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105 species of birds counted during annual Christmas Bird Count

By Staff | Dec 27, 2017

Anne Smith and Sandy Shepard spotted this American bald eagle on Captiva during Saturday’s Christmas Bird Count. JEFF HAYWARD

One hundred and 48 people gathered on the islands of Sanibel and Captiva for the 118th Audubon Christmas Bird Count Saturday, Dec. 16.

Some of those volunteers joined in the parking lot outside of the Education Center at J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, one of 10 locations individuals flocked to, to participate in the citizen based science.

This year 17,566 birds were counted on Sanibel and Captiva, comprising of 105 different species. This year’s species not often seen during the Christmas Bird Count included one brown hermit thrush, 115 lesser scaup and 12 black scoters.

The excitement grew for the volunteers at “Ding” as they made their way down different sections of Wildlife Drive, eager to see what kind of species of birds they would spot with their naked eyes, binoculars and scopes. In addition, Jeremy Conrad, wildlife biologist for “Ding” patrolled Tarpon Bay and the mangroves by boat to count the birds.

For Dave Scheiber that is what he enjoys the most about the annual Christmas Bird Count. He was happy the annual event took place during his vacation to visit his parents this year.

“I love nature. My dad got me into it,” he said.

His dad, Phil Scheiber, has been volunteering at “Ding” for 20 years, putting in more than 2,000 hours over the years. He spends his one day a week during the winter months being a rover and a naturalist guide for bird and wildlife tours.

“It’s a pleasure to see so many people so interested in what we have, especially the kids,” Phil said.

Phil stumbled upon “Ding” during a fishing trip in the early 1970s with his buddy.

“It’s a prize,” he said, adding that he enjoys “getting in here early and enjoying the peaceful surroundings and all of the great people.”

Phil said over the years he has participated in the Christmas Bird Count, for many years as the leader, when it was both cold, and rainy, which affects the number of birds they are able to count.

The weather was perfect this year, due to the temperatures not too cold, nor hot, the sky a stunning shade of blue, as well as low tide and barely a ripple in the water.

The thrill of the morning took hold as the Scheiber’s and other members of their group made their way down the righthand side of Wildlife Drive to a lookout deck tucked away in the mangroves. As they made their last turn down the boardwalk, a plethora of birds came into view in every direction grazing in the low tide for a bite to eat.

The group narrowed the viewing areas into smaller sections as they counted the various species. A dozen roseate spoonbills, more than 100 white pelicans and more than 400 ibis were called out as the tallies were made to a sheet of paper.

Smiles crossed everyone’s faces as they admired the view both by the naked eye and through multiple lenses bringing the bird closer into view.

“We are the intruders,” Dave said. “The fact that the island is a sanctuary island is a great thing.”

All of the birders shared that the best time to visit Wildlife Drive at “Ding” Darling is during low tide in the morning hours.

“Anytime, just come. The best time is now,” Phil said, adding that people should come often due to the wildlife always changing.

Judy Davis, who is the leader of the volunteers at “Ding” said they recorded 4,307 birds, a total of 59 species at the refuge alone.

Scheiber’s group counted 29 species, with the top three consisting of 478 white ibis, 135 white pelicans and 81 snowy egrets.

Once all the volunteers finished their sections of counting they provided their tallied sheets to the group leader, which was then taken to the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation, who graciously lent their space for everyone to gather. Donuts, coffee and juice were provided as the birding enthusiast shared their exciting finds.

Audrey Albrecht, SCCF shorebird program coordinator, was among the group sharing her finds. She patrolled a section of the beach Saturday morning, which resulted in not seeing as many shorebirds as previous years. Albrecht attributed it to the recent red tide and a peregrine falcon, the fastest bird in North America, hanging out in a tree near the beach.

Cape Coral resident Charlie Edell also joined the efforts Saturday morning. He said he was going to conduct a Christmas Bird Count in Fort Myers as a compiler Monday morning, which is sponsored by the Calusa Bird Club. Although the area he oversees covers 10 zones from various areas from Pine Island to Lakes Park, he focuses on Bunche Beach.

Edell’s been involved in the annual Christmas Bird Count since 1995 and as the compiler for the past five to six years.

“I like to help with the data collection. It’s always fun to see what turns up,” he said, adding that he continues to volunteer his time because he enjoys the curiosity aspect of what people can find during the count.

One of the finds occurred three or four years ago when a rare bird, a razorbill, was spotted as far south as Southwest Florida. Edell said the shorebird is normally not seen in warm water. This particular year, the bird made it’s way around the peninsula of Florida.

The razorbill was found at Bunche Beach and Blind Pass, he said.

Another species that has stuck out over the years is when two brants, a type of goose that is not normally seen in Florida, were found at Bunche Beach.

The bug of birding was instilled about 25 to 30 years ago due to the close proximity Edell had to a wildlife refuge in New Jersey. He said the part of New Jersey where he grew up experienced migration of obvious identifiable birds.

The never ending supply of information regarding birds is what has kept his interest over the years.

The results tallied during the Christmas Bird Count, which was conducted by the Sanibel-Captiva Audubon Society, will be reported to the National Audubon Society and will become part of the 118th Audubon Christmas Bird Count.

“San-Cap Audubon sincerely thanks all those who took part in this year’s very successful Christmas Bird Count,” Bill Jacobson said. “Many thanks also to SCCF for their count support and use of their facilities and J.N. “Ding” Darling NWR for their count contributions and continued support.”