Dec. 26, 2002 – Birds of a feather flock together — in this case sharp-eyed folks who plan to be out early on Saturday counting their feathered friends on St. John for the National Audubon Society's 103rd annual Christmas bird count.
It's the 25th annual count for the Audubon Society of the Virgin Islands, and the group's president, Laurel Brannick-Trager, said the birders will be out and about at 7 a.m., which means if you're coming from St. Thomas, you need to take the 6:30 a.m. ferry.
She said those wanting to take part need to call Will Henderson to sign up, because the group is using a team format and Henderson is coordinating the teams. His number is 693-5915.
The teams get a bit competitive to see who spots the most birds, but it's all friendly, Brannick-Trager said. Novice birdwatchers are welcome, but they may be assigned to be the note takers instead of the bird spotters.
Last year, she said, 44 watchers on St. John spotted 2,013 birds of 64 species. "We got a few new birds last year," she said, ticking off Snowy Plover, Turkey Vulture, Cinnamon Teal and Least Grebe as those seen for the first time on St. John.
Recently, she added, there have been sightings of two other birds never seen before on the island — the Bay Breasted Warbler and the Red Breasted Merganser — and the birders will especially be on the lookout for them on Saturday.
Brannick-Trager said the count may be down this year because water levels at ponds where birds congregate have been low, but she is hopeful that recent rains on St. John have brought the waters up to a level to the birds' liking.
The bird count is an important indicator of the state of the island's environment, she says. While the 2001 numbers were down by a few birds from 2000, she said, she doesn't see that as significant.
The National Audubon Society holds its annual Christmas bird count all over the world between Dec. 14 and Jan. 5. Early conservationists started the bird count as an alternative to the traditional Christmas hunt in which birds were shot. It has since turned into a significant citizen-based conservation effort led by the National Audubon Society.
St. Croix had its fourth annual bird count on Sunday. "Dawn to dusk," said Sheelagh Fromer, a member of the bird-watching group Feathered Folkwatchers. "We were pretty successful. We had 16 people, and we covered the whole island," she said.
Fromer also had anticipated that the count would be relatively low on St. Croix this year because of low water levels. "I'm still entering the data, and we have a little more information to come in, but it's looking about the same as last year," she said. She noted that the number of birds counted on St. Croix slumped after Hurricane Hugo destroyed much of the island in 1989 but said numbers have been increasing steadily in the years since.
"Some birds that we've seen in previous years are missing from this year's count," Fromer said, "but I spotted one that I hadn't seen before, which was the Shiny Cowbird a very pretty black bird."
She, too, said that inexperienced birders are always welcome to take part; they have to settle for taking notes. "It's not a day for teaching people," she said.
Fromer suggested that people wanting to take up birding attend one of the Feathered Folkwatchers expeditions held every other Sunday at 4:30 p.m. The next one is a kayak trip to Salt River on Jan. 5. To sign up or to learn more about birding on St. Croix, call Fromer at 778-0822.
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