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Birders will flock to Sanibel; December survey set

By Staff | Nov 26, 2014

Islanders are gearing up for the Christmas Bird Count that will monitor the health and vibrancy of southwest Florida’s feathered population.

The annual count on Dec. 20 in Sanibel and Captiva attracts more volunteers than most others in the US, local organizers said. Some 121 volunteers in 43 teams volunteered in last year’s Christmas Bird Count, said John MacLennan, representing the Sanibel-Captiva Audubon Society, the group leading the survey. Some 2,300 national groups participate in the Christmas Bird Count, an activity dating to the early 1900s, he said. Islanders are in the top 5 percent of national participation in the count.

“It’s Sanibel,” MacLennan said. “Everyone is into birds.”

While human participation in bird counts is up, the focus of the activity is losing ground, and quickly, according to National Audubon Society figures. An Audubon study this year lists more than 300 North American species that the Society feels are at risk of sharp diminishment or outright extinction. Among those birds are the brown pelican, an island regular whose divebomb fishing delights locals and visitors. Declining fisheries and lost habitat could eliminate the brown pelican altogether within thirty years, scientists warn. Other birds facing tough times are the anhinga, bald eagles, fish crows, the roseate spoonbill, plovers, the mangrove cuckoo and a dozen other local favorites, each an important role-player in the chain, scientists insist.

The 115th annual Christmas Bird Count is considered “citizen science,” in that it involves many volunteers who otherwise may not interact with southeast Florida birds, MacLennan said, including school kids. Results from the Dec. 20 islands survey are quickly uploaded to the Audubon Society’s national database, which is shared with scientists, authorities and lawmakers interested in the health of southwest Florida’s wildlife, and to steer public policy.

Local teams work in pairs, a spotter and a recorder, in grids. They work from 7 a.m.-10 a.m. Serious and amateur birders are welcomed.

“No matter the weather,” MacLennan said, “it’s an exciting and fun thing to do.

Those interested in volunteering for the Dec. 20 Christmas Bird Count may call (239) 246-1054.