Eleven year ago when we were in Tortola, I took part in the annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count. Mind you, at the time, I didn’t know much about birds. Still don’t. But before I relate my tale, here’s a bit of information about this annual event. Between December 14 and January 5, over 65,000 birders from every Canadian Province, American State, Central and South America, the Caribbean and the Pacific Islands take part in a one-day exercise and record every bird they see.
Brainchild of Frank Chapman, leading US ornithologist and editor of Bird-Lore, the bird count originated in 1900 as a protest to a holiday tradition called the Christmas “side hunt” where prizes were given to teams shooting the greatest amount and types of birds. From his home in New Jersey, Chapman invited friends in 25 locations in the US sand Canada to count birds instead of shooting them.
The Christmas Bird Count is a prime example of citizen science in action. There’s no government agency on this planet that could possibly come up with that amount of data in such a short period of time. The data is used by scientists, government departments, environmentalists and hobbyists around the world to spot global patterns, detect invasive bird species, study migration patterns—ad infinitum.
Now, back to Tortola. My host did the sightings and I recorded what we saw. Although my memory is dim, I remember names like the Frigate bird, American Oyster Catcher and Eurasian Collared Dove. (The doves are an invasive species here.)
After the bird count, I returned to Michael’s place overlooking Smugglers Cove and something caught my eye way out on the ocean. It was white but seemed to have a black streak on its upper sides. I grabbed the bird book and looked through the section on ocean types of birds and couldn’t find any matching specimen. Then I thought, “Aha! This is a rare bird and how lucky am I to see something that’s not even in the Caribbean Bird Book!”
So I reached for Michael’s powerful binoculars, zoomed in on the bird to get some details to send the bird count folks and my heart sank. It was a buoy! I had discovered a buoy bird.
And the family have not let me forget it.
This year, I didn’t get to go on the bird count but I did manage to see around 30 pelicans. They are quite comical. They actually dive into the water on a slightly backward slant (totally weird) and when they fly, if they get caught in an air current they waver and wobble as if they are tipsy. Oh yes, I saw lots of chickens. They run wild here. They actually roost in the trees at night. Alas, they are not part of the bird count.
I’m wondering how many of you have been on bird counts or have birding stories to tell? Would love to hear about them.
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