The 2019 Monroe County edition of the Spring North American Migration Count was staged Tuesday, May 21.
The count began long before most Monroe Countians were stirring from their slumber in the bewitching hours between midnight and dawn. As usual the first two birds recorded were the whip-poor-will and chuck-will’s-widow.
Neither of these nocturnal birds has ever been sighted during a count. Yet, like most of the birds tallied each year, they were identified by their distinctive calls. This year five whip-poor-wills and one chuck-will’s-widow were heard. The count ended in the dying light of the afternoon as I watched a pair of chimney swifts flutter down my chimney.
By the time the count ended 851 individual birds representing 71 species were recorded.
You might be scratching your head wondering why anybody would go to the trouble of spending so much time counting birds. Actually the answer to this question is quite simple. For well more than two decades, biologists and citizen scientists alike have been monitoring the progress of the spring bird migration. One of the ways in which this is accomplished is through the Spring North American Migration Count.
The goal of the count is to record as many birds as possible in one calendar day. Our local count encompasses all of Monroe County.
When the counts are carried out in the same area within the same window of time over many years, the data collected helps biologists determine the timing of the migration as well as the effects of weather on bird migration. It also aids in assessing the status of both resident and migratory bird populations.
During the history of the count, 154 species of birds have been sighted by volunteers conducting the Monroe County Count. This year’s survey effort located only 46 percent of the total birds that have been recorded here.
Here is a list of the 10 species most often encountered during the 2019 count: cliff swallow (268), northern mockingbird (60), northern cardinal (41), mourning dove (35), American crow (33), eastern bluebird (25), chipping sparrow (23), common grackle (23), house sparrow (23) and European starling (23).
What is most noteworthy is not what was seen as much as what was not found. Although 12 species of waterfowl have been seen on the count, this year this group of large birds was represented only by the Canada Goose. Similarly no wild turkeys or quail were located. No hawks were spotted. None of the 11 species of shorebirds seen in years past was seen this year. In addition only eight (pine warbler, Black-and-white warbler, American redstart, Swainson’s warbler, Kentucky warbler, common yellowthroat, hooded warbler and yellow-breasted chat) of the 21 species of warblers that have been found over the years made this year’s tally.
There are a number of factors that could have contributed to the paucity of birds encountered this year. One explanation might be birds might have migrated through Monroe County earlier this year due to our balmy spring weather.
Another factor was possibly weather conditions on the day of the count. This year, Monroe County is in the throes of dry, hot weather. By afternoon the temperature peaked at 94˚F with a heat index of 96˚F. It was obvious to the counters bird movement and vocal activity dipped precipitously as the temperature soared.
The count results might also be linked to habitat changes that have been taking place in Monroe County and elsewhere along the migratory pathways of migrants returning from their wintering grounds.
It is impossible to know what happened until the data collected on the Monroe County Count are compared with similar counts held elsewhere.
In the meantime, as the folks that took part in the 2019 Monroe County North American Migration Count ponder the count results, they will know their efforts helped in the conservation of our precious bird populations.
Terry Johnson is retired Program Manager of the Georgia Nongame-Endangered Wildlife Program. He has written the informative column ‘Monroe Outdoors’ for the Reporter for many years. His book, “A Journey to Discovery,” is available at The Reporter. Email him at email@example.com.