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.