PENSACOLA CHRISTMAS BIRD COUNT

©Brenda Callaway

After 20 years serving as the organizer and compiler of the Pensacola Christmas Bird Count, Bill Bremser is stepping down. Bill has done a remarkable job during his tenure and you may be concerned about the future of our CBC, but you shouldn’t be. Bill will continue to watch over the count, while leaving it in good and capable hands.

Bill began his birding career when as a young boy in St.Louis, Missouri area, he was confined to the sick bed. Looking out the window to ease his boredom, he spied in the tree just outside the window, a stunning bird flitting about. “I had no idea there were such beautiful things in our world!” exclaims Bill, and from that moment Bill began studying bird identification.

©Brenda Callaway

The bird that left young Bill so awestruck was a breeding plumage male Blackburnian Warbler.

After years of bird observation and study, at the tender age of 14 he participated in his first CBC in Illinois, just north of St. Louis. In his first count his dedicated study paid off when he found and identified an Indigo Bunting, a rarity for winter in that area.

Though thoroughly questioned over his call, Bill was able to recite all of the ID marks for a winter Indigo, causing the skeptics in the group to relent and accept his rare find.

Bill would take a break from participating in CBCs while he attended college and traveled the globe for his military career. In retirement, Bill and his wife, Greta settled in Pensacola, and Bill returned to the CBC by participating in his first Pensacola Christmas Bird Count in 1985.

He was one of 26 participants working under compiler, Curtis Kingsbery, and they found 107 species of birds. Bill participated in the annual tradition faithfully, even helping with counts in Ft. Walton and Gulf Shores, AL. In 1998 he took over the job of compiler of the Pensacola count from Ed Case.

Throughout his years as compiler Bill made every effort to find a place for all who wanted to volunteer. Each team had to fit in one car so to protect the team’s safety as they wove through neighborhoods, and parked alongside highways for the count.

©Brenda Callaway

His goal was to have each of the 12 teams manned with a minimum of three people–one leader and two helpers. Four people was an ideal team size, though five team members would work as long as no one was claustrophobic!

His years as compiler have given Bill many great memories, however his most recent fond memory occurred the first year Daniel Stangeland joined his team in 2014. As Bill recounts it, they were standing on a dock in their count area, overlooking the bay.

They were both scanning the bay when Bill announced, “I’ve got a Reddish Egret,” just as Daniel announced, “I’ve got a Tri-colored Heron”.  Each did a double-check to confirm that they were indeed looking at different birds. They had two rare winter finds for the CBC, less than 10 feet apart! What are the odds?

When asked about his favorite CBC bird, Bill hesitates. It is after all, a lot to ask for someone to remember so many birds through so many years. Still, when reminded about the Cassin’s Kingbird he found on the Tiger Point Golf Course in 2012, his eyes light up and he agrees, yes, this was the best bird ever!

While good finds are normally kept close to the vest, saved for the friendly competition at the compilation, really rare birds, such as this Cassin’s, are willingly shared for all to get on their life-list. Bill sent a few texts and other teams promptly abandoned their areas, at least for a little while, to come see what Bill’s team had found.

As we continued to talk about great finds, Bill said that the second best bird would have to be the Common Merganser found in 2013. This bird was actually found in the days leading up to the count, and was thankfully relocated on the day of the count.

It was a tough ID, as it was a female, and it closely resembled the female Red-breasted Merganser, but once ID was confirmed, birders came from all over to catch a glimpse of this third for Santa Rosa County. There is just no telling what great birds will pop in for our CBC!

While Bill will miss his time as compiler, he plans to still participate in the count. And he’ll be helping his replacement, Daniel Stangeland, find his footing in his first year.

When asked about his suggestions for Daniel, Bill says simply, “I’d like to see him implement a floater. Someone who will be in a boat to check the bay. So much of our count area goes uncovered because it is water, and too vast to accurately check from the shore with scopes.”

Daniel Stangeland agreed to take over from Bill while on this year’s count. It isn’t an easy decision and we are all most excited that he has stepped up.

He is an excellent birder and will bring a great deal of energy and enthusiasm to the count. Daniel has always loved nature and the outdoors, but truly began his birding career in 2006, when a Blue-crowned Conure flew into his and his girlfriend’s yard and adopted them.

This sparked for both of them an interest in wild birds, and Daniel began to notice more and study the birds in his backyard and in his daily life.

Daniel began his CBC career in 2014 on Bill’s team. His favorite moment during his time on Bill’s team was two years ago when they found a Wilson’s Warbler. “It was such an unexpected find!” says Daniel.

While Daniel thoroughly enjoys the day of birding on the CBC, his true excitement is the anticipation of how many species the teams will tally each year, and what “write-ins” or rare birds the teams will find.

While Daniel had some trepidation about assuming this position, he truly feels he’s up to the challenge. And he knows he won’t be alone, that we’ll all support him in this endeavor, just as we’ve supported Bill.

Daniel has no plans to change anything with the count right now, but he’s excited about the idea of a “floater”. He hopes that everyone will continue to participate, and maybe a few more will join in, so that all sectors of our count area will well covered.

So while we are sad to see Bill step down, we are thankful to him for his years of service. We are also looking forward to helping Daniel make next year’s count a tremendous success!

By Brenda Callaway