Northern Gannet. Photo: P. Vankevich

The Ocracoke and Portsmouth Island Christmas Bird Counts will be held on the last days of the year, with Portsmouth on Dec. 30 and Ocracoke on Dec. 31.

Last year’s Ocracoke count was particularly interesting.

Red Knots and Northern Gannets highlight the Ocracoke Christmas Bird Count

Despite a mid-morning fog that rolled in, approximately 5,000 Northern Gannets and 515 Red Knots were counted, primarily near South Point.

A total of 87 species were tallied. Other highlights were 10 Snow Geese, a pair of Wood Ducks, a Baltimore Oriole, a banded Savannah Ipswich Sparrow and a Red Knot with a green satellite tag. It was later determined that this shorebird was tagged in New Jersey.

The Portsmouth count reported 64 species.

Highlights included a Bald Eagle and Red-tailed Hawk along with 280 Brant, a small Arctic-nesting goose that feeds primarily on eel grass and other subaquatic vegetation.

Brant, once common in coastal North Carolina, have not been seen in high numbers since an eel grass blight wiped out their preferred food source a long time ago. 

This year, the Audubon Christmas Bird Count, now in its 123rd year, is expected to have nearly 80,000 volunteers to tally birds in more than 2,600 locations across the United States, Canada, the Caribbean and Latin America.

Each individual count is performed in a count circle with a diameter of 15 miles. The data gathered from these surveys help to track bird populations and can flag declining or increasing numbers of a given species.

Ocracoke has run a count every year since 1981 and Portsmouth since 1988, with a couple of cancellations due to adverse weather. The historical results of these counts can be found on the Audubon Christmas Bird Count website.

To participate or for more information, contact the compiler, Peter Vankevich, text/cell 202-468-2871, or petevankevich@gmail.com.