Scouting For The Count

“I’ll be happy to help you do some scouting”, said Gini The Naive.

This year will mark the 118th year of the annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count. (Yes, as a matter of fact I WAS at the first count over a hundred years ago. Smart alecks.) At that time, a genius birder (okay, that’s redundant) had a novel idea. “Hey, how about we just COUNT the birds instead of seeing who can shoot the most?” A movement and a tradition were born. The data from each year’s count is compiled by Cornell University in New York and makes available a treasure trove of research material for scientists as they attempt to understand the status of our avian friends.

In order to help our team operate as efficiently as possible on the actual count day, I spent the prior week searching out known bird haunts and seeking new ones. Knowing which birds are present helps us concentrate on locating less common species. Part of this process involves listening for owls. They call when it’s dark outside. Therefore, we must be outdoors in potential owl habitat when it’s dark outside. Sunrise is about 7:00. The sky begins to lighten about 6:00. Yep, Gini The Naive deduced we needed to set the alarm clock really early! No complaints from her. Not even a whimper. That’s a good thing. She’s the one with the keen hearing.

After all was said and done, we had a very good official count day of birding and tallied a few more species than last year. The weather was great with a cool morning, warm day and gentle breeze. For me, highlights of this year’s efforts include:  a single Bufflehead (not common in our area), a flock of 18 Wild Turkey (unusual in our dense suburban environment), a relatively high number of Blue-headed Vireo and an immature Sharp-shinned Hawk (a winter visitor in small numbers).

Gini The Naive was, as expected, simply fantastic during scouting week as I took her to all the great birding locales:  the aforementioned pre-dawn owling forays, a cemetery, muddy marshes, dusty dirt roads and the ever-popular city dump. Once again, she proved she is, and shall ever be, Gini My Beloved!

Since you asked, I did take a couple of snapshots.

 

As the morning fog began to lift from the marsh it revealed one of the local fishermen already on the job. The Great Blue Heron paid no attention to my clumsy efforts.

Itchepackesassa Creek Wetland

 

A pair of Anhinga patiently wait for a bit of sunshine before they begin diving in the chilly water.

Lake Gwyn Park

 

Another hunter of the wetlands, a Great Egret, has his eye on a frog and doesn’t acknowledge my presence.

Lake Gwyn Park

 

Morning commute. A River Otter pushed up a wake under his chin as he headed for his office across the lake.

Banana Lake Park

 

I wasn’t sure if this Osprey was curious, territorial or ticked off.

Lake Gwyn Park

 

After watching a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker chase a Red-bellied Woodpecker around a clearing and in and out of the trees, the pair landed briefly on an oak before taking off on their game of tag again.

Crooked Lake WEA

 

A dapper looking Black-and-White Warbler probes a hole in a branch for breakfast.

Crooked Lake WEA

 

Golden Silk Orb Weavers craft very strong webs across paths to catch all manner of prey during the night – and occasional birders during the day who are constantly looking up instead of where they’re going!

Crooked Lake WEA

 

I don’t know if the feathers under the talons of this Red-shouldered Hawk are from preening or left over from a morning snack.

Lake Gwyn Park

 

This year I seem to have found more Blue-headed Vireos than in the past. That’s okay with me!

Crooked Lake WEA

 

Pine Warblers can vary from very drab to very bright. This is one of the brighter variety and I chased after him quite awhile before he sat still for a picture.

Crooked Lake WEA

 

Another bright yellow fellow, this Yellow-throated Warbler has found a hairy white caterpillar for brunch. Yum!

Crooked Lake WEA

 

North America’s smallest falcon, the American Kestrel, is quite colorful. I was lucky to find one that remained on a perch while I was less than a mile away.

Lake Streety Road

 

There I was, head up searching for warblers in the tree-tops, when I had the feeling I was being watched. One picture and this White-tailed buck sprang across the path in one leap and disappeared into the forest.

Gator Creek Reserve

 

A cold morning and a fluffed up Yellow-rumped Warbler. We don’t often get to see the bit of yellow in their crown.

Mount Olive Primitive Cemetery

 

Speaking of beautiful. The majestic Turkey Vulture. The other birds are beside themselves with envy.

Mount Olive Primitive Cemetery

 

During the winter, a few sparrows hang around and challenge us to identify them. Head pattern, diffuse streaks on the breast and a nice rufous wing patch tell us this is a Swamp Sparrow.Banana Lake Park

 

Soft mud is a magnet for shorebirds. This Killdeer characteristically ran a few steps, probed the mud, ran a few steps, probed. Fun to watch!Bartow Medical Center

 

A small stream in the middle of a pasture is not where I expected to spot a Bufflehead!

Rolling Woods Lane

 

The back of an Eastern Meadowlark blends perfectly with the dried grasses where they live. That bright yellow front and loud, clear song, however, make it impossible for it to hide!Rolling Woods Lane

 

One of those little brown birds again. This Savannah Sparrow walked (quickly) from one clump of grass to another in a field before I caught him in the open long enough for a photograph.

Rolling Woods Lane

 

Reaching for the latch to a corral gate, I spotted a Monarch Butterfly chrysalis. Every bit as beautiful as its contents.

Rolling Woods Lane

 

Winter migration brings us an influx of Eastern Phoebes.  These small flycatchers stay busy all day sallying forth from an exposed perch to capture any insect foolish enough to be out in the open.

Lake Hancock Tract

 

Not to be outdone by his Blue-headed cousin, this White-eyed Vireo sang and posed for several minutes.

Banana Lake Park

 

This is the closest I’ve been to a Sharp-shinned Hawk. They only visit during the winter and I normally see them as a brown blur as they speed after a little songbird in the woods.

Lake Hancock Tract

 

 

This year’s Christmas Bird Count was a success for our entire 50+ person effort, my own 5 member team and was immeasurably enhanced by the participation of the one and only Gini My Beloved. She and I wish each and every one of you the best Holiday Season ever!

 

MERRY CHRISTMAS AND HAPPY NEW YEAR

 

Enjoy your search for a natural place and come back for a visit!

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 18 Comments

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18 thoughts on “Scouting For The Count

  1. I’ve never seen a Monarch chrysalis before — beautiful. The river otter was a special “get” too — Buck and I saw a river otter once when we were hiking in Glacier National Park. It was a real treat. I look forward to hearing (and seeing!) all about y’all’s trip into the wildlife refuge in New Mexico. I know it will be awesome on many levels.

    • The ranch owner sent me a pic two days later of the butterfly emerging. Pretty neat!
      Sid and I just returned from our adventure. I have over two thousand images to review when we get home.
      Talk to you soon. Love you!

  2. noushka31

    Hello Wally,
    Thank you for your kind visit and appreciation of my photos 🙂
    This post is incredible with quite an array of interesting pictures, especially that of the lark.
    Brilliant quality too! The hawk looks much like our European Sparrowhawk!
    My very best wishes for the coming year and lots of great birding opportunities 🙂

    • Thank you, Noushka! We are traveling and hope to return with a few images of our adventure. The New Year is about to begin! May all of us enjoy Peace and Joy.

  3. Hi Wally. I guess you and Gini may be on your way to Texas by now. Perhaps you will get out birding for a while and bring back yet more super pictures to get your followeres excited. Some great shots from your Bird Count day, and as usual you make it almost impossible to pick a few favourites from the standpoint of someone who claims to be a photographer and yo know how birds are to capture.

    Here goes – Kestrel, Osprey and those warblers. Special mention for the chrysalis and I hope it survives to emerge from the dark days. A little like us in mid-winter UK!

    Have a great time y’all. Happy New Year.

    • Thank you, Phil. One of our objectives is for my son and I to visit a wildlife refuge in the desert mountain area of New Mexico. Large numbers of waterfowl spend the winter there. Hopefully, they will take pity on me and pose near the camera lens!
      Good news! The land owner where I found that chrysalis sent me a photo of a new Monarch adult freshly emerged! Very satisfying.

      (I’m trying to imagine “y’all” with a distinguished British accent.)

      Peace and Good Birding for all in the coming New Year!

  4. Richard Pegler

    As always, a delightfully written and illustrated post, Wally. The scope of your day was amazing!

    I’ll not pick any favourites from a photographic point of view as they are all wonderful, but from a subject point of view there are some that I would single out, and those are the spider (I’ve only ever seen legs like that on Lindsay!), the Eastern Meadowlark, and the White-eyed Vireo.

    It took me time to decipher the writing on the leading edges of that Osprey’s wings, but I got there in the end – ;-}

    My very best wishes to you and Gini for 2018. Maybe some day we’ll meet up – I live in hope! Richard

    • That spider has the most attractive legs in Nature – and you’d best hope Lindsay does not read your reply!

      I don’t know about its wings, but that Osprey’s look said “I could pluck out your eyes in a second if I really wanted to!”

      We’re off to the Wild West! See you next year.

  5. As always a great post Wally, and may I take this oppertunity to wish you both a merry Christmas , and all the best for the New Year, Gordon.

    • Top O’ the morning, Gordon! Thank you for your nice remarks and we also wish you and yours Peace and Happiness this holiday season!

  6. Truly gorgeous photos.

  7. So many great shots! That deer is amazing. I usually only see very young bucks.

  8. Absolute bliss. I am so glad that you remember to take one or two photos. So very glad. And grateful.
    Huge thanks to you and Gini, and very best wishes for the season and the coming year(s).

  9. I always enjoy your narrative and your photos, Wally. You seem to get such great variety – very unusual for me this time of year. I’d almost give my shutter finger for a chance at a river otter….

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