Area bird counters spot surprises from falcons to finches

MANATEE — Over the holidays, volunteers in Bradenton counted approximately 28,000 birds, representing about 122 different species, according to a Christmas Bird Count coordinator.

A separate group that surveyed coastal areas unofficially counted 8,146 birds, representing a new record of 100 different species, said David Williamson, the count coordinator for the Manatee County Audubon Society, an affiliate of the National Audubon Society.

Both groups reported seeing one rare peregrine falcon apiece, he said.

Volunteers surveyed Bradenton on Dec. 19, while those checking coastal areas of the county did their count Dec. 29.

Local birders joined tens of thousands of volunteers from Alaska to Antarctica during the 110th annual Christmas Bird Count, according to the National Audubon Society.

The longest-running citizen science survey in the world, Audubon’s annual Christmas Bird Count took place this year between Dec. 14 and Jan. 5.

Scientists rely on its trend data to better understand how birds and their environment are faring, and what needs to be done to protect them, according to national Audubon officials.

The data informs numerous scientific studies, including a recent report that revealed the dramatic impact that climate change is already having on birds across the continent, they added.

Locally, one unusual bird spotted this year was the Whimbrel, rarely seen in the area at this time, although this is its winter range, according to Gulf Circle birders, those checking coastal areas. The Whimbrel, spotted at Whitney Beach, had not been seen on the actual count day since 1983, they reported.

The most unexpected sighting was a cordon bleu finch, which was seen at a bird feeder in Cortez, Williamson said. The bird had obviously escaped captivity, he added.

“Let’s hope it remains in the wild, where it belongs,” he said.

“This finch is from Africa, and was obviously someone’s pet.”

The most common bird seen by all was the mourning dove. Other common birds included the anhinga, turkey vulture and red-shouldered hawk, he said.

“The number of roseate spoonbills and ospreys continue to rise significantly,” Williamson said.

“American oystercatchers and red knots, which are monitored by the Audubon Society along the beaches, were seen. Twenty-one oystercatchers and 192 knots; an excellent showing for each species, which have been in decline on the count in recent years. Only one American oystercatcher has been seen before this year since 2001, when they disappeared from the count.”

Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at (941) 745-7031.