OCEAN CITY – More than 50 bird watchers flocked to the area last Friday to participate in the 60th Annual Ocean City Christmas Bird Count, observing a variety of avian species and coming close to breaking the areas all time record of total species observed.
Each year, from Dec. 14 to Jan. 5, volunteers across North America, gather to count avian life in an effort to record data and research trends. The national count began in 1900, when ornithologist and early Audubon Society officer Frank Chapman recommended that a “Christmas Census” be taken of local birds in different locations. Since then the Audubon Christmas Bird Count has become the largest citizen science event in the world.
This year, the Ocean City Christmas Bird Count was held on Friday, Dece. 28 and covered the traditional area. Counters traversed a 15-mile in diameter circle, totaling 177 miles, in search of birds. The circle covered downtown Ocean City, parts of Assateague, West Ocean City, Berlin and Ocean Pines.
According to local count organizer Jay Sheppard, 53 observers traveled from all over Maryland and Delaware to participate in the local event. According to preliminary results, 158,202 birds and 162 species were counted last Friday. Species ranging from Bald Eagles to Yellow-Bellied Sapsuckers to Purple Sandpipers were seen, but, according to Sheppard, a variety of species added a new twist to this years count.
“We came close to setting a new high count for number of species”, Sheppard said. “If we had had just a couple of other species seen on the day of the count, we would have broken our old record of 163.”
Although they fell short of breaking the record, Sheppard remains confident that participants will top that number in the future.
“It is doable, it’s just going to take a lot of effort and perfect conditions, weather, fall migration, etc.,” he said.
Several species that are normally spotted on count day were not seen this year. The Kind Eider, Common Merganser, American Bittern, Tri-Colored Heron and Barred Owl were all species that were not spotted in this year’s count. Sheppard explained that the absence of the species on the count day does not mean that the species are absent from the area. Two of the species, the Kind Eider and the American Bittern, were seen in the three days before or after the count.
“The real find was the Dovekie on the rocks at the OC Inlet parking lot, a rare Arctic seabird that usually does not get this far south in the winter,” Sheppard said.
In the past 60 years of the count, the Dovekie has only been included in the count four times. Sheppard added that several counters were thrilled to snap photos of the bird that is typically rare to the area.
“We also added one species to the aggregate, all-time list,” Sheppard said, referring to the Eurasian Collared Dove.