Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Ft. Lauderdale Christmas Bird Count

This past Saturday, Maureen and I participated in our very first Christmas Bird Count. Unable to join the Palm Beach count in early January, we decided that Ft. Lauderdale would be the next best thing. Only on rare occasions have we ventured into Broward County for birding, so the area was generally new to us. The overcast day wasn't particularly camera-friendly, so some of the pictures didn't come out as clearly as they might have, but the birds were cooperative (except for the warblers), and our companions were just as knowledgable and friendly as we could have hoped.

We began the morning at Long Key Natural Area, arriving before the park officially opened, in order to seek out any owls or other night birds that might be about. With iPhones out and iBird providing the calls, we were hopeful that we could elicit a response from any of the Great Horned or Eastern Screech Owls known to inhabit the area. We did get a flyover from one of the Great Horned Owls, but of course I had my back turned and missed it. Farther down the trail, we flushed a Whip-poor-will, which was off before we knew what happened.

After sunrise, we located a calling House Wren, and then farther down the same path, found a sparrow. Sparrows remain one of our great weaknesses when it comes to field ID, but in our defense, they really just aren't all that common in South Florida. The bulk of our sparrow experience comes from our travels to Upstate New York, but it still leaves plenty to be desired. Fortunately, our partners in counting immediately pegged it as a Grasshopper Sparrow, and declared it our 'bird of the day'. In retrospect, of course, it seems an obvious ID, but at least now we're that much more prepared for next time.

With the sun up we were also able to track down the pair of Great Horned Owls that we had hoped to find before dawn. Rather than play calls again, now we only had to follow the whitewash and look up.

Our next stop was Flamingo Gardens, a botanical garden jam-packed with uncountable birds. Flamingos, Mute Swans, Graylag Geese, and Redheads were some of the main attractions, all of which were invisible to our listing efforts. However, the gardens also serve as a Black-crowned Night Heron rookery, and abundant firebush meant plenty of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds. We weren't there long, though, before it started pouring. We weren't about to give up on the day, and so leaving simply wasn't an option. We sought refuge by the Florida Bobcat enclosure and waited it out - for over an hour and a half. Whenever the rain lightened somewhat, the occasional hummingbird ventured into the enclosure.

Our final stop was the marsh habitat at Volunteer Park, where our count leader had spotted a Marsh Wren during his scouting trip on the previous day. We waited around for several minutes where it has been seen, and set iBird to do its thing, but the only thing moving was a lone Common Yellowthroat. After several minutes, we gave up, and pledged to check again before we left.

Tree Swallows were hawking insects over the water, and as we got nearer, we noticed several Cave Swallows were present among them. The latter gave great looks, swooping just feet in front of us, with the pale orange rump clearly visible, and meeting us at about eye level. A Wilson's Snipe also flew in the distance, which we were able to locate later on along one of the banks.

A little farther along we weren't able to find much more, other than a pair of Loggerhead Shrikes, and some active Palm Warblers. By that time, the rain had started to pick up again, and at that point we were much less willing to brave it out than we had been at the gardens. Retracing our path as the light began to fade, we decided to give the Marsh Wren another go. This time it did make a brief appearance, but soon disappeared back into the reeds and was seen no more.

And so we were able to end the day on a high note. Despite the weather, we had a wonderful day, and birding with such great naturalists as we did was a fantastic educational experience. We only regret that we don't have time to do more than one Christmas Bird Count this year.

1 comment:

  1. Really interesting post guys! Thanks!