Birder's Eye View

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Christmas Bird Count time!

We started off as the early morning sun began to illuminate the overcast sky, three birders armed with binoculars and shivering slightly in the 48 degree dawn. The morning was kicked off spectacularly; as we opened the gate to the access road we would be covering in our route, a coyote stood in plain view right in front of us! Not a mammal you see too often down here, despite reports that their population is growing in the area.

On top of that, once we started hiking we came across a plethora of common warbler species.





We called out, marking down the numbers. One of the members of our group had never done a CBC before, but the other member was quite experienced. I had never met either before, so it was fun to get to know them. Together, with our combined keen eyes and ears, we managed to find nearly a dozen species of birds right off the bat.

The first part of the trail was quite easy. It was little more than a wide access road with a few deep puddles that were easy to walk around. However, as we got deeper into the woods and turned off onto a less straight-forward route, the terrain got a little more difficult -- and wetter.

After about a mile of trekking, we found ourselves in the heart of the swamp. The deeply rutted trail had been transformed into a winding creek, identifiable only by the orange blaze markings on the trees and its distinct trail-like shape. Eventually, there was no dry ground in sight, and we had no choice but to get our feet wet.

It was cold. Oh boy, was it cold! And the further we walked, the deeper it got. We had also reached a "dead zone" of birds -- not a sound or a flutter of wings in the vicinity. Knee-deep in freezing cold swamp water, we sloshed along for a several hundred yards before finally reaching "dry" ground again. By now, "dry" was a relative term; the trail was soggy and squelchy, and most parts were flooded with a few inches of tea-colored swamp water.

We managed to add more birds the list. Titmice, robins, tons of catbirds, more warblers, and chickadees.

About half way through our route (about 2 miles in), we were nearly scared to death when the birder in front of me almost stepped on none other than an American Woodcock! It burst up from the palmettos peeping loudly and flew right over our heads, close enough to get a fantastic look at the strange creature. We were all ecstatic! It was a lifer for the other two birders, and a year- and state bird for me.

We hiked through about another half mile or so over water-logged trail. It was beginning to get shallower, which was quite the relief, because the air temperature had decidedly topped out at about 50 degrees for the day and we were all a little cold by now.

We stopped at one point to count a flock of butterbutts and titmice, when a different bird caught my eye. It was a vireo for sure, with distinct markings, but I couldn't come up with the name. One of the other birders whipped out a field guide and asked me what it looked like. There it was exactly: A Solitary Vireo! I felt a little silly for not having remembered the name, but then again, it was a lifer.

After that point, the trail was much drier. We headed out to the powerline corridor where we saw a bobcat (lifer mammal!) and a bunch of deer. We also heard some Eastern Towhees here and managed to find a Winter Wren in the marsh grasses.

We were almost on the home stretch by now, with about another mile to go. We still hadn't seen a Ruby-crowned Kinglet, one of the species we were expected to find in this area. The whole rest of the way we searched, but to no avail.

All in all, however, we found a grand total of 27 species. Not as big as the counts I did last year, but we managed to get some good birds (like the Woodcock) which count for something, at least in my book. :-)

It was a fantastic morning. 5 1/2 hours of hiking, about a mile of which was through the water. It was by far the coldest and wettest CBC I've ever been on, but definitely one of the most fun.

Until the next adventure,

Happy birding!

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  • Congrats! I managed to add a lifer to my list last week too. We saw a set of Golden Eagles in Washington DC. :)

    By Blogger Jessica, At December 27, 2009 at 6:03 PM  

  • Nice. Sounds like you had fun. ;) Except maybe for the knee deep swamp water...... lol

    Btw, in FL, it's Blue-headed Vireo. The eastern species in the 3 vireo "Solitary" complex.

    By Blogger Chris W, At December 30, 2009 at 2:42 PM  

  • Blue-headed Vireo! Ha, so I was right!!! I didn't mention it in the blog post, but when I first saw the bird, I told them I thought it looked like a Blue-headed Vireo, and one of the other birders said it would have to be a Solitary. She'd been birding a lot longer than me, so I figured she was right (which she partially was, to her credit). :-)

    Thanks for the info, Chris! I didn't realize Blue-headed was an Eastern species of the Solitary group.

    By Blogger Andrea, At December 30, 2009 at 4:08 PM  

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