What a day for a CBC?! I have not been that cold in Florida before and hopefully since. Temperature was about 28 at dawn, which is not so bad, but wind was about 20 MPH off the lake. I did not bring my heavy jacket and I had no gloves, so it was quite a miserable morning.
This was an entirely new CBC. I hoped to get up to the area and scope it out beforehand, but I had to guide someone the day before and I did not even get out of town until 4PM. We were playing by frozen ear. Three Rivers State Park was one of the highlights of our areas, We had about 90 minutes of good daylight before the park would open. Our territory extended up the west side of Lake Seminole and, not knowing the layout of the layout of the rest of the area, we decided to scope out the marshes and lake edge despite the bad light angle. We hoped to get some rails or wrens and watch the Red-winged blackbirds left their amazing roost for the day. Rail calls went unanswered, but we did get a Marsh wren at one stop, a rare bird for the area and Jackson County tick for me.
Once the park opened up, we went in and checked the lakefront which was COLD, especially with the northwest winds and the lack of a heavy jacket. Walking the trails seemed a little more sane, so that's what we did. Walking the bike trail along the edge of the park kept us out of the wind and allowed us to check the neighboring pasture lands. For some reason, the interior fence lines were decorated with white rags. (???) I noticed a particularly large clump of white rags in a sheltered edge. These rags appeared to have yellow bills and were remarkably similar to Cattle egrets in shape. Cattle egrets are primarily insect eaters and tend to leave north Florida in winter especially when it is FREEZING. But here were 30 Cattle egrets, differentiated from rags when they began to fly out to feed on whatever insects were still out and about. list
We spent much of the rest of the morning exploring the remaining parts of our small but diverse territory. Along Ham Pond Road we found a residence with bird feeders and several hungry birds. We also discovered a water treatment facility which provided us with a couple ducks, Hooded merganser, and Bufflehead. More importantly, there were nine Least sandpipers which were new for Jackson for me. TICK!
Wind continued to hound us all morning. As we drove up Gulf Power Road, I saw what I was pretty sure was a female Vermillion flycatcher in someone's yard. We stopped and looked and could not see anything. Maybe it took cover from the wind? The mockingbird and Eastern phoebe seemed not to be affected. We were on the way to lunch with Andy Wraithmell in Chatahoochee, which is where you have to go if you want lunch on this count. So, on we went.
After lunch, we checked the ponds at the correctional institute and saw nothing even close to a Cackling goose among the Canada geese.
Andy told us of the ACI dairy pond during lunch so we headed there for one of our most productive stops of the day. There were some weird looking Northern shovelers that led me to believe there were American wigeon at first. Hordes of Green-winged teal were just that, no Blue-winged, or Cinnamon for that matter. Coolest expereice was hearing and seeing 85 White ibises fly in and land in the trees next to us. Eventually they, or most of them, would drop into the pasture to forage. list
We had tried Sneads Park earlier and found the winds daunting and the birds lacking. Trying again in the afternoon, we found the winds less daunting and the birds still mainly lacking, although we did get a couple of Canvasback. list
After checking for feeders in Sneads, we decided to head back to the spot where I knew I saw a Vermillion flycatcher earlier. Less winds mean more flycatchers and the female Vermillion put on quite a show! We got a few identifiable pics and enjoyed watching her sally forth to pick insects off the ground. This was a theme for the day. As winds kept insects low to the ground, many birds were foraging on the ground. list
Last stop of the day was back at one of our dawn spots where we heard and barely saw the Marsh wren and failed to hear any rails in the morning. This time we saw the blackbird roost in all it's glory. Swarms of blackbirds swirled over the lake and many more came in in drips and drabs until well after dark. Three each of Soras and Virginia rail called in the marsh. We hoped for American woodcock or Black-crowned night-heron before heading to dinner, but it was not to be. list
We ended up with 95 species for the day. Quite a total for an inland count.