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.