Avon Park Christmas Bird Count

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On January 5th, I was able to help out with a Christmas Bird Count at the Avon Park Air Force Range in Florida. This CBC is entirely conducted within the Air Force Base. Our team consisted of Reed Bowman, Shane Pruett, Anna Fasoli, Jenn Smith, and myself. We started the day off at 5:45am, trying a few locations for Eastern Screech-Owl. We didn’t get any to respond but Barred Owls were calling at various locations. We did end up hearing two screech owls later in the day. We drove over to a dike through a large wetland area to be there for sunrise. In the last minutes of darkness, we were able to hear King Rails, Common Moorhens, Mottled Ducks, and various other wetland birds calling. Once the sun rose, we were surrounded by Swamp Sparrow and Common Yellowthroats. Jenn Smith spotted a Purple Gallinule among some Common Moorhens. Various egret and heron species were flying overhead. Shane Pruett spotted a Northern Waterthrush foraging in some tangled brush along a small creek that ran through the marsh. Red-winged Blackbirds were lifting out of the marsh in massive numbers, we estimated at least 8000 blackbirds!

Purple Gallinule (PHOTO BY ANNA FASOLI)

For the next few hours we walked through areas of Bald Cypress swamp searching for warblers and whatever else we could find. At one location, we picked up Pine Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Yellow-throated Warbler, Palm Warbler, Prairie Warbler, Black-and-white Warbler, and Common Yellowthroat as well as White-eyed Vireo and Blue-headed Vireo. Some other areas of Pine and grassland produced Brown-headed Nuthatches, Hooded Mergansers, Chipping Sparrows, Eastern Towhees, Common Ground-Doves, and Eastern Meadowlarks.

Brown-headed Nuthatch

At one stop, overlooking a large empty agricultural field, we had a flyover flock of 40 Horned Larks. This is a species that has never been recorded at Avon Park and is fairly rare for southern Florida. Pine Warbler, Palm Warbler, and Yellow-rumped Warbler were at each stop we made with Pine Warbler being the most plentiful.

Pine Warbler

We were doing pretty well for woodpeckers, and at one stop we picked up both Red-headed and Hairy which meant we had seen all of Florida’s woodpeckers except for Red-cockaded which does breed on the Air Force Range, but not in our CBC block. Another location in great scrub habitat produced four Florida Scrub-Jays which came in close to check us out.

Florida Scrub-Jay

Raptors species were numerous with Turkey and Black Vultures everywhere; American Kestrels and Red-shouldered Hawks quite numerous; two Red-tailed Hawks; one Peregrine Falcon that Anna spotted soaring over an agricultural field. Near the spot we had the jays, we saw an adult and 4th year Bald Eagle chasing each other through the air. The eagles flew right over out car, so I was able to get some nice photos of their aerial dogfight. We ended up seeing 4 Bald Eagles throughout the day; two adults soaring near each other, and these two birds fighting each other.

Bald Eagles fighting; adult and 4th year

We had picked up pretty much all the species we could, but still needed two easy ones: Snowy Egret and Cattle Egret. We decided to swing around through some open ranchland to try for Cattle Egret, but amazingly had none. Our last hope was to go back to the marsh we started the day off with and see if a Snowy Egret was present. No Snowy Egret was found, but we did add Belted Kingfisher and Wood Duck. Flocks of Wood Ducks were passing in decent numbers on their way to a roost site.

Wood Ducks heading to roost

The sun finally set and our CBC birding day was over. We ended with 87 species of birds! We also had a decent assortment of butterfly species. Below is a complete list of the bird species we saw. For more photos I took during the CBC, visit this link and check out the photos towards the end of the album.

Wood Duck 135 – Flocks seen flying to roost location at sunset.
Mottled Duck 6
Blue-winged Teal 2
Hooded Merganser 2 – 1 adult male, 1 adult female
Northern Bobwhite 6
Wild Turkey 9 females
Pied-billed Grebe 6
Anhinga 14
American Bittern 1 heard calling only
Great Blue Heron 11
Great Egret 40
Little Blue Heron 3 adults
Tricolored Heron 8
Green Heron 4
Black-crowned Night-Heron 10 – 4 juveniles, 6 adults
White Ibis 132 mostly adults, very few juveniles were seen
Wood Stork 6
Black Vulture 39
Turkey Vulture 93
Bald Eagle 4 – 3 adults, 1 4th year; two adults were seen together at one point; later in the day an adult was seen chasing a 4th year; one adult was seen later in the day soaring alone
Northern Harrier 5 – 3 adult males, 2 juveniles
Sharp-shinned Hawk 2 juveniles
Cooper’s Hawk 1 juvenile
Red-shouldered Hawk 16 – 15 adults, 1 juvenile
Red-tailed Hawk 2 adults
American Kestrel 4
Peregrine Falcon 1 adult; seen twice during the day, both times soaring
King Rail 4 heard calling only
Purple Gallinule 1 foraging with Common Moorhens
Common Moorhen 14 – 12 adults, 2 juveniles
Sandhill Crane 121
Killdeer 38
Greater Yellowlegs 17
Wilson’s Snipe 5 flushed out of wetlands
Rock Pigeon 8 foraging in field
Mourning Dove 38
Common Ground-Dove 11
Eastern Screech-Owl 2 heard calling only
Barred Owl 5 heard calling only
Belted Kingfisher 1
Red-headed Woodpecker 3 – 1 adult, 2 immature
Red-bellied Woodpecker 19
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker 4 – 1 adult male, 3 juveniles
Downy Woodpecker 9
Hairy Woodpecker 1
Northern Flicker 4
Pileated Woodpecker 3
Eastern Phoebe 24
Great Crested Flycatcher 3
Loggerhead Shrike 8
White-eyed Vireo 5
Blue-headed Vireo 9
Blue Jay 27
Florida Scrub-Jay 4
American Crow 80
Horned Lark 40 single flyover flock; calling the entire time they were in sight
Tree Swallow 96
Tufted Titmouse 3
Brown-headed Nuthatch 10 – groups of 2 or 4 seen or heard at various areas
Carolina Wren 8
House Wren 4
Marsh Wren 5
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 20
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 17
Eastern Bluebird 30
American Robin 147
Gray Catbird 11
Northern Mockingbird 10
Yellow-rumped Warbler (Myrtle) 153
Yellow-throated Warbler 2
Pine Warbler 211
Prairie Warbler 1
Palm Warbler (Western) 131
Black-and-white Warbler 8
Northern Waterthrush 1
Common Yellowthroat 66
Eastern Towhee 16
Chipping Sparrow 55
Savannah Sparrow 35
Swamp Sparrow 200
Northern Cardinal 14
Red-winged Blackbird 8000
Eastern Meadowlark 7
Common Grackle 405
Boat-tailed Grackle 33
Brown-headed Cowbird 20
American Goldfinch 8 heard calling as flyovers