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.