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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.


  1. Hey David,
    Is it possible to get a more specific location on those rails at Linda Pedersen? I've visited this park so many times at dawn and I've yet to hear or see any trace of rails there. I tried playbacks a few times but no response. I've been missing all rail species on my world list for a long time, would like to get at least 1!

    All the best,

  2. The rails at Linda Pederson Park were in the marsh to the southeast of the road leading to the back section of the park, around the left turn on the right side, if memory serves. I have only tried for them once, so I don't know how reliable they are. Water levels and season will affect your chances. Virginia and Sora would only be there Fall to Spring. King and Clapper might be there all year.