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A century-old tradition: counting birds

John Thomton and other Audubon volunteers count birds along Johns Lake. Photo by Amy Green
John Thomton and other Audubon volunteers count birds along Johns Lake. Photo by Amy Green

Audubon's annual Christmas Bird Count -- the world’s longest-running wildlife census -- ends Monday.

Tens of thousands of birders throughout the Americas take part in the count every year, including one group in Clermont.

John Thomton stares through binoculars at a patch of scrub on the shore of Johns Lake.

It’s an oasis of birds, but Thomton says the data shows development is pressuring the bird population.

"There are definitely species of concern that I don't think will be here too much longer like eastern meadowlarks and things like Savannah sparrows that need these wide open spaces and field areas."

Thomton and the three other volunteers in his group count from sunrise until sunset.

They travel by car and foot, ready to pull off the road suddenly if they see another bird.

Thomton records every bird the group sees using a phone app.

Researchers will use the data to understand bird populations, look for trends and develop conservation strategies.

Cheryl Tybor is an avid birder. She was hoping to hear some owls:

"I like the barred owl sound. It sounds like it's saying, who cooks for you. So sort of like, who-who-who-who. That's the barred owl sound, and the screech owl sounds a little like a whinny of a horse, or a high-pitched whinny of a horse. I can't do that one."

Hundreds of Central Floridians took part in this year’s count, which began Dec. 14.

The first count took place in 1900.

Amy Green covered the environment for WMFE until 2023. Her work included the 2020 podcast DRAINED.