Birders have woken early to brave all sorts of weather over the past few weeks in order to tally up all the birds they can spot in an adult-avian hybrid of hide and seek. But the 122nd annual Christmas Bird Count ends today.
Gainesville residents joined on Dec. 19 for the local bird count, covering a 15 mile diameter centered on Paynes Prairie. Included in that 176 square miles of territory is Chapman’s Pond.
Tucked behind Veteran’s Memorial Park on Tower Road, Chapman’s Pond demonstrates a small connection between Gainesville and the founder of the Christmas Bird Count, one of the longest running wildlife censuses worldwide.
The bird county began in 1900 thanks to the efforts of Frank Chapman. An ornithologist and officer in the newly-formed Audubon Society, Chapman decided to steer people from the Christmas tradition of going on a bird hunt to a bird count.
According to the Audubon Society, that first Christmas, 25 counts happened nationwide with 27 participants recording 89 species of birds from the American Kestrel to the European Starling and Anna’s Hummingbird.
The National Audubon Society still has the list of species from Christmas 1900, when heavier-than-air flight was still primarily for the birds.
This year, thousands joined the count from as far south as the Drake Passage south of Cape Horn, Chile, to Arctic Bay in the upper reaches of Canada.
And yes, Chapman is the namesake for Chapman’s Pond. The avid conservationist wintered near the pond in 1887 where his mother had a winter cabin.
He called Florida an “ornithologist’s paradise,” according to the Boone & Crockett Club, and GRU notes that he returned in 1930 and recorded 130 bird species.
Chapman’s Pond, opened by GRU in 1997 using its reclaimed water, serves as home to local wildlife and provides trails for locals. It’s also the area’s largest passive recreation park.
Each day, approximately 1.5 million gallons of reclaimed water are cycled from the Kanapaha Water Reclamation Facility into the pond, according to GRU placards at the site.
In 2002, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission added Chapman’s Pond to its list of sites on the Great Florida Birding Trail.