Jan. 7, 2003 – The 2002 National Audubon Society Christmas Bird Count tallies were up on both St. Croix and St. John, counting coordinators say.
The St. Croix count was held on Dec. 21 by a group of 16 birders who call themselves the Feathered Folkwatchers. They tallied 5,626 birds, up from 4,760 in December of 2001. The number of species was not available for either year.
The Audubon Society of the Virgin Islands, based on St. John, took to the island's hills and waters on Dec. 28. A total of 41 members working in 18 teams counted 2,059 birds from 54 species, up from the 2,011 birds a year earlier but down from the 58 species counted in 2001.
Audubon Society member Wil Henderson, who is charge of tabulating the count, says he kept looking for more than a week after the count for some more greater and lesser yellow legs. These migratory species regularly visit the islands during the winter.
"We know darn well they are there, but nobody ran across them," he said.
Henderson said on Monday that despite his extra trips out to look for the migratory birds, he found only one lesser yellow leg and no greater yellow legs. In 2001, counters spotted 55 of them.
According to Henderson, development on the U.S. East Coast has impacted the yellow legs' natural environment. "They're not doing too well over the last 15 years," he said.
There also was a steep drop in the number of little blue herons spotted on St. John. The Audubon members saw 14 this year, half the number sighted in 2001.
The number of brown pelicans seen by the St. John watchers — 148 — was down by a third from a year earlier. But Henderson attributed this to lack of experience on the part of the boat captain who took the spotters out to count along the shore.
"He wasn't that familiar with the nesting sites," Henderson said.
Experience does make a difference in counting, he said. The number of Caribbean Elaenias spotted on St. John in December was 21, nearly double the 11 seen in 2001. He said an experienced ornithologist working prime Elaenia country, the south side of Bordeaux Mountain, came up with the count.
The Audubon spotters also saw six bank swallows, which Henderson said was an uncommon occurrence, since this migratory bird mostly is seen in Puerto Rico.
The number of scalynaped, Zenaida and common ground doves was up on both St. John and St. Croix for a total increase of 50 percent over the 2001 count. "We're just having a grand crop," Henderson said, attributing the phenomenon to dry weather over the last year with just enough rain to produce the grasses and seeds that the doves eat.
The number of gray king birds spotted on St. John also went up, to a total 531 — "the best count in 20 years," Henderson said. Of the 472 birds seen in the Coral Bay Harbor mangroves, the largest nesting rookery on St. John, 392 were gray king birds, he said.
The Feathered Folkwatchers also saw the number of rock doves take a quantum leap — from 18 in 2001 to 277 last month. "They've really gone wild in this town," said Sheelagh Frommer, who helped organize the count.
Frommer said she was pleasantly surprised at the high number of birds sighted on St. Croix, because the island's ponds have been at low water levels, which normally would reduce the number of birds seen.
The number of great egrets sighted went up from 57 to 73, and the number of moorhens counted more than doubled, from 55 to 138.
However, some birds went missing from 2001, Frommer said. No one saw any West Indian whistling ducks or yellow crown night herons.
The Feathered Folkwatchers limit participation in the Christmas Bird Count to experienced birders. Frommer said that people interested in learning the tricks of the trade should start now to get ready for the 2003 count next December. Mainly, "it's getting familiar with the birds," she said.
Frommer suggested that novices buy the book "Birds of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands" to carry around with them to help them identify neighborhood birds. "There are a lot of birds seen daily," she said.
And if you want a weightier tome to browse while at home, the "Guide to Birds" is a good choice, she said.
For more information, call Henderson on St. John at 693-5915 or Frommer on St. Croix at 778-0822.

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