Sunday, December 15, 2013

2013 CBC in St. Pete, Part 1

Headed over to do yet another Christmas Bird Count to help my friends Don and Lorraine Margeson. We were joined this year by Jeff Miller and our task, as always, is to find as many bird species as possible from before dawn to sunset in the Saint Petersburg area. A front was moving in and bird sightings in general have been down this year but we head out every year no matter what the weather or bird activity and do our best.

While Don and Jeff did the dark hour at a nearby sewage plant, Lorraine and I headed to a roosting spot to try and get the fly out counts near the edge of Weedon Island State Preserve. Thousand of Grackles, Red-winged Blackbirds, and European Starlings flew out just before sunrise. We also tallied some gulls and a Cooper's Hawk and scored a single Prairie Warbler (our target warbler for the morning) before heading back to the house for breakfast.


We downed some doughnuts and counted from their 4th story deck and prepared to head out to our next destination. Black-hooded Parakeets (now an established and countable Florida species) were flying around in small flocks. These guys fly by so fast and made for a difficult flyover subject but I had to try.

Black-hooded Parakeet

I don't know why, but I am always drawn to the Hybiscus flowers in the back of Don and Lorraine's yard. We don't have this type in Central Florida. I just find them cool.


Don, Jeff, and I covered the neighborhood as Lorraine tended to the dogs and looked for birds around the house areas next. We got some new birds, including Spotted Sandpiper and Blue-headed Vireo but came up short in the mangrove region. On the way back to the house, Jeff spotted a very fat Cuban Tree Frog on a neighbor's jacuzzi. These guys are invasive, non-native critters that eat our local frogs. We would have disposed of it but had little time and inclination to kill something today.

Cuban Tree Frog

Now that the daylight was in full force we all headed over to our next stop. The sewage plant. Birders know that numerous bird species hang out around these facilities so we always check them for any good finds. Seems the plant has a new display out front. Not sure how I feel about a dolphin flying out of treated wastewater, but...


Just before dawn, Don and Jeff witnessed a Barn Owl capturing a rabbit so we had hoped to refind that bird and maybe some sparrows. Jeff and I trumped through the weeds and flushed a ton of Palm Warblers but no Savannah or Grasshopper Sparrows we were seeking. There was a nice surprise Roseate Spoonbill wandering around the berms, though.

Roseate Spoonbill

We finally found a sparrow species as we made our rounds. In one patch of water and reeds we coaxed up several Swamp Sparrows and Lorraine had the right angle on this one.

Swamp Sparrow

Our molting Spoonbill was still in the area and made several odd gestures as we approached. Probably trying to warn us off. An interesting display to watch but it was not too concerned by our presence.

Roseate Spoonbill

For the first time ever, we were granted an opportunity to climb to the tops of the filtering tanks to see if we could spot any birds resting in the structures. We always see birds landing in the holding tanks (we think 'yuck!') and have always wondered what might be hidden from view.


The easiest species to see at any treatment plant along the coast are gulls and the most abundant species here today were Ring-billed Gulls. This trio just stared as we walked by.

Ring-billed Gull

In the past, ducks have been spotted dropping into the tanks which is the main reason we wanted to get up there and look. There were a few Mallards in this particular tank but we did score a few Mottled Ducks before they flew off as we got to the top of the stairs.

Mottled Duck



We were over the final clarifying tanks but off to the other side the gulls were enjoying the swirling waters of another pre-treated spot.


A young Laughing Gull landed as we were about to leave making for an easy subject.

Laughing Gull

Then, how can I resist a clear shot of a Ring-billed Gull sitting just feet away? A common bird in Florida but any chance for a good shot, right?

Ring-billed Gull

Being a guy, I can't resist a good roaring flame. There are a couple of pipes that burn off the Methane produced by the waste being treated. It is sometimes hard to see but a little animation shows it pretty well. Pardon the hand-held composition.


Just before we left the treatment plant to get to our next count areas we spotted a few European Starlings on the wires. I have only seen a juvenile on web cams so it was nice to get one with an adult in person.

European Starling

We will stop for lunch and then canvas the remaining areas on our route. Stay tuned for Part 2!

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