2017 Audubon Christmas Bird Count

On Dec. 14, 2017 the 118th annual Audubon Society Christmas Bird Count took place in Hernando County. Birders of all ages participated in the dawn to dusk count. Nationwide counts take place between Thursday Dec. 14, 2017 and Friday Jan. 5, 2018. The Christmas Bird Count was started by Dr. Frank Chapman, founder of the predecessor to Audubon Magazine as a way to promote conservation during Christmastime. Instead of hunting birds, he urged people to count them.

Here in Hernando County, two bird counts were conducted: one within an area encircling Crews Lake in New Port Richey up to Pine Island; another within the eastern area of the county centered around Bystre Lake and extending 7.5 miles in radius. (All bird count areas are 15 miles in diameter.) The areas designated by the Audubon Society and Cornell University capture a variety of different habitats from agricultural areas to woods, suburban areas, lakes and prairies.

Popularly described as “The nation’s longest-running citizen science bird project,” the bird count is an actual scientific census that documents all the birds in a designated area. Those residing in the circle could also count in their own backyards.

Bev Hansen’s team of 23 birders counted 134 species on the western side of the county. “We didn’t find any new or unexpected species this year,” she said. She explained, “The number of duck species and their quantities are lower than we often find, but that is frequently determined by the weather further north in the US and Canada. If the ponds in the north freeze early in the winter, more ducks fly south. If the ponds in the northern states are still unfrozen and contain sufficient food, the ducks often stop midway on their migration to Florida.”

Hernando Audubon Society Members Claudia Amseler,  Linda Vanderveen, Betty Ann Kolar and Sharon Carson observe along the lakeside at Lakewood Retreat during the Christmas Bird Count

Vanderveen’s group of about 25 volunteers counted 119 different species within the area encircling Bystre Lake. She said that number is about average. She also remarked that the ducks were more difficult to find this year as well as sparrows and meadowlarks. Vanderveen added that they weren’t able to find any burrowing owls. She commented that as agricultural areas decrease, some bird populations are also decreasing, but the birds that thrive with people are doing okay like crows and vultures. Also because it’s been warm this year, the birds aren’t really going to feeders since natural food sources are readily available. She said that if we get a cold snap, then you can expect to see more birds at your feeder.

“We had a lot of fun,” said Vanderveen. “Birders really look forward to this- it’s the highlight of the year.” She mentioned that after a long day of counting birds, they were all very happy to enjoy their traditional countdown dinner.

Following the bird count, the team’s data compilers organize the data to submit to the Audubon Society, which Vanderveen said is several hours worth of work.

After January 5, 2018, finalized bird count data will be available on the Audubon Society’s website.

More information about the Christmas Bird Count, and upcoming Backyard Bird Count taking place in February found here: http://www.audubon.org/conservation/join-christmas-bird-count

Julie B. Maglio, Editor, contributed to this report