SEBRING — Turkeys may cross the road, owls may hoot, and rare birds may be spotted.
The Christmas bird count will actually come closer to New Year’s, but it is the longest-running continuous survey in America. “We’ll go out before daylight,” said Roberta Lake. “On Placid Lake, we’ll see the great white egrets, and snake bird that swims though the water to catch their fish. You have to be able to tell the anhinga from the cormorant.”
Volunteers are needed, Lake said. “You don’t have to be an expert to get involved. There are plenty of things people can do. They can go with us on counts, and if they spot a bird, we can help them identify it. If they’re not experts at identifying, they can do the tallying.”
From late December to early January, thousands of Floridians will hit the woods, lakes, rivers and streams and search for as many birds as they can spot with the naked eye and binoculars.
Like photographing wild animals instead of shooting them, counts were first organized 116 years ago as an alternative to a common practice.
In Highlands County, counters will catalogue species for 24 hours, then convene at Archbold Biological Station. On Dec. 30, counters will assemble at the Avon Park Air Force Range, or join the counts in Glades and Hendry counts.
Two unusual breeds were documented at the Air Force range last year. Lake said a western grebe and a buff-bellied hummingbird were spotted. They are normally found west of the Mississippi.
The information helps scientists spot trends, including how climate change affects migratory bird distributions. Bobwhites have declined in Florida to only 143 last year. The national high was 372 in a Texas count.
Two Egyptian geese were spotted on Lake June, said Lake, who has been involved in 10 counts. “They’re an invasive species. They’re not native to Florida. They’re usually found in Broward and Palm Beach, but they’re moving north.”
In 1962, author Rachel Carson documented the detrimental effects of DDT. The bird count will allow scientists to measure the loss of habitat and other factors, Lake said.
“We want to know how the health of nation’s birds is going,” Lake said. “Last year, the snail kite population increased, but grasshopper sparrow – that’s another story.”
The canary informed miners when air in the mine became dangerous. “We want to know if our species are dwindling,” Lake said. More info: Roberta Lake, 863-599-0124, firstname.lastname@example.org, or www.highlandsaudubon.org