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Tuesday, December 31, 2013

South Brevard CBC 2013 12 28

For the first time in 19 years, I worked the beach side of the South Brevard CBC.  Since I started working at what is now St. Sebastian River Preserve State Park in 1995, I have been sub-compiling the territories on the preserve.  After 27 years of service, Dan Click decided it was time to pass the torch on the beach side territory.  My first year back went pretty well.  Dan did a good job, as usual, of passing detailed information on his route while Courtney and Sue Carlson provided continuity.

Weather was not so cooperative with strong winds and intermittent rain greeting us at every turn.  Owling was pretty difficult, but we did manage two Eastern screech owls at Honest Johns Fish Camp before dawn.  The resident nesting Barn owl was not found and has not been heard lately.  list The tidal pond at Sebastian Inlet had some Black-crowned night-herons but not a lot.  Sometimes there are 20-30 of them.  No Yellow-crowned were seen among them.  list

Dawn found us on Longpoint Park Road, in search of rails.  When I last birded this area, we were only a couple years past a hard freeze that slammed the mangroves.  Milder temps in the intervening years have allowed mangroves to regroup and encroach into the ponds and road sides.  Not good for rails, but good if you are a Prairie warbler.  We didn't pull much out of the mangroves but got a couple American goldfinches at the entrance to the park.  list

Next we went back to Sebastian inlet for the second of many visits.  The rain and wind were confounding our schedule and our birding.  The low tide was rather inconveniently scheduled for around 10 am when we were supposed to be in Pelican Island NWR.  A couple hours earlier or even later would be great.   There were some birds around the edges of the tidal pool, but no Semipalmated plovers.  Also seen were Dan and Jeff Click who had managed to carve out a couple hours to bird among family time.  They were killing time to allow the light level to rise before heading back to the road to Honest Johns to stomp for sparrows in the fields of the county park.

Pelican Island NWR was the first refuge in the system.  It started as a small island where Brown pelicans and other bird nested.  Since then the USFWS has purchased much of the surrounding uplands in order to provide a buffer to the island and protect foraging areas critical to the success of the nesting birds on the island.  The orange groves along Jungle Trail have been cleared and planted with native vegetation in an attempt to recreate the Maritime Hammocks that once existed there.  Several freshwater ponds where created in order to provide foraging habitat for nesting wading birds on the island.  These new wetlands have dramatically effected the birding in this area.  Rails, ducks, sometimes bitterns, coot, gallinules are now regulars in this area.  We saw (heard) three species of rails:  King, Virginia, and Sora.  We saw (saw) 12 species of ducks (plus Mallard X Mottled hybrids) including Gadwall, American wigeon, Blue and Green-winged teal, Ring-necked duck, Redhead, Lesser scaup, and at least one Greater scaup.  list

Rain, rain, go away!  We were getting blasted by bands of rain clouds.  Working the brushy fields for sparrows and buntings was futile, so we decided to hit the tidal pond and beach at Sebastian Inlet again, and catch some of the low tide.  Good idea!  We got the Semipalmated plovers (no Wilson's today) and lots of Magnificent frigatebirds, at least eight floating around.  The strong east winds blew in a few Gannets, but the bird of the day was an immature Black-legged kittiwake sitting right on the beach.  My last, and only other, kittiwake in Florida was at the same inlet nearly 24 years ago.  Normally I would want the bird to fly across the inlet so I could get it in Indian River, but since the last one already did that, I was not worried.  Dawn Currie got some good photos before having to run from cover from the rain, yet again.  list

Continuing rain and strong winds deterred our hopes of woodland birding, so we decided to head up to "Chuck's Steakhouse" (now the Barrier Island Center for the Brevard County EEL program) for an early lunch.  Behind the center is a wide deck with picnic tables and a grand view of the beach and ocean.  We knew it was a good spot, because Dan and Jeff Click were there ahead of us.  They told us of their earlier success in the fields and of a Bonaparte's gull they had just seen.  Jeff spotted a loon, which I was not able to identify to my satisfaction.  It was already heading north past us when I got on it.  It seemed too small and thin to be a Common loon and I could not see the big feet trailing behind the bird.  I thought it might be a Red-throated loon, but from what I saw, I could not eliminate Pacific loon or even Western/Clark's grebe.  Red-throated loon is the most likely candidate, but I eventually decided to record it as Loon sp.  In our 45 minute stop, we accumulated about 200 Northern gannets passing by in flocks of 10-30.  Three different groups of Pomarine jaegers, the first jeagers found on the count in many years, tried to sneak past us by staying low in the waves.  All eight were adults, the characteristic twisted central tail feathers seen projecting behind them.  I spied a high-flying flock of ducks that turned out to be Black scoters on their way back north.  No doubt they were part of the huge migration that occurred along Florida's Atlantic Coast this fall.  Scoters are very strong fliers.  Like many species of migratory birds, they often take advantage of tail winds to save energy on migration.  Last fall, strong north winds prevailed all along the east coast.  The scoters got so efficient, they ended up in Miami and even wrapped around the state into the southern gulf coast.  Scoters are diving ducks, scooping up shellfish from the rocks along the bottom of the oceans, lagoons, and estuaries.  Florida's waters do not have so many rocks or shellfish.  Most of the scoters that end up here will turn around and head back north, often straight into the same brisk winds that brought them here in the first place.  list

Next, we decided to scope out the lagoon and west of Sebastian Inlet from the south side.  The shoals in the lagoon would soon disappear with the rising tide and we hoped to get a look before they did.  It was somewhat productive with our biggest flock of Dunlin for the day along with the usual lagoon inhabitants.  We can look from here toward Long Point Park and across the river toward the Sebastian River in the hopes of seeing American oystercatcher.  Hopes were all we would see this day.  list

After lunch, we headed up to a private residence near the top of the circle to wrangle up some warblers, hummingbirds, and maybe even some sparrows.  We wrangled up practically nothing.   The afternoon blahs and the winds took their toll.  We managed a small flock of songbirds at the car that included our first White-eyed vireo of the day.

Next in line was Honest Johns Fish Camp, in the daylight, where we counted up the fancy chickens and plain white ducks.  With permission, we walked the dikes behind the camp, as we (Dan and crew) have done for years.  Nice variety of birds, including our only Green heron and Cooper's hawk of the day.  list

We made several more stops before darkness brought an end to our CBC day.  One of the highlights was Long Point Park, one of the few places we see Red-winged blackbirds.  We managed one for our species count.  The park is primarily a campground for folks who enjoy the lagoon through fishing and boating.  Camp sites are crammed quite close to each other and are usually full at this time of year.  We managed to find a few empty sites to poke our heads through and check the lagoon for oystercatchers, grebes, loons, and whatever.  Within the park are a couple of ponds where I have seen Brant and American black duck many many years past.  We did not get much in the ponds or on the grounds this day, or in the lagoon.  I did manage to hand out a few business cards to some friendly and curious campers.  list

We checked the Centennial Trail at PINWR and finally caught up with an Oystercatcher (and a Common loon) very far out to the west as viewed from the Pelican Island overlook.  Centennial Pond held a few ducks, but nothing we had not seen that day.  A White-cheeked pintail spent a good deal of time in this pond last year and it or another popped up again this winter.  We did not see it here this day, nor did others who were there much more than we were.  list

Our final challenge of the day was to find an Eastern whip-poor-will at the north end of Jungle Trail, a tradition that has yielded zero results over the years.  We did nothing to affect the total, although we did get another Eastern screech owl.  list

We finished the day with 100 species (not including hybrids, chickens, white Mallards, etc.), plus a few more species ala Click and Click.  Not bad.  We missed Savannah sparrow but got Grasshopper sparrow.  We had a few nice write-up birds.  I handed out a few business cards.  More importantly, I recorded 20 eBird checklists.  Since I downloaded BirdLog NA on my phone, I have been recording eBird lists at every stop on CBC's and while doing just about any other time I have been birding.  Lots of fun and tons of good data for scientists to study.

Fun day.  Good people.  Can't wait to do it again.  We won't have a South Brevard CBC in 2014, because next season we will be doing the count on January 3, 2015.  Mark your calendars.

Last day of 2013

With a few hours birding time today, I decided to spend at least some of the time at Smyrna Dunes Park in New Smyrna Beach.  The Snowy owl on Little Talbot Island had gone AWOL (later discovered further north on the same island), and I figured either it or another one might be at a place like Smyrna Dunes.  Much of the park is old dredge spoil which is sparsely vegetated.  It is perfect habitat for Snow buntings, Lapland longspurs, (several sightings of both in Florida this year) and Horned lark; species quite common on the shores and fields of the northeastern U.S. but quite the delight when they show in our state.  Snowy owl would be quite at home here as well, and very visible since there is little place to hide.  I would be disappointed to find Lapland longspur here since I already have that one in Volusia County.  I got my first one at Lighthouse Point Park, right across the inlet from here on a CBC in the late 1980's.  The tide was high, and rising, so Disappearing Island had nearly disappeared.  Shorebirds, gulls, and terns are hard to find when they don't have exposed mud flats to rest their feet.  I did manage a few species.  Three Purple sandpipers were huddled on the north side of the inlet among ca 50 Ruddy turnstones.  Purple sandpipers are somewhat rare in Florida, but occur on rock jetties as far south as Ponce Inlet every year and occasionally on similar habitat further south.  I got one on my first visit to Jupiter Inlet in Palm Beach County, and never again.

No owls visible, and I checked all the boardwalks, spur trails, dunes, and even the tops of the condos south of the park, to no avail.  I decided to point the truck toward home.

I stopped at the Click Ponds in Viera and found 49 species in 48 minutes, mostly in the south pond.  Water levels have risen some in the north pond since last week and there are not as many birds.  Green-winged teal continue to rule the duck world and Least sandpipers the shorebird world.  Stilt sandpipers and a single Western sandpiper were still present.  As long as water levels remain low, these birds will likely be there all winter.

Now, it is on to non-bird things and thoughts of next year.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Teal Pond take 2

I stayed the night in Clewiston last night, rising early this morning to do some more Highlands County listing on the way home before getting on with the business of planning the CBC tomorrow.  And, of course, the write this installment.

I still need Virginia rail for Highlands and I picked out a very nice pond north of the teal pond for them to be found.  I did not tell the rails this, because it was pretty obvious, I thought.  At any rate, I did not get any rails at all and the dawn chorus of birds was fairly lacking.  A good pre-dawn flight of Black-bellied whistling-ducks, totaling 170, headed from the Lykes Brothers lands toward the Kissimmee River.  I got 27 species in 35 minutes, no Virginia rail.

Teal Pond was next up.  Teal numbers were relatively low with 46 Blue-winged teal and nine Green-winged teal.  I was early enough to find 13 Roseate spoonbills at the pond before they flew off for the day.  Shorebird species were similar to yesterday with the addition of four Dunlin.  Songbird variety is always interesting at this site.  This morning I did not see mockingbirds, but I did get White-eyed vireo, Blue-gray gnatcatcher, and Northern waterthrush; all of which were not observed yesterday.  I got 57 species in 31 minutes  If ever I see all of the species present in one stop, I might push it up to near 80.  That's one heck of a point count total!

After the Teal Pond, I decided to check out the S-65 Boat Ramp area on the Kissimmee River.  There are access points to the Kissimmee River PUA along the day and lots of good woodland edge birding along the way.  I did not have time to check it out this morning, but it will be interesting in the future.Now on to more pressing things.

Now, on to more pressing matters.

eBird checklist Flag Pond
eBird checklist Teal Pond

Thursday, December 26, 2013

County Listing and Work Birding

As I often do, I engaged in a little county listing on the way to work this morning.  I hit one of my favorite spots, what I call the "Teal Pond" on accounta it has a lot of teal in most winters.  The pond is located along CR 721 in Highlands County between US 98 and SR 70.  This area is "reclaimed" floodplain, formerly part of the Kissimmee River.  It is used today as ranch land for cattle and farm land for various crops.  There are several ponds in the pasture areas and these are frequented by many ducks, shorebirds, and wading birds throughout the year.  In spring, Florida's dry season, the ponds dry up, except for the Teal Pond.  I'm not sure if the farmers have drilled a well into the aquifer to assure constant water or if there is indeed a natural artesian flow into the pond.  I have not seen it dry up completely, that I can remember.  I often take a slightly longer route from Fellsmere to Clewiston, so I can stop at this spot along the way.  It has produced many a county bird for Highlands in the past, so many that the prospect of getting more is getting pretty low.   Yet, I still come to this spot just to see who's hanging out.  It is within BBA Block Fort Basinger - 6, so I spent some extra time in the area this spring when many an oddball was hanging out in this, the last of the wet ponds.  Two Great white herons (considered a white morph of Great blue heron) were very odd for an inland location.  Although they are becoming somewhat regular inland in small numbers, in recent years.  This afternoon, I spied a decent assortment of shorebirds including four American avocets.  There has been one here on the previous two visits, but this time it had some friends.  Shorebird numbers vary dramatically in the early part of the winter when they fly around to various wet ponds around the area.  Other shorebirds were the usual Least sandpipers and Long-billed dowitchers along with slightly less usual Stilt sandpipers (4).  I did not see any Dunlin, although they are sometimes here.  There were teal, of course, but not in great numbers.  A total of 44 species present in a 20 minute stop, about average I would say, but always a different mix of species.  Sometime I will check to see the total from this stop over the years, and see which species are most frequent.  I am getting enough eBird checklists to see some at least some crude trends.

Work birding was boring, as usual.  I did get surprised by two fly by Gadwall, a county tick for Glades (#205).

Tomorrow, I will head out early and likely hit the same spot, and a pond further up where I hope to finally add Virginia rail to my Highlands list, before making final preparations for the South Brevard CBC on Saturday.

eBird Checklist Teal Pond

Christmas Birding Tradition

Not much time to produce today.   Things to do and work birding later today.

Christmas Day and Dee and I join our friends, Pat, Bill, and Ken at Viera Wetlands for our traditional afternoon bird count and dinner at Denny's.

We got 51 species at the wetlands, not bad for a couple hours' birding.  Nothing outstanding, just a nice mix of ducks and other wet birds.  No Purple gallinules for Pat and Bill again this year.  Lots of heard only Least bitterns.  No Limpkins either.

The Click Ponds were a different story.  Low water levels continue to provide a wide variety of bird species.  51 species again, in just under an hour, with many new ones for the day.  Shorebirds abounded with 550 Least sandpipers and 170 Long-billed dowitchers leading the way.  There was one Western sandpiper, a couple Dunlin, several Stilt sandpipers, and both species of yellowlegs.  10 American avocets stole the show.   Green-winged teal dominated the duck scene with 800 counted.  One lone female pintail was among them as well as four Ruddy ducks in the north pond.  We finally added Caracara and Bald eagle near the ponds.  We left with 73 for the day, a new record for our Christmas tradition.

We had enough daylight to head to River Lakes Conservation Area where we added meadowlarks, and the wintering Ash-throated flycatcher along with a few others.  Finally got Limpkin on the canal on the way out as two of them came up to preen after a long day of eating snails and mollusks in the canal.  Last bird of the day was Black-bellied whistling ducks in the retention pond next to the Target on the south side of Wickham Road.

Ir was another great day of birding, friendship, and great weather in Florida.  I'm dragging from all the CBC's and stuff, but I am still having fun.  That's it for now.

eBird Viera Wetlands
eBird Click Ponds

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

What I'm doing next year

Thanks Elliot William Schunke, now I have something else to obsess about.  Here's what I'm doing next year (among many other things, of course.)

Do you want to do a big year but do not have enough time? A few of us Tallahasseans are playing a game this upcoming year (2014) and would like to extend the challenge to the rest of the state. So, in the holiday spirit, here is the "Twelve Day Big Year" (TDBY).

This competition is designed to encourage you to see as many species of birds in Florida as possible during a single calendar year, however, the amount of effort is limited to 12 days.


1. You are only allowed to add species to your TDBY list if they are observed on one or more of your designated days

2. You can have a maximum of 12 designated days in your TDBY.

3. No month can have more than one designated day in it.

4. You must designate each of your days before the day begins (midnight), preferably announced publicly either here or

6. Only species observed between midnight and 11:59:59 pm of your designated days count toward your TDBY.

7. Only species observed in Florida or in Florida waters (pelagics) count toward your TDBY.

8. Each species must be ABA countable.

9. Heard only birds do count.

That's about it ... join the fun!

I can't let the gauntlet just sit there.  I don't have the time, interest, or resources to do another Florida Big Year, but this, I can handle.  Just one day a month, strategic planning in a way I have never done before, incidental county listing?  I'm in!

Oh, I'll have a birding related post later today, after our traditional Christmas Birding with the Meyers later today.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Pasco County Birding 12/24/2013

Today, I spent a few hours birding Pasco County with local experts Dave Gagne, Bill Pranty, and Valeri Ponzo.  We decided to sleep in and start at the former Gulf Harbors Golf Course at 7:30 this morning.  This area is quite remarkable for birding yielding 70+ species in a couple hours in a winter morning.  Redheads were present in the ponds by the thousands.  Among them were several Gadwalls and a Ruddy duck.  Nelson's sparrow has been seen here lately as has a wintering Yellow warbler.  Wind conditions made it difficult to see songbirds, but we did get great shots of the ducks, including a single Greater scaup.  Three county ticks for me.

Later, we checked a couple spots for the wintering Bar-tailed godwit that has been teasing birders in north Pinellas and south Pasco Counties lately.  It has been seen at Fred Howard Park in Pinellas County and Anclote Gulf Park in Pasco lately.  Not by us on this day.  I did manage to add Marbled godwit to Pasco.  Fortunately, I have Bar-tailed godwit back in 1999 when one showed up on Huguenot Park in Duval County.

Aripeka-Bayport CBC 2013 12 23 7 of 11, 11 of 23

Today, I participated in my seventh CBC of this season.  Three more and I will break my single season record or nine.  For this count, when I am able to participate, I usually walk the "Death March" with Bill Pranty, through Weeki Wachee Preserve from Shoal Line Road to the edge of the Gulf of Mexico.  The salt marsh and tidal creeks can be treacherous, but the wide open mud flats, full of shorebirds, gulls, and terns, and marshes with sharp-tailed sparrows and the promise of Black rail are worth it.  Plus, it's just fun to stomp through mud for two miles.  Black rails in this area were found by accident when biologists, who were trapping Black bears, found a dead Black rail in their tire ruts.  How many people do you know that ran over a Black rail?

This year, Pranty had others to help him.  Given how much I have been doing lately, the Death March had less appeal, so I bowed out and decided to bird Linda Pederson Park first thing.  We usually don't hit this spot until later in the day and we miss a lot of birds in the marsh along the entrance road.  The park is on the south side of Jenkins Creek, a spring fed creek that flows out into the gulf.  This spring water spills into the marsh, which results in a marsh unlike most in the area.  This marsh is dominated by Sawgrass with a fringe of cattails and Needle rush.  The latter is the only salt tolerant species.  This means that freshwater loving King rails (unlike their salt water loving sister species the Clapper rail) have a home near the coast, and I have an opportunity to get a new Hernando County Tick.  Both King and Clapper (and Virginia rail and Sora) occur in this marsh, and I got all of them this morning.  It isn't often you can get King and Clapper side by side.

I spent a couple hours at the park looking for other birds, including our annual western visitor, a Brewer's blackbird that has been joining the local flock of Boat-tailed grackles for a couple winters now.  I was armed with a bag of bait (chips) from Murray Gardler, but it was not necessary.  Some fisherman left a busted feed sack in the back of their truck, and the birds took notice.  I took a few moments to appreciate the Brewer's blackbird before continuing the bird count.  Hundreds of Brewer's blackbirds can be seen in Texas, but we rarely get to see them outside of the panhandle of Florida.  The rest of the park yielded some interesting birds.  There is a trail that leads back into Weeki Wachee Preserve behind the park.  Along this trail is a depository where the park staff deposits their brush trimmings.   Apparently, they deposited some Banana trees at some point because there is a mini banana grove growing around the pile.  It was behind this pile that I found the best bird of the park (save the Brewer's blackbird), an Ovenbird

After enough time had passed (Pine Island Park doesn't open til 8:00) I wandered up to the park.  Before the park, I stopped at a bridge to look for Reddish egret.  Thar she blows!  An immature dark morph bird was right there on cue.  The tide was still high, but receding.  This spot by the bridge looked like it would be good for shorebirds at low tide; I made a note to come back later.  The park itself was devoid of people and the receding tide gave space for gulls, terns, and shorebirds to sit.  I counted up the numbers of Laughing and Ring-billed gulls and picked out a few terns among them.  No Herring gulls to be had.  Northeast winds exaggerated the low tide, unlike yesterday, so the prospect of pelagics, ducks, and loons were slim to none.  I managed to eek out a few ducks, nothing much of note.  This time I actually got a couple loons.  There were some shorebirds around.  Conditions are good around here at low tide, but they are great at other points along the shore, so they will never really be great at this park.  Numbers of species and individuals were decent, but low.  While scanning the gulf waters for slim to none, I caught a flash of white in some wingtips.  Bonaparte's gull!  But wait, that's not a Bonaprte's gull, jaeger!  Parasitic jaeger, light morph adult!  Unexpected county tick!  Pranty actually got Pomarine jaeger earlier, so we got both on the count.  On the bay side, I kept scanning the ever changing clumps of gulls for that elusive Herring gull.  I thought I had one.  On further review the call was reversed:  smaller and more slender than Herring gull, all dark bill, longer wings, and when it flew, there was no pale window in the primaries.  Lesser black-backed gull, first winter.  This bird was not unexpected as one had been seen a week or so before.

I was itching to check Bayport Park, a little further south along the coast, so I packed up and headed back out of the park.  Checking the bridge on the way out, I saw more shorebirds and this time three Reddish egrets, two adults and probably the immature from before, all dark morph.  At Bayport Park, I decided it was not worth the time to do another eBird checklist as there was little in the way of mud flats.  I decided it would be better to head back to Pine Island while there was still low tide to be had.  Back at the park, I had to recount the gulls and terns since I was starting a new checklist.  The tide was coming up and a tide of tourists were pouring into the park.  Pasty white foreigners were venturing out into the shallows.  Through good thinking or good fortune, none walked out into the barnacles on the exposed rocks that protect the man-made beach.  I got many of the same birds with the bonus of two fly-by American oystercatchers.

The tide was coming in and I decided to go back to Bayport to check the deeper waters and woods for more new birds.  Of birds, there were a few.  Pine warbler was new for the day, among the couple of mixed songbird flocks.  Water birds were not impressive, but I did see another Reddish egret, four for the day.

Dragging butt at this point, I decided to head back to Pederson Park and contemplate the next move.  My next move was to do nothing at all for a little while in the shade of the picnic area.  Eventually, I decided it would be best to cruise the streets of Hernando Beach to look for the last of the Budgies (Pranty would see one so we can keep them on our lists for another year) and add a few species to the day list.  Budgerigars are native to Australia.  They are a popular caged bird throughout the world and often escape into the wild, for a little while at least.  Some time in the last century, some folks decided to let loose, feed, and house some budgies on the west coast of Florida.  As a result, a new species of exotic was established in Florida.  When the ABA came out with its first checklist, Budgies were on it.  So were a few other things that were removed because they were not really established in the wild, but Budgies persist to this day.  They were present by the 1000's from Sarasota to Hernando Beach through the 1970's, but steadily declined to the present day.  The only population left may be the single male that Pranty saw today.  If that population disappears, the Budgie will go the way of the Crested myna.  Crested myna was marginally established on the ABA list in the Vancouver area until the last individual was hit by a car some years ago.  Anyone who had Crested myna on their ABA list, had to remove it after the ABA removed that species from its master list.  Native species do not have this constraint.  If someone saw Carolina parakeet or Great auk, they can still count it, if playing the ABA listing game.

So anyway, I did not see a Budgie today, but I sure saw a lot of Brown-headed cowbirds and starlings. I drove many, but not all of the dead end roads of Hernando Beach.  I saw a couple spots where Andy Bankert and I staked out roosting budgies 10 years ago while doing Big Days.  The canals held many ducks and other swimmers including a couple Common loons, Horned grebes, and Redheads.  Feral Mallards graced the waters as well as a pair of Mottled ducks.  I got 40+ species of birds, one of my birdiest checklists of the day.

I wanted to do more birding, but I was tired.  I decided to climb the tower at Pederson Park and do a point count from the top.  I always like tower birding.  Below me was the coolest bird of the day, a male Bufflehead.  Many folks climbed up and down the tower while I was there.  A nice couple who grew up in the area told me of a spring just up the creek which explains how clarity of the water in the creek.

I wanted to go back to Pine Island Park, but time was running short, and I was tired.  I decided to do another loop through the park and hope to see the White-winged dove that showed a week or so before.  This species is difficult to find on the count and would be new for me in Hernando.  It had not been seen since that time, and I helped continue the streak.

Darkness set in, and I was hungry, so I set out for Panera Bread for the compilation dinner.  I had to check Weeki Wachee Preserve in the waning twilight for another shot at Whip-poor-will.  I tried.

At Panera, I joined the seven folks who stuck around to the end.  Ray Webb got his life Panera Bread.  You got to wonder about a guy who has gone that long without eating there.  I found out about a Canvasback behind the J C Penney that no one told me about.  I was not at the lunch meeting, so I did not hear at the time.  After dinner, Bill, Valeri, and I went over and I lit up the pond with my LED spotlight.  Apparently the Canvasback does not spend the night in the pond.  I had to settle for two more Hernando Ticks today among my 98 species on the day.

Tomorrow, I hit a spot in Pasco with Bill, Valeri, and Dave Gagne so I can move my Pasco List off of 200.

eBird Checklists

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Day 9 of 23

No CBC today, just traveling to get in position for tomorrow's Aripeka-Bayport CBC.  On the way to Pine Island Park, I hit Bystre Lake east of Brooksville.  On the way to Bystre Lake, I stopped along the road to check out a pond in a pasture, such is county listing.  There was a flock of 250 Brown-headed cowbirds, and only Brown-headed cowbirds, moving from a dead pine to a small herd of cattle.  Sometimes I spy a Bronzed cowbird or Yellow-headed blackbird among such flocks.  Most of the time I do not.  This time I found a few European starlings.  30 species in nine minutes.  No new ticks.

At Bystre Lake I found 40 species in 17 minutes.  Ducks were in short supply.  I could not even find a coot or gallinule.  The exception was four Ruddy ducks sitting low in the water and WAY out there.  I have found quite a few county ticks at this lake, including Greater white-fronted goose last March at the first annual Nature Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival.  I checked the list, and Ruddy duck was new for Hernando, #191.

On to Pine Island Park to finish the day, but wait!  There is another pasture pond along SR 50 east of Brooksville.  I stopped to investigate the Black-bellied whistling-ducks, about 30, and to see if there were any more ducks lurking in the vegetation.  There were a couple Mottled ducks and 11 Green-winged teal.  The teal were new for Hernando, 192.  17 species in seven minutes, one new tick.

Finally, at Pine Island Park, I set out to scan the waters and hope for some shorebird ticks.  Tide was HIGH, as I noted on the way out to the park.  West winds were exaggerating the tide, but could make up for the loss of shorebird habitat by blowing in a Northern gannet.  They did not.  I found very little in the way of ducks in the bay and gulf.  Only one Bufflehead, and a few Red-breasted mergansers.  No loons, no goldeneye, no scoters.  There were some distant scaup that were clearly not scoters, but I had a brief moment of hope.  Two scaup were in the water closer and one was a Greater, TICK.  I could not get on the other one.  There were a few Sanderlings among the Dunlin on the artificial beach here.  Florida's gulf coast is pretty much lacking in sandy beaches throughout the Big Bend area save for some man-made beaches here and there.  Good thing for us county listers!

Most exciting happening of the day:  I was scanning to the north along the tree tops and houses, looking for Peregrine Falcon.  This species often sits atop dead trees, or even on buildings between bouts of chasing and eating the slowest 5% of the local bird populations.  On a railing was a white lump, very much like an owl.  A white lump, very much like an owl.  We are experiencing another irruption year for Snowy owls (Florida hasn't had theirs yet.)  Dee and I drove up to coastal Georgia to see a Snowy owl sitting atop a condo (I then drove back up to Tallahassee to see Florida's first Costa's hummingbird, and got a Razorbill in Florida, the same day!)  Now I found a Snowy owl on my own?  It's not moving.  Still not moving.  Looks kind of odd.  Maybe I should keep scanning and see if it has moved when I come back.  I scanned to the other end of the railing and there was a Greater wood-hawk sitting stock still on the other end.  Dang artists!  There is still time to find a Snowy owl in Florida this winter.  I have hope.

Coolest thing of the visit was showing a kid, about 5 I'd guess, the gulls and terns and shorebirds.  His dad was keen on showing him birds even though he was not a birder himself.  He does have birder friends in Montreal, so hopefully this will be a future birder.

eBird Checklists for the day

Pond before Bystre Lake
Bystre Lake
Pond on SR 50
Pine Island Park

Melrose CBC 2013 12 19

Melrose Christmas Bird Count was the second first CBC for me this season.  Long Pine Key was the first first, and Lake Seminole-Toreeya (aka Sneads) will be the third.  Melrose was two days after the MINWR CBC and the first of a three day streak.

I stayed in Melrose the day before, driving up from Clewiston after doing surveys on Lake Okeechobee.  Traffic was nice and I avoided the highways for the most part, staying on US 27 as long as I could.  Jim Swarr and his wife Joyce in their secluded house the night before and after.  Jim and Joyce were gracious hosts and Joyce's banana bread spoiled my appetite for lunch on more than one CBC.

For the count itself, I met up with John Sloane and his wife (her name escapes me at the moment).  John had arranged access to some private property in the area where I would get many key county birds.  Prior to meeting John in the morning, I went out and got Barred owl and Eastern screech owl in the yard.  Screech was new for me in Bradford, formerly tied for my lowest county list with Gilchrist at 140.  I would add six species over the course of the day.  After John arrived, we set out to a private dock on Lake Santa Fe where our only tasks were to count the birds and feed the catfish.  Temperature dipped into the 30's and there was one small patch of frost on the ground, brrrr!  The fish were reluctant at first, but like me, they were willing to move with the promise of food.   Birds were many and varied. Fog rising off the relatively warm waters and the sun rising in the east, made observations tricky, but I did manage to see some cool stuff.  The lake itself is in Alachua County, but the land where we were is Bradford County.  As I watched the gulls fly off the lake, I was able to tick Laughing and Herring gull for Alachua on the lake and Bradford once the cleared the lake.  Horned grebes on the lake were new for Alachua as was the half dozen Common loons.  Bonaparte's gulls would have been new for Bradford if they would have flown out over the land, but alas, they did not.  This was a pretty good start for the day.

Nest stop was a private ranch where John had arrange for us not to get shot while we birded the area.  We turned up 40 of the 80 species we would find for the day at this one spot.  Habitat diversity was extraordinary with weedy fields, plowed fields, low wet spots, a small pond, open pine lands, hardwood swamp, ranch house, etc.  Sedge wren, Grasshopper sparrow, and a single Vesper sparrow were all good birds for the count.  I hoped to jump a snipe out of the wet, weedy fields, or a rail in the small pond, but it was not to happen.  Vesper was a new one for the county.

After this, we ran into Joyce's team as we were "poaching" in her area.  After leaving her to head to our own area, we spotted a couple of Canada geese, new for me in Bradford.  I actually had he more rare Greater white-fronted goose on the list from a misty morning visit to Lake Sampson in the past.

County listing on the Melrose CBC is quite a challenge since four counties come together in the area and the main roads move in and out of all of them.  The back roads, do to, but they don't always have signs to let you know.  Therefore, I had to go back and rename many of my eBird locations to coincide with the correct county.

The rest of the day consisted of various stops at predetermined locations and opportunistic stops as we saw or heard interesting birds.  One stop to investigate some titmouse and chickadees and count the turkeys in the field nearby resulted in an invitation to walk some nice folks' 20 acres.  We were guided by a pack of misfit dogs, the history, name, nickname, and quirks of which we were made aware of by the owners, on our walk.  The habitat looks interesting, but birds were a bit quiet due to the typical mid day doldrums and our pack of helpers.

Eventually, we covered our tiny area and headed back to the Sloanes' place for homemade soup (Split Pea n Ham and Turkey) to compensate for the pizza we would have at the compilation.

Later, at Betty's Pizza in Melrose, we had some good pizza and better fellowship as I got to meet a few more people and see a few more old friends.  I don't remember the total off the top of my head, but it was a good day for the Melrose CBC.  I hope to get back up to meet up with new friends and old and do some county listing and BBA work this summer.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Day 8 of 23, CBC 6 of 11 Econ CBC

I'm getting backed up on blog entries so I will write today's entry ahead of yesterday's and the day before.

Today, I headed out on the St. Johns River between Puzzle Lake and Lake Harney.  The St. Johns River is a braided river in this section.  Puzzle Lake is called such, partly because it is not exactly clear where the lake begins and ends.  Lakes along the St. Johns River are more like wide spots in the river, rather than actual lakes anyway.  We have traversed this section of the river when the water levels were very high and we did not have to worry much about the dead end or false channels as we floated out over the floodplain.  We have been out there when only the main channel was navigable and we walked the floodplain, if the snipe hunters were not there first.  In the old days, I would go with Darryl Ledeigh.  To see Darryl and hear him talk, you would think him a simple type, but he was actually a very smart and thoughtful guy.  Darryl had the kind of insight into nature that you don't get from book learnin'.  I got to know him somewhat well over the few years we did this count together.  He was a master at building airboats.  He created what he called a "Jet Boat", an airboat with an outboard motor.  This helped us a great deal in navigating the shallow and shifting channels on the marshy river.  Despite being in his 70's, he was not afraid to get out in the water and push the boat around or through waters too shallow even for his Jet Boat.  It's been a few years since Darryl left us.  He is missed.

One of the nice things about doing so many CBC's is meeting up with old friends and making new ones.  This year, I was set up with Janet Mills and Thomas Barks.  They volunteered a boat and their service to the bird count this year.  Thomas is an excellent captain and both helped point out the birds.  Using Birdlog NA to record the birds on my phone means that no one has to be a "clipboard holder" and all can use their eyes to look for birds.  Of course, I have to spend some time thumbing the birds into the phone, but I am getting pretty efficient.  The little bit of missed birds is more than mitigated by the mounds of data I am able to contribute to eBird, not only on CBC's, but in county listing and other birding around the state and world.

So, enough of this fluff!  Let's get to birding.  We set out just after 7 am to see how close we could get to Puzzle Lake this year.  Mud filled parts of the channel and we bogged down a little here and there, but we were able to get close to the lake.  As we headed south in the fog, we could hear shorebirds and see waders and even a few ducks.  There was a surprising lack of Mottled ducks, only a couple pairs seen.  Ducks were lacking overall, but we did see several flocks of teal, both Green-winged and Blue-winged.  A flock of four Hooded mergansers rounded out our duck list for the day.

The bird of the day was a Sandwich tern, one of only a few that I have seen away from the coast, which was a county bird for Seminole, the first inland county where I have recorded this species.  Annoying bird of the day was a King rail busily "kek-kek-kekking" away on the wrong (Volusia County) side of the river.  I don't think I have ever gotten this species on the CBC here.  Next challenge is to get it in Seminole County.

Strange phenomenon of the day was the several groups of birds containing one of each species.  We ran across a group of shorebirds consisting of one Wilson's snipe, one Long-billed dowitcher, one Dunlin, and one Least sandpiper.  Another group consisted of one White ibis, one Little blue heron, one Great egret, and one Snowy egret.  There were other groups of ones or nearly all ones along the way as well.

Awesome phenomenon of the day was the nearly 500 white pelicans, 1000 White ibis and assorted other waders, gulls, and terns, leap frogged their way from Puzzle Lake north toward the SR 46 bridge.  We stopped at the point where we decided fighting the shallows was no longer desirable to walk the floodplain toward a mass of white.  The mass of white began leap frogging toward us.  Without the need for any walking at all, we were able to see and count the birds as they staged in a bend of the river right there in front of us.  Accenting the usual menagerie of waders were 65 Roseate spoonbills.  It was quite a sight!

After that, everything was icing on the cake.  We stopped in a couple of spots along the way up (up as in north, we were actually heading down river) to Lake Harney.   A flock of American pipits in the heavily grazed part of the river had no Horned larks or longspurs among them.  18 Black-bellied plovers, somewhat unusual inland in winter, were staying toward the west part of the floodplain.  This species, along with Dunlin, also unusual inland in winter, are often found in this area.  Dunlin is actually quite common during winter in a few inland areas such as the St. Johns River.  Many other shorebirds sometimes show for us, but we did not get any of them today.  Western sandpiper is particularly difficult to find in winter away from the coast, but sometimes shows in this area.  Semipalmated plover we have found at least once, but not today.  Stilt sandpipers are not quite so unusual, but often are found with either Dunlin or yellowlegs inland.  Not by us today.  Black-necked stilts winter mainly south of the U.S. but can be found in south Florida and occasionally in central Florida.  We have had them in past years, but no today.  Other occasionals such as Herring gull and Bonaparte's gull were not found among the Laughing and Ring-billed gulls we saw moving between the lakes.  Our final species list was 66, not bad for the area.  With a few more occasionals, and some of the less common shorebirds, we may have gone way past 70, maybe even past 80.  No perfect storm this time.

Last, but not least, back at the C S Lee Park, I heard, then saw a Vesper sparrow in the parking lot.  County Bird!

Another great CBC to get me over the hump.  Six behind me, five still in front.  Tomorrow I head over to the west coast for the Aripeka-Bayport Count on Monday.

eBird List

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Work Birding

Spent some time monitoring for nesting Snail kite today.  Not much happening.  Saw an Otter crossing the levee.  Three Crested caracara foraging around the cane harvest.  Two of them where immatures.

On the road to Melrose next to stay at Jim Swarr's place and do the Melrose CBC tomorrow.  Life CBC, should be fun.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

MINWR CBC 2013 12 17

One more CBC down, way down in terms of numbers if birds.  Three counts and the individuals count has been down in all three.  Today I was in Territory 1 of the MINWR CBC, a territory I have covered since 1986.  The Oak Hammock area has been steadily declining in winter birds although it still wracks up the birds in fall migration.  I have not seen a Hermit thrush there in many winters and the Black-thorated green warblers we used to see seem to have died.  Numbers of birds in other spots in the area were down as well.  I did manage a couple flocks of Cedar waxwings and a Chipping sparrow, both species are sometimes difficult to find on this count.

Tomorrow, I bird for work in Moore Haven, then trek up to Melrose for their CBC the next day.  Then Zellwood, and Econ before a day off and the Aripeka-Bayport CBC.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Long Pine Key CBC

Today I got a life Christmas Bird Count today, Long Pine Key in Everglades National Park (ENP).  Robin Diaz runs the count and brings her famous brownies and treats us to dinner at Rosita's mexican restaurant in Florida City.

I was one of the "independent contractors" in the Hole in the Donut part of ENP.  I was assigned to Gate 15 where I tromped out to one of the mounds left behind by the Brazilian pepper removal project.  This mound is overgrown with grasses and brush and a few trees and surrounded by marshes.  I have always wanted to head out there early in the morning to see what birds might be there.  This morning was my chance.  Unfortunately, this morning was also very windy.  I managed to get some songbirds on the hill, Grasshopper and Savannah sparrows, many Common yellowthroats, House wrens, and only a couple Palm warblers.  The mound offers a commanding view of the marsh with an underwhelming amount of waterfowl.  There were less than 10 American coots and three Ring-necked ducks along with a couple Common gallinules and a Pied-billed grebe.  Wading birds were in abundance as a roost of ca. 200 Great egrets fanned out over the marshes and White ibises totaling 650 birds in many flocks passed by.  One Glossy ibis accompanied them.  No King rails in the surrounding marsh and only one Sora.  I had lots of ones this morning: one American bittern, one Yellow-crowned night-heron, one Black-crowned night-heron, one Snail kite, one Northern harrier, one Peregrine falcon, one Ruby-throated hummingbird.  The last two were the only ones found on the count, I think.

After the mound, I headed back to the gate and was joined by "Toe" and we walked west along the edge of the remaining pepper forest.  There we would find more of the same with the exception of one Northern waterthrush, and one White-crowned pigeon.

10:15 and we were done, so we wandered over to Royal Palm to partake of Robin's brownies and meet for lunch.  Once done with this, we got our afternoon assignment:  Gate 10.  Toe, and the Diaz brothers and I set off for West Lake, not our assignment, but there were Greater scaup and Redhead there.  Toe and Rangel are doing a Dade County Big Year and I am looking for Dade County life birds.  The scaup is new for all of us, Redhead new for me.  I got there first and found a female Greater scaup with stopped preening and went to sleep as the others arrived.  Rangel and I saw a male Greater scaup streak across the pond and out of sight, showing the diagnostic white stripe extending unbroken to the end of the wing.  Eventually we found a male Greater scaup in the flock of mostly coots.  Toe got some unassisted digiscoped shots (no adaptor) of the male.  There were several Redheads, some American wigeon, and a very dark female Ruddy duck in the pond as well as about 900 American coots.  In a dark corner of the back of the pond was an American crocodile, visible to the naked eye as a gray strip at the base of the mangroves.

Eventually, we went to our assigned area and got a bunch of Pine warblers, a Prairie warblers, Blue-headed vireo, and a few others.

On the way to Rosita's, I stopped at Lucky Hammock, "The Annex" to take a quick shot at Western tanager and Nashville warbler (missed again) and ran into some FWC and SFWMD folks who were working in the area.  I pointed out an exotic plant to them (Jasminum fluminense I think) which is taking over a couple of Ficus trees.  I snagged a piece and showed it to them before leaving for dinner.

Dinner was quite good and much needed.  The numbers of individuals were down, but species numbers were way up, 126 species is three shy of the record of 129.

It was a great CBC and lots of fun to see and bird with the great folks in Miami.

STA 1E 2013 12 15

Water levels were up from last time I visited STA 1E.  Purple swamphens were not as much in evidence as they retreated back into the vegetation, no longer forced to come out in the open to seek food.  We still saw plenty, but the estimated number was down considerably.  Shorebird numbers were down as well since their habitat was under water too deep for most species.  Stragglers seen last month such as Semipalmated and Pectoral sandpipers were gone as well as Dunlin which moved on to more hospitable fields.  Many low percentage birds that came in on the "perfect storm" last month did not show again.  No Ruddy turnstone, Brown pelican, Herring gull, or wildish Mallards. We did manage to see nine species of shorebirds including two Marbled godwits, unusual inland in winter, and several Black-necked stilts and American avocets.  Least sandpipers hung on along the shrinking muddy edges and Long-billed dowitchers were present in smaller numbers.

Duck numbers were way up as they figured out where the hunters are and where they are not.  Blue-winged teal were outnumbered only by American coot which find STA's much to their liking in winter.  Scattered groups of Northern pintail, Gadwall, and American wigeon eventually gave everyone good views.  11 1/2 species total, if you count the couple of Mallard X Mottled hybrids.

Non-bird sighting of the day was a Coyote that may have not been all Coyote.  It looked as if it may have been a coydog.

We finished with 86 series observed, a respectable total given that most of the lingerers from last time had moved on, save the couple of Barn swallows that may winter among the hordes of Northern rough-winged swallows present.  I won't be able to make it next month, but hope to do it again in February.