Data Gathered for Island Bird Count
by Allison Sargent
The Fishers Island Conservancy held its third bird count on June 27, 2015. Unlike the prior two counts which focused on migratory visitors to the island, this count was designed to monitor the static bird population. “As much as it’s fun to spot an unusual species coming through, it’s more important to start a baseline count of what is actually here,” says Adam Mitchell, a PhD candidate at the University of Delaware who is monitoring the island’s plants and insects through a grant from the Fishers Island Conservancy, “it can give us a sense of the health of the ecosystem year to year.”
Counting birds on the wing sounds like a hopeless task but there is rigor to the protocol that assures some semblance of accuracy. Starting early, the team stops at 12 preset checkpoints along the length of the island. Each stop is a ½ mile apart. A scribe notes time, temperature, and weather at each stop before a five-minute bird-a-thon begins. Shouts ring out almost immediately as binoculars laser in on birds nestled in underbrush and skimming overhead. “Red wing blackbird, 50 feet!” “Cedar wax wing, no – a pair of them, 100 feet in that thicket.” The birders scramble for a quick confirmation then return to scouring the skies before time is called and it’s back to the car to speed to the next habitat location. “It’s an Audubon standard methodology,” says Tom Sargent, president of the Conservancy, “it’s a way to work quickly and thoroughly. It’s also extremely fun.”
This is the first year that the Conservancy has undertaken a local bird count. “We need to do this every season,” says Justine Kibbe, a naturalist whose work is supported by Conservancy funding, “it is impossible to know how healthy our bird population is without getting some hard data annually.” This inaugural count elicited more than 31 species. “We saw many more species in the grasslands vs. the wooded areas of the island,” says Adam Mitchell, “we thought we might have seen cavity nesters such as woodpeckers and nuthatches but no such luck. The habitat quality is compromised due to a large number of invasive species. It would be great to see management practices put in place to provide habitat for these birds in the future.”
The next bird count is planned for the fall. For those who are interested in joining the hunt, please watch the Fog Horn for dates and times. All are welcome.
Photo Credit: ‘Wingspread’ by Justine Kibbe