By Allison Sargent
On Saturday, May 8th in the gray fog of morning, a small group of islanders (and two bird-loving academics) traversed the island to bring some systematic rigor to the much loved pastime of birding. In a race against time, these two teams of spotters joined thousands of other birders across the country in the North American Migration Count.
The Fishers Island Conservancy organized the count which took place on both Saturday and Sunday mornings. With the help of two graduate students from the University of Delaware, Emily Baisden and Will Almeida, the count will be used as a baseline to aid in the study of migratory birds. “The Island is a perfect stopover for many species of migratory birds flying the eastern coast,” says Justine Kibbe, resident naturalist who chronicles the flora and fauna of Fishers Island. Kibbe, whose work is supported by Conservancy grant funding, was part of the bird counting team along with other participants Tom Sargent, Jeannie Kelly Cook, Carol Giles, Allison Sargent, Joe Henderson, Penni Sharpe, Jackie Williamson and Peter Williamson.
“The protocol is pretty simple,” says Tom Sargent, president of the Conservancy, “ two teams travel one half mile at a time. At each half-mile mark, the groups count as many different birds as they can find in five minutes. The scribe needs to write quickly because the spotters see things almost instantly.” The count is held annually on the second Saturday and Sunday of May and must end by 11 am on both days.
This year’s count boasted nearly 25 different species including resident and migratory birds. “The cool birds were the migratory song birds: Northern Parula, Black and White Warbler, Blue-winged Warbler, Baltimore Orioles, even the Common Yellowthroat and Yellow Warbler, even though they are abundant and common,” notes Will Ameida, “the Marsh Wren is a really great secretive bird so to be able to have everyone spot it was exciting.” Emily Baisden noted that the count could be skewed a bit due to Fishers’ later spring arrival. “I think the island is about two weeks behind the mainland in terms of flowering trees and shrubs,” she said, “and that means less food for hungry travelers.”
All participants enjoyed the adventure. At a post birding breakfast at the Community Center, it was generally acknowledged that rising early to creep around the underbrush in search of swift and shy quarry was a very excellent way to start a May morning.