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Christmas Bird Count at Sea

Dorothy Wadlow on Joyant bird watching at sea
Dorothy Wadlow on Joyant bird watching at sea

Back in my landlubber days Christmas Bird Counts (CBCs) were always a highlight of the winter holiday season. We would suit up for the weather and spend the day counting birds within our ‘count circle’. At the end of the day we would meet up with the other birders and tally our observations. The Christmas Bird Count is managed by the National Audubon Society in the United States and this year will be the 112th count. This citizen science program provides avian scientists with data to look for trends in abundance and distribution of individual bird species.

Now, for the second year, cruisers and other mariners can be part of a similar large-scale citizen science effort. This Christmas bird count, not affiliated with Audubon, is called a SeaBC. Last year’s inaugural count spanned one hundred degrees of latitude from Maine to Antarctica. The second SeaBC is scheduled for November-January and this year we’re encouraging mariners to simply take digital photos of birds seen at sea. It’s fine if you’re not a seabird expert! Seabirds can be difficult to identify—even for experts. Take digital photos and jot down notes, saving the identification for later with the help of the online community at the Birding Aboard Facebook page.

There are several good bird identification guides for the Caribbean. Birds of the West Indies (Princeton Field Guides), by Herbert Raffaele, James Wiley, Orlando Garrido, Allan Keith and Janis Raffaele (2003) is a good resource for land or sea travels in the Caribbean.

Additional resources, including instructions and tally sheets, are posted on www.facebook.com/Birding.Aboard, under the button for SeaBC resources. All data goes to the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology’s eBird database, which has easy online reporting and is available in English, French, Spanish and Portuguese (www.ebird.org). The data becomes a resource for scientists and citizens worldwide and is shared with other conservation organizations such as BirdLife International and National Audubon Society.

If you’re home schooling, this is a perfect project to teach children about ornithology, marine biology, data gathering and recording, citizen science, and seabird conservation. Young birders receive a colorful personalized PDF certificate of participation; a great memento of their experience.

There remain so many unanswered questions about ocean birds, such as where some species breed or winter. You can help solve these puzzles!

Devi Sharp is a retired wildlife biologist and is on the SeaBC Advisory Board. Devi and her husband Hunter are exploring the Caribbean on their sailboat “Arctic Tern”.

Diana Doyle is the SeaBC founder, currently birding, cruising, and writing on a PDQ catamaran. Visit:  She is also the ‘Tools of the Trade’ editor for Birding magazine. Visit: www.OnTheWaterChartGuides.com

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