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Christmas Bird Count Ready to Fly

Dec. 8, 2008 — Get out your binoculars and your clipboard: The 109th annual Audubon Society Christmas Bird Count will get underway Dec. 20 on St. John and St. Croix.
This is the 31st year in a row that birders on St. John participated in the worldwide count. On St. Croix, the annual Christmas Bird Count began again in 1999 after a lag of many years.
The Audubon Society of St. John plans a pre-Christmas Bird Count party from 5:30 to 7 p.m. Dec. 16 at Coconut Coast Studio. The party also includes an election of officers and a computer slide show featuring birds so novice birders can learn the ropes, and experienced ones can refresh their memories.
"There are birds I forget about," said incoming President Elaine Estern.
No Christmas Bird Count is planned for St. Thomas.
The data gathered in the Virgin Islands gets put to good use.
"There's not a lot of long-term data on birds except for this," said Laurel Brannick, a member of the Audubon Society of St. John.
For example, the data gathered at the annual Christmas Bird Count is being used by the International Institute of Tropical Forestry in Puerto Rico to help create digital maps of the Virgin Islands. The maps include many features, but the Audubon Society data shows where birds live.
"We're one of the last places in the States to get this," Brannick said.
The maps are used by governments and developers, among others.
The Christmas Bird Count on St. John needs both experienced and novice birders. Those with less experience can hold clipboards for the expert birders Brannick said.
"We'll team you up with another person," she said.
St. John has traditionally held its Christmas Bird Count closer to New Year's Day. But Brannick said people go away or seem too busy around that time, so she moved the date.
Those who crisscross St. Croix counting birds need to have experience because, in most cases, they'll go out alone in two areas, said Sheelagh Fromer, who organizes the Crucian count. One runs from Frederiksted to the Buccaneer Hotel, and the other covers the area from Southgate to the island's East End.
However, she hopes that people with birdfeeders in their yards will spend the day counting all the birds that visit. This is a good place for inexperienced birders to start.
"This will be the first step in getting more people involved," she said.
Fromer expects Hurricane Omar's passage in October to have an impact.
"We're noticing less birds since Omar," Fromer said.
Nationally, the Audubon Society asks local chapters to count birds between Dec. 14 and Jan. 5.
The number of birds counted also depends on how many people participate in the count and their level of experience.
Last year, participants on the St. Croix's East End had four counters. They counted 1,118 birds from 49 species. In the Frederiksted-to-Buccaneer Hotel region, 13 people counted 3,933 birds from 72 species.
On St. John, eight people spotted 2,133 birds from 52 species.
Those who wish to participate in the Christmas Bird Count must contact Brannick or Fromer for an area assignment and information. Reach Brannick at 776-6201, ext. 257. Fromer's number is 718-0822.
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