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The Audubon Christmas Count is In!

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The Sanibel-Captiva Audubon Society conducted its annual Christmas Bird Count on Saturday, Dec. 17.

The 136 birdwatchers split into groups and combed Sanibel and Captiva. They came in with 10,935 birds spread across 99 different bird species.

This year’s count of total birds is smaller than last year when 129 birders tallied more than 14,000 birds, but the species count is higher than last year’s 88 and just slightly below the 102 species seen in 2014. Last year’s count was hindered by wind and cool temperatures, neither of which were a factor this past Saturday.

Always of note on the count is the number of Ospreys seen. The Osprey was almost gone from Sanibel and Captiva before the nesting program of which Audubon is a part came into being. This year the birders racked up 417 Osprey. That’s comfortably above the 341 last year and 365 in 2014 and should once again put the local Audubon Society in contention for the most Ospreys seen on a count.

The birdwatchers saw eight Tree Swallows Saturday. That’s notable because the past two years migrating Tree Swallows have led the way with 3,033 last year and 1,833 in 2014.

The Snowy Plover population here is closely watched. While small, the count indicates it is stable from the previous year with nine seen this year compared to 10 last year. The 2014 count netted 28.

With the Tree Swallow taking the year off, the top total fell to the ubiquitous White Ibis this year with 1,546 recorded.

This year’s Brown Pelican numbers were down from last year’s huge number of 2,752, but 1,116 Brown Pelicans were seen Saturday.

The count also turned up some oddities. A small goose known as a Brant was seen. Audubon notes that this bird usually stops its migration in the Mid-Atlantic states. Also picked out Saturday was an Elegant Tern, which is a West Coast tern similar to the Royal Tern of which 418 were seen Saturday.

The Roseate Spoonbill, the No. 1 specialty bird at ‘Ding’ Darling NWR, put in appearance. Ten were seen this year, nine of them by one birding party at the refuge. Apparently stable is the rare Reddish Egret, another island specialty. Eleven were counted last year and 12 this year.

Also of note were a Great Black-backed Gull, two Ring-necked Ducks, one Brown Thrasher, a solitary Marsh Wren and two Sora rails.

Audubon Christmas Bird Counts are conducted throughout much of the Western Hemisphere from mid-December through early January. The CBC is a fertile source of historical information on the status and distribution of early winter bird populations and is studied by scientists and interested individuals the world over.

San-Cap Audubon sends its thanks all those who took part in this year’s very successful Christmas Bird Count, including the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation and ‘Ding’ Darling NWR. SCCF once again served as the bird count headquarters.

The San-Cap Audubon count serves as the first official Saturday bird walk of the season. After the first of the year the walks will be held every Saturday at the best birding spots in the area. The very popular Audubon lecture series on Thursday nights also begins after the first of the year. For more on both, visit San-Cap Audubon’s website.

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