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Dad, Fox Sparrows & Rusty Blackbirds

I participate in two Christmas Bird Counts each December and the second Count is the Santee CBC. My father and I cover the St. Paul Territory which includes some Lake Marion inlets, open farm land, swamps, roadside brush and several wooded areas. Overall we typically cover 15-20 miles by car and foot counting each bird we find.

The early morning began with severe thunderstorms followed by light rain. The storm radar began to clear up around 8:45am, so we headed out. We started the count near Interstate 95 looking for wading birds from a roadway bridge. We found a few Common Gallinules, American Coots and a few scattered Egrets. We moved down the road and headed into a wooded trail that skirts Lake Marion, this trail usually provides a variety of song birds and ducks. We found 6 species of Woodpeckers, Ruby & Golden crowned Kinglets, Carolina Chickadees, Tufted Titmice, Carolina Wrens, 3 species of Sparrows, Blue-headed Vireo, a flock of Mallards, Gadwalls and a Barred Owl. The next habitat consisted of open farmland. A bunch of squeaky chirps filled the air as a large flock of light gray-brown birds landed in the field, we counted over 120 American Pipits! Nearby an adult Red-tailed Hawk danced in the field as it was hunting rodents in the leftover peanut crop. We continued to the next location, an open wooded area along Jack’s Creek with some brushy habitat under mature trees. We have been very lucky to find 3 wintering Fox Sparrows at this exact location 3 years in a row, and sure enough the 3 Fox Sparrows were right in the same spot as last year! We also found a large number of White-throated Sparrows, Song Sparrows and one Field Sparrow. After a brief lunch of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with Dad we headed down the road to find more birds. We found a few fantastic birds perched on roadside electrical lines, an American Kestrel, a Loggerhead Shrike and a Vesper Sparrow! A nearby Pecan Tree farm was loaded with Pine Warblers, Chipping Sparrows, Red-winged Blackbirds, Eastern Bluebirds and several Blue Jays. Our last big stop of the day was Hickory Top Wildlife Management Area, a swampy habitat with hardwoods along Lake Marion. We stopped at the entrance which has a thick grassed wetland area. We listened for a moment and heard the low clucking call of a King Rail. I stepped out the truck to get a recording of the call and of course I flushed the King Rail who was only about 5 feet away and I totally missed a great photo opportunity. We did not want to disturb the rail anymore so we headed down the road. As we listened along the road we heard the rattle of over 20 Red-headed Woodpeckers and many high piercing calls of Northern Flickers. At the end of the road, we exited the truck and explored the swamp and muddy hardwood habitat in search of Rusty Blackbirds. We did not find the Blackbirds but did hear and see 2 Hairy Woodpeckers which was an unexpected find. We had only one place left to explore in search of the Rusty Blackbirds. As we started toward the last road we could hear a large flock of Common Grackles, this was a good sign as the Rusty Blackbirds prefer a similar habitat to the Grackles. As soon as we turned onto the road small groups of Rusty Blackbirds began to flush from the wet muddy ground and up into the trees! We counted about 64 Rusty Blackbirds! We also added Winter Wren, Wood Duck, Common Yellowthroat, and a pair of Pileated Woodpeckers. It was a successful day finding 75 species and counting 1642 individual birds! And best of all I spent some quality time with my Dad.


Happy Birding!

Charles




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