Conservancy’s Spring Bird Count 2019

Twelve early risers on the Spring Bird Count. Photo Credit: A. Sargent

By Allison Sargent
May 23, 2019

Under fair skies and light wind, twelve early risers set out to do what seems impossible: count the number of birds species on Fishers Island that are living, breeding or “just passing through, thank you.” The Audubon Bird Count took place on Sunday, May 19th, a week later than usual but according to Dr. Adam Mitchell who has organized the count with the Fishers Island Conservancy for the past six years “because of the cold, wet spring, our numbers were not significantly different from years past. Many of the trees were just beginning to leaf out, and the cherry trees were still in bloom. As we move into summer, things should return to normal, but it will be interesting to see how the birds on Fishers respond to this delay later on.”

The bird count assesses species numbers and acts as an informal barometer on the health of twelve microenvironments along the spine of the island. Birders tumble out of cars every half mile for exactly five minutes to quietly listen and fervently search for as many species as possible. “It’s really a birding blitz,” observes Tom Sargent, president of the Fishers Island Conservancy, “we can get a snapshot of what areas support the most diverse species and on the flip side, which targets are overrun with invasives and are essentially dead zones.” This year’s count yielded 55 species, a tie with last year’s high count. The Parade Grounds and the Demonstration Garden harbored the greatest number of species, not surprising as the restoration project at the Parade Grounds is designed to lure native birds to food sources appropriate to their diet. “It’s worth repeating,” says Dr. Mitchell, “native birds eat native insects that eat native plants, these repaired grasslands are bearing that out.”

Despite this good news, the unusual weather patterns this year has led to a decrease in available habitat for many migrants. Colder temperatures delayed plants from sprouting leaves (“green up”), which has, in turn, delayed the plant-feeding insects, an essential food source for songbirds to keep up their energy. Birders are reporting seeing large congregations of birds at bird feeders or feeding on fallow vegetable gardens to supplement the lack of food.

Still, many native birds made showy appearances: red wing blackbirds, yellow warblers, common yellowthroats, osprey among others but there were a few relatively rare sightings that got everyone’s attention including a red tail hawk, a nesting American redstart, a female orchard oriole, a yellow-billed cuckoo and a large flock of blue jays. “It’s what we are looking for,” says Will Almeida, who is part of the University of Delaware team assisting in the count, “the unusual visitors, the ones that keep us on the hunt. Those keep us coming back to this beautiful island.”

Species Recorded for Spring 2019

American crow
American goldfinch
American redstart
American robin
Baltimore Oriole
Barn swallow
Belted kingfisher
Black-capped chickadee
Black-throated green warbler
Blue jay
Blue-winged warbler
Brown-headed cowbird
Canada goose
Carolina wren
Cedar waxwing
Chimney swift
Chipping sparrow
Common eider
Common grackle
Common loon
Common yellowthroat
Double-crested cormorant
Eastern phoebe
Eastern towhee
European starling
Gray catbird
Great-crested flycatcher
Great egret
Greater black-backed gull
Green heron
Herring gull
House finch
House wren
Killdeer
Least tern
Mourning dove
Mute swan
Northern cardinal
Northern mockingbird
Northern parula
Orchard Oriole
Osprey
Red-bellied woodpecker
Red-eyed vireo
Red-tailed hawk
Redwing blackbird
Ring-necked pheasant
Song sparrow
Tree swallow
Tufted titmouse
White-breasted nuthatch
White-eyed vireo
Yellow warbler
Yellow-billed cuckoo

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