Birder's Eye View

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Christmas Bird Count

6:30am this morning, I was driving down windy, rural roads in the inky blackness of pre-dawn, squinting through the dense fog. I could hardly see 10 feet in front of the car, and the windows kept clouding up. I hate driving. But if it gets me to a good birding spot, I'm game.

By the time I arrived at the preserve's research center, the sky was beginning lighten, just a little. When I got into the building, there were about 15 birders inside. I signed in, was introduced to people, and after a few minutes, we were all given the run-down on how the CBC would play out.

There were 4 people in my group; one woman who had only been interested in birds since the spring, a man who had been birding for about 3 years, and another birder I had met last year.

Strapping on my binoculars, camera and water bottle, I followed my group out to one of their cars, and we drove to the education center trail, our assigned area.

By then, it was beginning to get light outside, but the fog was still fairly heavy, muting all the sounds. Nonetheless, we picked up several Gray Catbirds, butterbutts, and Carolina Wrens on our first couple stops.

Everything was covered in a blanket of dew. Water droplets sparkled like little twinkling stars caught on the tips of the pine needles. It was a beautiful morning, even for all the fog.

Eventually we parked the car and began hiking our assigned trail. Before we even left the parking lot, I pointed out an American Kestrel that gave us a tremendous aerial display. It was shrieking and swooping about, a dull silhouette in the gray sky.

From there, we saw many more common species, as we entered the powerline strip. On two side-by-side towers, we counted 156 Black Vultures roosting. Not far past that, a Cooper's Hawk flew right over us, counting as a life bird for me.
Next, we followed a trail that two of the birders called something like "Web Alley," for the hundreds of spiderwebs spun in the surrounding foliage. I wasn't looking forward to walking through this area (spiders and I don't tend to get along so well), but was delighted to see the small, intricate webs covered with little beads of dew. When the sun began to shine a little, the spiderwebs glittered.
In this area, we counted American Crows, Palm Warblers, a Great Blue Heron and Great Egret, as well as several other species.
As we came out of Web Alley, the other birders noted that Eastern Towhees could be heard calling in the distance (another lifer!). We couldn't confirm any sightings, but we were able to count them by sound.

We saw many woodpeckers, including the above Red-bellied, which posed obediently in front of us for a while.

Some hotspots we found were swarming with Palm, Pine, and Yellow-rumped Warblers, Tufted Titmice, and I even identified an Eastern Pheobe flitting around in some trees.

It took us about 4 hours to complete our route, and we finished with a grand total of 30 species. I was hoping to see more, but considering we had one of the shorter routes, I suppose it wasn't too bad.

After having done this, I'm eager to participate in more CBCs. It was a ton of fun, I got to meet some cool people, and see a couple new birds. There's another CBC in January that I'm going to try to attend at another nature park, which I have heard is far more competitive. I say, bring it on!

Happy birding!

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