MANATEE -- Bird lovers participated Saturday in the time honored, yearly tradition of counting Manatee County's bird population. This time, however, they took to their efforts by land and sea.
Members of the local and national Audubon Society participated in the 114th Annual Christmas Bird Count. In an effort to better count the birds on the Long Bar Pointe property, two boats full of volunteers took to Sarasota Bay.
"It was amazing how much wildlife there was there," volunteer Lori Roberts said.
It is the first time that the Manatee County Audubon Society did a shoreline bird count. Without access to the Long Bar Pointe property, it has always been challenging for volunteers to try to get an accurate accounting.
Property owner Carlos Beruff, along with Larry Lieberman of the Barrington Group, intend to turn Long Bar Pointe into a mixed-use development. The Manatee County Commission is set to meet Jan. 23 to consider adopting a future land use map amendment that would allow for more intense development.
The proposed Long Bar Pointe project has been the center of great controversy, with many locals in fear of a project that will change the environmental make-up of the untouched shoreline.
Volunteers on the boats Saturday said they saw the difference development could make.
"One thing we did notice were there are a lot of birds along Long Bar Pointe," Roberts said. "And then on Tidy Island, where the mangroves are trimmed, there were no birds."
Roberts said she saw about 25 different species of birds along with other marine life that depend on the bay's ecosystem.
Carole Brigham, a member of the National Audubon Society, was impressed with her view from the water.
"I would say it was a much better perspective, that is an area you can't get to by foot," she said. "To go out and look at the shoreline and get to count the birds was awesome."
The group of volunteers counted hundreds of birds, including white pelicans, white egret and great blue herons.
A rare, unexpected treat Saturday was an eagle the group spotted.
The importance of the health of the mangroves was another observation made by Brigham.
"Where there is development, the mangroves looked sick," she said.
Being on the shallow waters of the bay, it was easy for her to see how critical the mangroves are for this unique ecosystem.
"The Sarasota Bay should be federally protected waters," Brigham said. "It is the last area that I know of around here that hasn't been disturbed."
Nationally, the Christmas Bird Count runs from Dec. 14 to Jan. 5. Volunteers around the country participate in counting birds in 15-mile areas.
"It affects the whole cycle of life," said Dick Comeau , vice president of the Manatee County Audubon Society. "Hopefully this will make the world a better place."
Comeau is tasked with gathering reports from all the volunteers in Manatee County to submit their counts to the National Audubon Society. It will take several days for him to get all the reports.
In previous counts, the Long Bar Pointe property has been pretty much off limits, he said.
"They weren't counted before because we couldn't get to them," he said. "Basically we didn't have an idea."
Jessica De Leon, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7049. You can follow her Twitter @JDeLeon1012.