Birds of 132 feathers nest here
By ALEX LEARY, Times Staff Writer
As Ken Spilios and his friends trudged across Citrus County last week, they uncovered a bounty of birds, recording the second-highest number of species in the 15 years of the Audubon census.
But the enthusiasm of spotting a hairy woodpecker, often confused with the downy woodpecker, was tempered by the absence of three species in the day's tally.
The red-cockaded woodpecker, burrowing owl and scrub jay were no-shows.
"It looks as though we've lost those species from the county," said Spilios, who helped coordinate Friday's outing, during which 132 species were counted.
Lost at least from the 71/2 miles covered, a radius spanning from Crystal River Airport. The area is a good representation of the diverse county habitat, which includes uplands, woodlands, wetlands and coastal waterways.
The red-cockaded woodpecker and burrowing owl have not been spotted in five years, Spilios said. This was the second time the scrub jay did not make the list.
"They are victims of growth," Spilios said of the three species. "As our area becomes more and more urbanized, we have a loss of habitat and increasing number of domestic animals."
He suspects cats got to the small population of scrub jays living near Meadowcrest and off Turkey Oak in Crystal River.
Another indication of the effect of growth is the disappearance of red-cockaded woodpecker.
While no longer in the count area, the species can be found in the nearby Withlacoochee State Forest, a protected expanse of old-growth pine. The Citrus Tract of the forest has between 80 and 100 birds.
Time will tell if that population will continue to grow under the pressure of urban sprawl. The South's 13 states will lose 12-million forest acres over the next two decades, according to a recent study by the U.S. Forest Service.
Florida already leads the South in the amount of timberland lost to development, dropping from more than 20-million tree-covered acres in the 1950s to 15-million acres, the study found.
There was some good news this year. The bald eagle appears to be holding its own in Citrus. Birders counted 13 adults and five immature birds on Friday.
"But I'm sad to say one of the nests in our county has been removed," Spilios said. It is possible, he said, that someone removed the nest, 2 miles south of Lake Rousseau, because it poses an obstacle to development.
The missing nest was reported to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
This year's high species count is attributable partly to more experienced birders and partly to unusual weather.
Over the years, some of the counters have become experts, and this year, in Homosassa, a counter was able to pick out a hairy woodpecker. The species has probably been around but it is often confused for the downy woodpecker. The hairy woodpecker has a larger beak; males have a red crown.
Until recently, temperatures have been unseasonably warm, which likely explains the appearance of the yellow-throated vireo, a small woodland bird that is usually around in the summer. "They should not be here," Spilios said.
All told, 38 volunteers counted 16,323 birds. The most common was the robin, with 5,192. There were 2,176 yellow-rumped warblers and 1,480 double-crested cormorants.
The local census was part of the Audubon Christmas Bird Count, which marked its 102nd year. For a national perspective, visit www.audubon.org/bird/cbc.
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