Second day of CBC's in a row and not in a good way. After freezing in the wind and cold the day before, we were at it again. This time it was not so windy and the temperature was a mere 32 degrees. Armed with gloves and a heavy jacket this time, it seemed downright balmy.
This was the third time I was able to do the Jackson County CBC. The first was the very first Jackson CBC and the second was just last year. This time Rob Williams of Tallahassee was driving again and Jim Armstrong from Brevard County was with us for his first CBC ever. The count circle is primarily farm lands and small towns. Roadside birding is how we do it. It has one of the only known populations of Horned lark in Florida and we had one of the best spots for them in our area. Our traditional starting point for the count is on SR 71 adjacent to Baxter Bay, south of the town of Malone. This is usually the only wet spot in our territory and our only hope of getting rails ducks for the day. This year, after an unusually wet spring, summer, and fall, there would be several wet spots and ducks around.
Red-winged blackbirds abound in the farmlands here as it is more an extension of Alabama than anything normal for Florida. Many flocks flew in from a distant unseen roost as we walked up and down the road seeking better views into the water in the bay. Wood ducks were the only ducks we would see here and there were many American coots and Common gallinules as well. Undoubtedly there are some rails and wrens in the marshes around the edges of the bay, but they are too far from the road side to adequately check without trespassing. A single Greater yellowlegs foraged on the heavily grazed edges of the wetland, not a Lesser as I had hoped. Lesser yellowlegs are hard to come by in winter in this area. Most seem to go coastal or further south for the winter. We tallied 42 species, plus our only chicken of the day before heading off to other stops. list
Cell phone coverage is lacking in this area, at least for my phone, so I was forced to use BirdLogNA offline many times. This led to some mis-entered bird species as I hit the button too quickly when punching in alpha codes. BirdLog allows the user to begin typing the name of a bird or a four letter alpha code and it matches with a species from the underlying filter. When working off line, the underlying filter is every freaking bird on the planet. Therefore, I get some matches I'm not used to and some exciting, yet temporary, reports. Eventually, I was able to get everything squared away. I have all of our morning stops recorded in eBird from last year's run, but I cannot get to them without 3G coverage, so we had to guess at a couple stops. I did not realize that I had written them out, old school, on my DeLorme Gazeteer until later.
We stumbled along the route, getting birds along the way. Not much of great interest, not even larks. Last year, we got 14 Horned larks in three different locations. This year, we would go through the entire territory seeing hundreds and American pipits, but not seeing or hearing a single lark. It was not until we hit Concord Road for the second time, that I finally heard one singing in the distance. When we went up to Leo Road, nearer to where the bird appeared to be, so Jim might get a look, I heard a strange yet familiar call coming from the fields. The calls rose and passed overhead, moving north toward Alabama. "Chew" calls and dry rattle calls finally rattled my brain enough to recognize Lapland longspurs! Three of them. Horned lark and Lapland longspur in the same day is a common occurrence in most states, but in Florida, that is a red letter day.
I don't have time or energy to go into all the details of all the stops we made that day. Some highlights were the intersection of Leo and Concord Roads earlier in the day where I heard our only Golden-crowned kinglets of the day. We stopped to watch and listen to a sizable flock that moved through and disappeared in a matter of minutes. Talk about timing! Along Leo Road we stopped at a farm gate with some wet spots and piles of mulch where our only Least sandpiper of the day made the acquaintance of some Killdeer. We missed Fox sparrow at the spot where we had three last year. A recent timber harvest at Concord Road and Neal's Landing Road gave us some nice sparrows, but it was late in the morning and activity was a bit slow. Later we would hit the pond along Neal's Landing road and score a bunch of ducks, right before we found the lark and longspurs.
Our last stop was back at our first stop where we hoped for a few more new ones for the day. An Anhinga was present this time, somewhat unusual for this part of the county. We ended the day with 80 species and chicken. Not bad for an inland count.