Christmas Bird Count Florida style
Purple Gallinule winter adult digiscoped on the Zellwood CBC 22 Dec 2006
One of the bonus birds and one of my contributions to the count was this co-operative Purple Gallinule. Since it was posing so nicely I had to rattle off a couple pictures. Note how in winter the bill and head coloration is very drab and greatly reduced. This is not well depicted in many field guides.
The Zellwood area is well known as a raptor hotspot. The first documented FL records for Rough-legged & Ferruginous Hawks were found here, and a female Eurasian Kestrel spent most of January 2002 here to the delight of hundreds of birders. This winter was no exception and even though there were no Eurasian Kestrels, the spectacle is amazing. At one point, I could spin sround and count >30 individual raptors all perched or flying low over the fields: Red-tailed & Red-shouldered Hawks, American Kestrels, Northern Harriers, Cooper's Hawk, and Bald Eagles.
Eastern Phoebe digiscoped on 2006 Zellwood CBC
Leica D-Lux 3 camera and APO Televid 77 spotting scope
The flycatcher spectacle at Zellwood also is a bit different from my northern experiences. To date since 1998, I've personally seen 10 different species of tyrant flycatchers in the count circle! The main reason for this high count is a winter Kingbird roost that regularly attracts dozens (sometimes over 100) of Western Kingbirds, and lesser numbers of Scissor-tailed Flycatchers each evening in winter. For at least 5 years now a Cassin's Kingbird has been seen joining these birds irregularly. Rare Ash-throated Flycatchers are found alongside the ubiquitous Eastern Phoebes in weedy fields each year, and a Least Flycatcher or two is typically spotted in the hedgerows and woods edge as well. Rare flycatchers seen in years past included a single Gray Kingbird that sat by day with a lone Tropical Kingbird, I can still picture the stunning male Vermilion Flycatcher that was around pre-digiscoping one year, but the mega-rarity of the Zellwood CBC flycatchers was the Fork-tailed Flycatcher present for most of December 2005. This was the first time this rare Central/South American species had ever been recorded on a US CBC!
For those in FL at the end of the month you can join trips to the Zellwood area through the Spacecoast Bird & Wildlife Festival. (another FL "NO MISS" event for me, come visit and we can do some digiscoping!)