Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Christmas Bird Count

Today was a fun and unique day.  I left the house just after 5:00am, put up the flags, and unlocked the gate.  Our volunteer covered Troy Springs this morning while I went over to Ichetucknee Springs. There, I met with several people to participate in a Christmas Bird Count.  Other park staff and voluntary private citizens broke off into groups and spent the day patrolling specific territories to record bird sightings.  The Christmas Bird Count is coordinated by the Audubon Society and has been going on for 110 years.  During a set period from late December through early January, groups all over the Americas do bird counts and the data is compiled to serve many functions, but especially to study long term changes in bird locations and numbers.  This data can also benefit the park in the same way, by recording data about birds in and around the park.  If this sounds interesting to you, click the link to find a count near you that hasn't taken place yet.
I am not a very experienced birder.  I know many of the common birds in the park, but I don't have a lot of experience with smaller songbirds.  I was paired with two very experienced birders and they taught me a lot.  I was able to contribute by helping to spot birds, and then someone else could identify the ones I didn't recognize.  I also did all of the driving because I knew the park and the surrounding area.  I learned a few new species and brushed up on some that I knew but didn't see often.  I also found out about a very cool phenomena.  Many of the birders had recordings of sounds from a Screech Owl.  When they would play these recordings, small songbirds would start gathering around us and chirping.  A Screech Owl is a potential predator of songbirds and the gathering birds were alerting everyone of the threat.  It is interesting to me that instead of running and hiding, all the little guys work together to draw attention to the otherwise stealthy predator.  Their tendency to gather at the sound of a Screech Owl really benefited us.  We could see birds that would have been much harder to find and we were able to get a more accurate idea of what birds were out there.
We started before sunrise and patrolled a few areas listening for owls without much luck.  As the sun began to come up, we began walking areas of the park and finding birds.  Later, we drove out to a more remote area of the park and surveyed several parts of that section.  We finished up by driving around some of the perimeter of the park before meeting with the other groups in the afternoon.  When we all got together, we compiled all of our data and went species by species to see how many each group had seen.  It was fun to see the different numbers and hear everyone's excitement, disappointment, or shock.
I saw some truly beautiful sights while I was at Ichetucknee today.  The morning fog on the water there is like no other.  It really is magical.  This morning was so, so cold (hat, mittens, long-underwear cold) but it generated the most incredible fog on the warm spring water.  Fortunately, we had several opportunities to look out onto the river in addition to the time we spent in the woods.

I saw a lot of birds today, but most were too small and quick to capture with my camera.  I did get a few though.  The first is of an Eastern Phoebe perched on some wild rice.  It is above the bright green plants and in between the two grouping of rice stalks.  The second image is zooming in a little closer with the help of computer editing.  The two white birds with curvy orange beaks are White Ibis.  We ate lunch with those Ibises.  We sat down on the river bank and they didn't fly away like the other birds.  They just continued using their long bills to probe the water and silt for their lunches.

A high point in the end of my afternoon of birding was finding this butterfly.  I have always wanted to see a Blue.  They are tiny and vibrant.  This one is a Ceraunus Blue and it was a perfect model for me.  It even opened up its wings on command so that I could capture the beautiful color.  It really could not have chosen better flowers to perch on either.

1 comment:

Linda said...

From dramatic to beautiful - quite a gallery today! We loved the owl story. Sounds like a good day, Amy!