Category Archives: CBC

Suburban Bird Counting – Ponce Inlet CBC

On January 3rd Arthur and I joined in the Ponce Inlet CBC for the first time. The count seems to be heavily associated with the Southeast Volusia Audubon Society; it was our first time joining this group in any way. We had a lot of fun!

We were assigned to join Dennis and Barb, who were working their part of the count circle for the second year in a row. Thanks to the scouting work they had done in the previous week, we were able to find some good birds. We were happy to see some parts of our county with which we were not previously familiar as well. In the end, though, the best bird of the day was much-wanted county lifer well outside of our count area.

Here are some photographic highlights of our day of bird counting for the Ponce Inlet CBC!

We did a lot of birding-by-car through large subdivisions in Port Orange. We started out at the entrance of a development where one of our first birds was a group of Eastern Bluebirds. Incredibly this was a species I managed to miss in the county during 2014 completely, so I was happy to add it to my Volusia list so early.

Eastern Bluebirds (Sialia sialis)
Eastern Bluebirds in harsh light

Late in the morning we visited Coraci Park in Port Orange. Our target here was Eastern Meadowlark. When we arrived, there were several cars parked on the dead-end road outside of the gated park. It was not clear why the county park’s gate was closed, but there were several people enjoying the park’s amenities, despite the gated entrance. One visitor walked with a loose dog, ignoring the “No Pets Allowed” signage.

no pets allowed
Clearly marked at Coraci Park

As we looked for the elusive meadowlarks in the park, Arthur and I heard the birds singing their unmistakeable song across the road. We continued to look and found a distant bird outside the park boundary. Meanwhile, the dog-walker left the park. Almost immediately after he and his dog got into their car, seven Eastern Meadowlarks flew in to a mowed area inside the park boundary. I was especially excited to see this species as it was another that I completely missed during the previous year.

Eastern Meadowlark (Sturnella magna)
Eastern Meadowlark

Eastern Meadowlark (Sturnella magna)
Eastern Meadowlarks

While we were enjoying the nice looks at the feeding birds, another jerk with a dog started to walk into the park. Upon seeing our party of four intently staring at a seemingly empty grass lawn through our binoculars, he asked what we were looking at. After a beat no one had spoken, so I said, “we’re looking at the no pets allowed sign.” I was livid and I couldn’t help myself. The birds seemed less spooked by this ass’s dog (maybe because it was leashed, unlike the previous dog) and didn’t fly off as he continued into the park, past us and the sign, with his dog. He said something flip like “must be an interesting sign” or some such B.S. Oh man, I was so mad! It felt a little bit good to have at least said something. I am so not built for confrontation.

no pets allowed, ass
An ass and his dog

In the unseasonable heat we had a little stroll here and added some more birds to our list for the day, including another pair of Eastern Bluebirds.

After lunch we visited Cracker Creek, where we walked a fairly birdless trail in a fruitless search for woodpeckers or pretty much anything else. Dennis had parked the car in an open area where we watched a Gopher Tortoise for a moment before setting off on our walk. When we returned to the car, we were all shocked to find the windshield cracked along the driver’s side. After some thought and investigation, foul play was ruled out. Our best guess was that a pine cone fell from the trees above and hit the windshield at a most unfortunate angle. What a lousy bit of luck!

Gopher Tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus)
Our potential witness was nowhere to be found when we returned to the car.

In the late afternoon we returned to the subdivision where we had started our day. There was a lot of activity in a retention pond, so we headed to a bench along the water to take in the action. We saw a large concentration of waders here, plus at least three Bald Eagles flying about and overseeing the area. It was a nice way to wind down from the day of running around counting birds. We saw a Great Blue Heron struggle with a big fish (he managed to eat it). Dozens of Cormorants swam in the pond, all actively fishing.

Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias)
Great Blue Heron with catch

Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)
An adult Bald Eagle watches the action

After a short rest nearby at Dennis and Barb’s house, we headed back to the morning’s meeting place to pick up our own car and head to the CBC dinner. Upon our arrival at the parking lot, Arthur shouted out that there was a group of frigatebirds flying overhead. What the what?! I saw them right away, but I couldn’t wrap my head around what I was seeing. A group of five Magnificent Frigatebirds?!? In Volusia County?! That’s not possible! Magnificent Frigatebird was one of my most-wanted county birds — rare sightings usually consist of single, unchaseable birds. A group of five was completely unheard of so when I first saw the unmistakeable silhouettes of five frigatebirds riding the thermals overhead my mind tried to turn them into anything else. Once Dennis got the car parked and we all jumped out, I could no longer deny that there was a freaking FLOCK of freaking Magnificent Frigatebirds gracefully floating above us right there in New Smyrna Beach, Volusia County.

Magnificent Frigatebirds (Fregata magnificens)
Magnificent Frigatebird!

Magnificent Frigatebirds (Fregata magnificens)
Magnificent Frigatebirds!

When we met up with the count group at the restaurant, I asked the trip leader who was responsible for the count area at the meet-up parking lot. We arrived fairly late and I thought we might have been the only lucky S.O.B.s to see the frigatebirds. But the reply to my query was simply, “oh, did you see the frigatebirds?!” so I knew the birds had been seen by others. In fact, “Magnificent Frigatebirds” was being whispered among our group the entire time. It seems this species was “most wanted” by more than just me. šŸ™‚

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Daytona Beach CBC Seawatch

Tom Renick Park

On Saturday I joined my friends Harry and Eli for a 10 hour seawatch at Tom Renick Park in Ormond-by-the-Sea. The weather was fine for standing around all day, but calm winds meant little excitement on the birding front. At least the company was swell. The ten hours didn’t pass too slowly. šŸ˜‰

birders

Eli and Harry have done the seawatch the previous three years, so I was the newbie. I hardly get to the beach and I’ve never done any kind of long-term seawatch like this. The closest I came was a handful of 2-3 hours searches for Razorbills a couple of winters ago in Ponce Inlet. Harry has many hours of seawatching experience, both here in Florida and back in old England.

Eli and I took a couple of walks on the beach to keep from falling asleep — I mean, to count shorebirds! Yes, we went out on a couple of shorebird-counting forays. Right off the bat on the first stroll I spotted a big pink something flying over the Halifax River. It was far and moving fast in the early morning sun. Sometimes big white birds can look pink in the right light, but I got Eli on the bird and even managed to snap this magnificent shot to confirm ID. Roseate Spoonbill was new to the seawatch list — yay me!

Roseate Spoonbill (Platalea ajaja)

We counted 24 Red Knots on our 1+ mile walk south. The flock included Lime Green 4C2, first captured in South Carolina in October 2011. Others have reported this bird in New Jersey, and Georgia. This bird is also radio-tagged.

Red knot (Calidris canutus)

In the afternoon we trained our scopes on some distant fishing trawlers and their groupies, which consisted of gulls, pelicans, gulls, Northern Gannets, and gulls.

fishing trawler

Harry spotted a couple of Parasitic Jaegers in the mix, plus a pair of Glaucous Gulls. I didn’t manage to get on them at all, which was a bummer. So was this find during our morning walk:

Northern Gannet (Morus bassanus)

I didn’t see any bands so I left the bird (Northern Gannet) undisturbed.

A Mourning Dove joined us for a while, perching on a nearby century plant stalk.

Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura)

Eli and I had a short walk to the north in the afternoon. We found a pair of Ring-billed Gulls dancing around.

Ring-billed Gull (Larus delawarensis)

Ring-billed Gull (Larus delawarensis)

We found another banded bird, a Ring-billed Gull. I submitted the tag info to the Bird Banding Laboratory. Hopefully I’ll hear back about this bird, too.

Ring-billed Gull (Larus delawarensis)

EDIT: I heard back about this bird. It was first banded in May 2012 as an adult bird hatched in 2009 or earlier. It was banded in Montreal, which is about 1200 miles, as the gull flies, from Ormond-by-the-Sea. Here’s the certificate I got with the information:

banded RBGU

It was a good day out at the beach with my friends and ended with a nice group dinner at a local Chinese spot. I’ll do my last CBC of the season next weekend with Arthur in Ponce Inlet.

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Red Knot FLV5M

At the end of December, I participated in the Daytona CBC (Christmas Bird Count). A stretch of beach was part of my group’s area, most of which we could cover by car. As we drove along four-plus miles of beach, I counted the gulls and terns, while others in the group counted shorebirds and other species.

Red Knots

Among the shorebirds we found a couple of flocks of Red Knots. One of the birds was banded and flagged. I took some photos of the distant bird in rather poor drizzly conditions — and was pleased to later see that the flag’s numbers were readable.

Banded Red Knot

I reported the sighting on bandedbirds.org and was amazed to find much data about this particular bird’s movements was immediately available to me. No waiting for a response, awesome!

Red Knots have one of the longest migrations of any bird species. Birds in the western hemisphere may travel over 9000 miles, twice a year, between their breeding grounds in the Arctic to their winter homes in southern South America.

The rufa subspecies of the eastern Americas is emperiled, in great part due to its reliance on the availability of horseshoe crab eggs during a critical part of its migration. These birds are the subject of the excellent Nature episode Crash: A Tale of Two Species.

Red Knots

The bird we saw on the CBC was first banded during spring migration, on June 3, 2005, in New Jersey. Since then, this hearty Red Knot has been sighted several times. During the following spring, it was seen again in New Jersey. The next sighting was in the fall of 2009, where FLV5M* apparently spent (at least) nearly two months on the coast of Georgia. Sightings in South Carolina and again New Jersey followed. In March 2011, the Red Knot was captured again (this time in South Carolina) and had its flag replaced (*to the present FLV5M). Sightings continued to come in from New Jersey, Georgia, South Carolina, and once in Delaware. The first Florida sighting was reported at Ormond Beach in January of 2013. Our CBC sighting at Daytona Beach on December 28, 2013, was the first reported December sighting for this bird.

Between its first capture in 2005 and our sighting in December 2013, Red Knot FLV5M had traveled well over 145,000 miles, and possibly many more. All on its own power. Red Knots weigh less than 5 ounces. Isn’t that amazing?!

If you’ve ever seen a flagged shorebird, be sure to report your sighting!

www.bandedbirds.org

In North America, other species of banded birds can be reported to the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center Bird Banding Laboratory. If you aren’t able to read the entire band, your sighting may still be useful. Do a web search for your species and banding efforts; that’s what I did when I could only partially read the band of a Reddish Egret Arthur and I found on the Keys a couple of years ago.

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CBC highs & lows

If you ever want to feel really good about your skills as a birder, I highly recommend spending a day working a suburban Christmas Bird Count (CBC) route with two non-birders. That’s what I did last Saturday and I had a blast with two neat ladies who volunteered after reading about the Christmas Bird Count in the local newspaper.

Prior to last week I had only participated in one CBC. A couple of weeks ago I looked at the map of CBC circles and was surprised to see that our house is within the circle of the Wekiva River CBC, and so is Gemini Springs. Score! Or so I thought. I contacted the compiler and hoped hard for assignment at my local patch. Instead, I was asked to help in area 14, a segment that had two volunteers lined up but could use a third pair of eyes, hopefully with some birding experience. So that’s where I went.

Area 14, mostly in the cities of Lake Mary and Longwood, is almost completely developed with suburban homes and shopping centers. It is an area with which I was (and still am) basically not familiar, but that didn’t matter. My partners in crime, Laurie and Anne, were driver and navigator and came equipped with intimate knowledge of the area. I came with my scope and my modest birding skills. We hit retention ponds, city parks, and store parking lots, looking for birds at every stop. It’s kind of neat how pointing up in the sky at a bunch of tiny dots and shouting out “30 Cedar Waxwings flying overhead!” seems a bit like magic to non-birders. I found specks across ponds in my scope and ID’d them, sharing the view with Laurie and Anne. Laurie kept tally. They both got us access to several ponds that were completely surrounded by homes — by visiting their friends or by boldly making new ones, on the spot. We stepped into a lot of backyards during our day.

At one of our first stops we came across more Black-bellied Whistling Ducks than I had ever seen in one place before. Our final count there was 87 birds. They were flying around, making their adorable chirping calls, sparring, foraging, and loafing around. I am pretty sure they were lifers for Laurie and Anne. We stayed here for while, because new birds kept coming into view every time I scanned the water. Wood Ducks multiplied before our eyes. My first of fall American White Pelican flew over. A Belted Kingfisher rattled. Blue-gray Gnatcatchers buzzed in the trees around us.

At each small body of water we tallied a few birds and then moved on. We stopped briefly at Big Tree Park, where last year many tears were shed over the death-by-arson of The Senator. How can you not cry over the destruction of a living thing that has stood on our planet for at least 3,400 years? It was awful to see the remains. We picked up a heard-only American Kestrel here, and not much else.

We ended up with around 52 species (I don’t have the final tally) for our part. In the evening we met at compiler Jay’s house for dinner and an informal tally of species for the circle.

Now, if you ever want to feel crappy about your skills as a birder, all you have to do is receive an eBird county needs alert for your local patch. Containing several birds that you’ve never observed at said patch. Ugh.

The group that covered Gemini Springs for the CBC found 60+ species, including Virginia Rail, King Rail, Grasshopper Sparrow, and Eastern Meadowlark. I know others have seen EAME at Gemini Springs. In fact, every time I visit a certain area of the park I think to myself, there should be meadowlarks here. But I’ve never seen one or heard one, and I’ve certainly been listening. Ugh. The rails aren’t a huge surprise to me but I’ve never heard them either. But the Grasshopper Sparrow… All I can say is &#%!@?!

Fortunately, as we all know, birders are AWESOME people as a general rule. So when I sheepishly emailed the eBird offender in a hopefully not-too-stalker-like-fashion (since we don’t actually know each other), he kindly gave me detailed intel on the location of all desired species. The search is on. And I’m looking forward to the Daytona Beach CBC on December 28th. Hopefully I’ll get to stay in Volusia County this time. šŸ˜€

Laurie, Amy, Anne
Laurie, me and Anne after a day of CBCing

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