Saturday, December 21, 2019

Christmas Bird Count - Florida Style

Last weekend, I did the annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count at Pennypack Park, just like I've done for the past 7 years. And, just like other years, the weather was crappy and the birds were common. Don't get me wrong, I like contributing to the Audubon's 120 years of bird data but it's not the most exciting day of birding ever. This year, I had an idea - what if I volunteered for another CBC count? What if that count was in Florida? Genius!

Lucky for me, the Harns Marsh CBC was scheduled for today AND . . . Connie and I were scheduled to visit BJ and Dave starting yesterday. Harns Marsh is only 45 minute drive from BJ's. I contacted the person in charge and got myself in on the count. I met Charly and Meg at 6:45 AM in the parking lot at the marsh. We counted 68 birds and, for me at least, they were way sexier than my hometown birds at Pennypack.

Take this Snail Kite for instance. This is an uncommon bird that can only survive by eating certain kinds of snails. The Kite's bill is adapted to eating only the snails. Harn's Marsh is lousy with the snails and therefore, we saw this Snail Kite along the edge of the marsh. Jackpot.

Snail Kite
Another bird that eats the snails is the Limpkin. Limpkins can also eat other food like worms and other critters that live along the edge of the water. Harn's Marsh has plenty of these birds. They are pretty shy and move slowly. This one flew past us.

Limpkin
Harn's Marsh is also a place to find Gray-headed Swamphens, an introduced species from Asia. Birders like to come here to add them to their life lists. I did that exact thing last year. This year, we saw plenty of them.

Gray-headed Swamphen
Sandhill Cranes are common in this part of Florida. We see them in the marshes, in the Walmart parking lot and on the golf courses. At Harn's Marsh, the Cranes usually stay in the marsh but today, 11 of them were up on the path. We saw the group interacting from afar.

Sandhill Cranes
As we approached, the Cranes were not afraid. We ended up surrounded by them. Here is a cell phone selfie video showing how close they were to us. 


My 400 mm camera lens could only capture the head of this bird squawking. 

Sandhill Crane
We saw a few Bald Eagles flying around but then I saw one perch in a tree. When I went over to take a photo, I was surprised to find another bird in the tree. Here is the happy couple. She is on the right - a larger bird than her hubby on the left. 

The Happy Couple
Roseate Spoonbills are iconic birds of the mangroves in Florida. I was surprised that we found one in the marsh. This bird was hanging out with a mixed bag of waders. You can see why they are called "rose" and "spoonbills" in this photo. 

Roseate Spoonbill
The biggest surprise of the day was spotting this River Otter right at the water's edge. He just looked at us for a few minutes before returning to his search for fish. 

River Otter
We don't get this stuff at Pennypack for sure. All in all, a good day of citizen science.