Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Hernando bird count's little things slowly adding up to big trouble

It's the environment's annual checkup, and it's the same for the bird population as it is for most of us: The accumulated damage of bad habits is a little more apparent each year, and the news usually get a little worse.

Not disastrous, mind you. Not yet.

The number of species counted during the 32nd annual Brooksville Christmas Bird Count on Dec. 17 was 121 — one more than the historic average. Three days later, the Aripeka count, which takes in a large swath of western Hernando and Pasco counties, yielded 151 bird varieties.

"We always hope to get at least 150, and we just squeaked by," said Bev Hansen, the Hernando Audubon Society member who helped organize the Aripeka count.

More not-so-bad news from the county's two counts:

Granted more access to the shoreline of Bystre Lake, east of Brooksville, birders saw an impressive number of brown pelicans. The recent warm weather has left more flying insects and therefore more insect-eating tree swallows.

In the Weekiwachee Preserve, volunteers counted 15 Le Conte's sparrows, "which is a very respectable number, maybe the highest ever," Hansen said.

She confirmed the sighting of a ruby-throated hummingbird at her feeder in Timber Pines. And a flock of more than 600 migratory sandhill cranes was seen at Pasco's Crews Lake, part of the territory covered by the Aripeka count.

What is the likelihood of future robust counts of sandhills now that, as you may have read, game officials in Kentucky have approved a hunting season for the birds? Who knows?

And that gives you an idea where the rest of this report is heading, because a lot of what the birders saw was worrying, if not downright grim.

As recently as 20 or 30 years ago, Bystre was a magnet for migratory waterfowl, commonly yielding counts in the hundreds for species such as ring-necked ducks.

This year, said Mike Liberton, who led the team at Bystre, "we saw almost no ducks. I think all we got were four wood ducks."

His small group's tally of species, 78, was respectable, he said, "but in a lot of cases we just got one of each: one bald eagle, when we usually get several; one osprey, which should be pretty common."

"Just in general you notice that there were a lot of birds that we saw all the time and we just don't get anymore, or get very few of," said Chris Cock, whom I briefly joined for the Brooksville count as she led a team working the fields near Powell Road.

"We used to always see a lot of loggerhead shrike, and now we hardly see any. You just don't get the numbers you used to."

Almost as bothersome as where the birds aren't, Liberton said, is where they are. The count includes quite a bit of "big-box birding," scanning retention ponds in gated communities and at strip malls.

It's better than no birding — and no birds — at all. But you get the sense that ducks and plovers wouldn't be scrounging for habitat next to the Walmart parking lot if there were more pristine land available, if we hadn't wrecked it with development, intensive farming practices, over-pumping, over-fertilizing, etc.

As the doctor may have told you once or twice: It looks like it's time to make some changes.

Hernando bird count's little things slowly adding up to big trouble 12/27/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, December 27, 2011 9:09pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Drinking alcohol on St. Pete Beach beaches now allowed — for hotel guests only

    Local Government

    ST. PETE BEACH — Guests at gulf-front hotels here can now drink alcoholic beverages in permitted hotel beach cabana areas.

    Guests relax on the beach near the Don Cesar at St. Pete Beach. Guests at gulf-front hotels in St. Pete Beach can now drink alcoholic beverages in permitted hotel beach cabana areas after the change was passed unanimously by the City Commission Tuesday night. Residents and other beachgoers who are not registered guests of the hotels continue to be barred from imbibing anywhere on the city's beaches.
  2. Man found floating in 'Cotee River in New Port Richey

    Public Safety

    NEW PORT RICHEY — A body was found floating in the Pithlachascotee River on Tuesday morning, police said.

  3. More than 13,000 fact-checks later, PolitiFact celebrates 10-year mark


    ST. PETERSBURG — Bill Adair still remembers the moment when he realized his idea to fact-check politicians could turn into something big.

    (from left to right) Aaron Sharockman, Politifact executive director introduces a panel featuring Angie Holan, Politifact editor; PolitiFact founder Bill Adair and Tampa Bay Times Editor and Vice President Neil Brown at the Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg on Tuesday. The event celebrated 10 years of PolitiFact and its growth since 2007. The panel discussed the history of the organization and how it goes about fact-checking. [EVE EDELHEIT | Times]
  4. Trump, McConnell feud threatens GOP agenda


    The relationship between President Donald Trump and Sen. Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, has disintegrated to the point that they have not spoken to each other in weeks, and McConnell has privately expressed uncertainty that Trump will be able to salvage his administration after a series of summer crises.

    Sen. Mitch McConnell has fumed over Trump’s criticism.
  5. Former Sen. Greg Evers, advocate for law enforcement, dead at 62.

    State Roundup

    TALLAHASSEE — Former State Sen. Greg Evers, the Baker Florida strawberry farmer and veteran politician, was killed in a single car crash hear his home in Okaloosa County. The Florida Highway Patrol confirmed the death late Tuesday, but deferred any further information pending an investigation. He was 62.

    Former Florida Senator Greg Evers, R- Milton, was a passionate advocate for law enforcement and corrections officers. He was found dead Tuesday afternoon in a car crash. He was 62. [SCOTT KEELER | Tampa Bay Times]