Weather dampens bird count


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Rainy weather and fewer volunteers made for less bird sightings during this year's Christmas Bird Count on St. Croix.

The annual bird count, organized by the Audubon Society, is the longest-running citizen science survey in the world.

Each year, the Audubon Christmas Bird Count mobilizes more than 70,000 volunteer bird counters in more than 2,300 locations across the Western Hemisphere, including St. Croix and St. John.

The annual bird count has not been done on St. Thomas for several years because of a lack of volunteers to organize it.

There is a two-week window every year during which the count can take place. This year, the window is from Dec. 14 to Jan. 5.

In the territory, the bird count was done on Dec. 15.

The dawn-to-dusk event counts the number of different species seen as well as numbers of individual species. Birders go out into the swamps and ponds to collect the data. Organizers pick sites known for dense bird populations.

By doing it on the same day and at the same times in a variety of locations, volunteers will not run the risk of counting the same bird twice.

Bill Boyton, this year's coordinator on St. Croix, said the final tallies were submitted to the Audubon Society.

On St. Croix, 3,779 birds were counted with 65 different species sighted.

The St. John Christmas Bird Count information was unavailable by presstime.

Once all the data has been submitted to the Audubon Society, it will be available at www.audubon.org.

The St. Croix total was 1,098 birds less than the previous year.

"Our volunteers this year were eight less than last year's crew, and we covered fewer sites around the island. Sunday brought light to heavy rain and very hard-blowing and gusty winds out of the east. Many birds were 'hunkered' down and remained unseen as the unpleasant weather blew across the island," Boyton said in a prepared statement. Despite the weather, Boyton said bird watchers spread out to golf courses, ponds and wetlands across the island with their tally sheets and bird identification books in hand.

More than 27 volunteers traveled a total of 305 miles by vehicle - including a boat trip to Buck Island and back - and walked 42 miles. The volunteers spent a total of 133 hours counting, according to Boynton.

Some of the highlights from this year's count included the observation of three kestrels "hang-gliding" off the north shore coastline of Buck Island in a 25 mph headwind; spotting St. Croix's resident American flamingo, which was seen again this year at Great Pond; and seeing three whimbrels at Great Pond, according to Boyton.

Hope, the whimbrel that was being tracked by scientists for several years, was not spotted during the Christmas Bird Count, although she has been spotted at Great Pond this winter, he said.

Boyton said the birder population on St. Croix is aging, and he wants more young people to take up the hobby. He said the St. Croix Environmental Association plans on conducting several events in the coming year to help people become avid birdwatchers. The workshops will help people learn about the island's birds and help with identification.

To participate in the St. Croix bird count next year, email garvinlj@gmail.com or call 690-3002.

- Contact reporter Aldeth Lewin at 714-9111 or email alewin@dailynews.vi.

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