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Columns : Bird Talk - Erika Gates Last Updated: Feb 13, 2017 - 1:45:37 AM

Grand Bahama Birdcount unites local birders and visitors
By Erika Gates
Jan 29, 2016 - 11:44:45 AM

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Erika Gates’s team with recorder Jill Cooper, Nikki Meith and friend Arlene and Ingrid Nicholson

For the past 15 years Grand Bahama Island has participated in what has become known as “Christmas Bird Count” a census that began 115 years ago in the United States and now includes Canada and the Bahamas. Between December 15th and January 5th birds are counted within a circle of 15 miles from sunrise to sunset. This year over 60.000 participants observed and recorded birds in their respective countries thereby contributing valuable information to the longest running database in ornithology.

The primary objective of the annual count is to monitor the status and distribution of bird populations across the Western Hemisphere. When results of the count are entered into the Audubon database we begin to gain a clearer picture how bird populations have changed over the years. The information is also vital for conservation. For example, local trends in bird populations can indicate habitat fragmentation or signal an immediate environmental threat, such as groundwater contamination or poisoning from extensive use of pesticides and chemical fertilizers.

Barbara and Craig Walker, veteran birders from California were impressed by the variety of Bahamian bird habitat

The first Christmas Bird Count was held on December 25th, 1900 in the U.S. Up until that year it had been a tradition for persons that liked the outdoors to engage in the Christmas Bird Hunt. People would go into the fields and forests in teams and shoot any bird they saw. Whoever brought in the biggest pile of dead birds by day’s end would be the winner! Many persons became concerned about the indiscriminate, senseless slaughter of these beautiful feathered creatures and worried about declines in bird populations. Ornithologist, Frank Chapman, an officer in the growing Audubon Society, an environmental movement, called for an end to the barbaric tradition. He suggested, that rather than shooting birds, people could count them instead. So began the Christmas Bird Count in the US in the year 1900 with 27 dedicated birders counting birds rather than killing them!

Bruce Purdy’s team with recorder Delores Kellman and team mates Louise Durocher, Jill Cooper and Rudy Sawyer

On January 4th an 5th over 30 Birders gathered on the island in individual teams that were led by experts from the US and the Bahamas. The teams met for an orientation the night before over a pot-luck meal at a private home.

Bruce Purdy, the count compiler, traveled from north Florida to Grand Bahama again this year to tally the results and submit them to the Audubon Society’s database. Bruce not only led a team but he will be submitting the count results into the database of the American Audubon Society. Bruce also serves as a reviewer for submissions of observations of Bahamian birds into the eBird checklist program at Cornell University in New York.

Left to right (top and bottom) -- A Black Vulture was a rarity this year (Photo: Erika Gates); an American Oystercatcher (Photo: Duncan Mullis); the Hooded Merganser (Photo: Duncan Mullis); and the elegant Roseate Spoonbill was a rarity for the count (Photo: Erika Gates)

Erika Gates of Garden of the Groves who has been organizing the Christmas Bird Count for the past 11 years was delighted with this year’s results, she stated: “Grand Bahama now has two counts, we have added Westend to the Freeport count because we wanted more variety in species. It meant two days of counting but nobody objected and the teams were happy to see different birds in the West. I am happy that this event is becoming an attraction for visitors from abroad. Grand Bahama Island is truly known as a birding destination. Our local birding group has helped to put the island on the map by submitting their observations throughout the year with the eBird database at Cornell University. Before a birder from abroad decides on a birding destination, he consults the sightings and birding sites on www.eBird.org where Grand Bahama ranks high in number of bird species and easily accessible birding locations!”

At the end of the second day’s count the highly anticipated “Tally Rally” was held at Garden of the Groves and everybody appreciated being pampered by Julie Ryan and her staff with a wonderful dinner at the Garden Café.

The results of the Westend count were 77 species plus 4 during count week, bringing the total to 81. The Freeport count resulted in 97 species pus 6 for count week bringing the total to 103. Due to the challenging weather conditions with rain and high winds these numbers are remarkable!

Duncan Mullis and his team with recorder Linda Barry-Cooper and team mates Teresa Bouk and Barbara Zill

Bruce Hallett’s team with recorder Martha Cartright and team mates Duncan Mullis, Linda Barry-Cooper, Charmaine Hall and Judith Dawkins

Grand Bahama Birders were joined by bird enthusiasts from California, Florida, Atlanta, Switzerland, Germany and England

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