Monday, December 17, 2007

St. Pete CBC

Kind of quiet around the state lately but there were plenty birds around to make my first Christmas Bird Count (CBC) a fun, but tiring, day. Lee Snyder, leader of our count circle, kept totals of the birds we had seen as the day wore on and we couldn't believe the number of 'easy' birds we were missing.

We started at 4 AM sharp in search of Screech Owls. Walking down the empty roads of Veteran's War Memorial Park in the dark, Lee would occasionally stop and do the most amazing copy of a calling Screech Owl. Every now and then an owl would answer him back. Sometimes they would swoop in for a look-see.

The park and nearby neighborhoods were checked and we ended up a total of 11 Screech Owls to throw into the totals at the end of the count. We called for Rails and Great-horned Owls, using tapes of other birds, but got no returned attention.

Arriving at our main count area, Joe's Creek Preservation Area, before dawn we entered the fenced off confines. Here we did manage to get return calls from Virginia and Black Rails. The Black Rail were mere feet away.

There were not as many species as we would have liked to find but every species counts...during a count. We added Prairie Warblers, Black-crowned Parrots, Goldfinches, all the Wren species, herons, hawks. Nothing unexpected.

Shorebirds were most noticeably absent. No Turnstones. No Plovers. A couple Willets. Few gulls. Weirdest thing along the shore was actually a Gopher Tortoise emerging FROM the waves. They are typically found in dries areas in the state.

A total of 82 species were recorded by our team after 11 hours. Not bad but we were hoping for 100 or more. Birds are just scarce in the region for some reason. Later reports confirmed it was so all through the count zones.

There was a nice surprise an hour later. I headed back to Veteran's War Memorial Park to see if I could see one of the Great-horned Owls that Lee thought he saw a couple hours earlier. I got to the general area that it was suppose to haunt and took the mini-recorder out of my pocket and pressed 'play'.

Within 2-3 seconds after the owl calls spilled out of the tiny speaker, I saw a shadow spreading out from one of the distant pine trees. Then, a Great-horned Owl landed not too far from me.

Great-horned Owl

It stayed in the shadows of one pine before moving up into the tall part of the dead tree and into the sunshine in the shot above. The owl did not seem interested in me at all. It wanted to know where that 'other' owl was. It began to give up and I played the tape again for a couple seconds.

It moved to an even closer branch.

Great-horned Owl

It was beginning to make calls of it's own, still searching from side to side for the owl it had heard.

Great-horned Owl

A few minutes later, this bird moved off to me left. Suddenly, a SECOND owl emerged from my right and settled on a branch not far from where the other was. This one would actually look at me if I clicked my tongue a bit. Quite a stare.

Great-horned Owl

We were told an owl was roosting here. Now we know there are two. A perfect end to a semi-eventful CBC.


Michele said...

How exciting that must of been! To have one so close and then another one to come in to see what the commotion was all about!

I love owls. They are beautiful creatures. Next time you go to the owl sanctuary to release an owl, please invite me!


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