the naturesque islands and learn more about the wildlife that inhabits it, the bird walks are a fun, inexpensive way to do this. A modest donation is requested at each bird walk. The money is collected and given to local charities, Verry said.

The San-Cap Audubon also offers a lecture series about birds and wildlife throughout the season. The lectures illuminate bird life and their habitat in various parts of the world.

Verry said birds continue to fascinate people because of their ability to fly.

“Birds are beautiful,” he said. “You don’t really understand birds until you watch them a long time.”