| Robert Hurt submitted this account of participation
in the Sea Rim Christmas Count. Space restrictions prevented it from being
published last month- Ed
With a roll of the tumblers and a pull of the lock the gate was open
and the 100th annual Christmas Count was on for me. I poised for a moment,
the wind in my face, the smell of the salt in my nostrils. I turned to
listen for a "small still voice" and what I heard was the marsh. My prayer
for the day had already been lifted and I was ready. Already the Ring-billed
Gulls and terns were moving out on the Intracoastal Waterway. Off in the
distance I could hear the yelping of Snow Geese as they headed out for
a days feeding and overhead was the whirring of duck wing as they made
their way about. I could only guess as to what they were as it was still
quiet dark and an early morning fog hampered my efforts to focus on them.
|We made our way down the levee to a spot I had cleared a
couple of weeks before on another field trip. As we got closer to the blind
glimpses through the cane only served to tease us at what we were about
to see. True to its form Lost Lake was full of ducks and coots. Once we
had worked our way down onto the shoreline our view opened up and there
were ducks from shore to shore. For a moment we were speechless, all's
we could see and hear were ducks thousands and thousands. Right off the
bat John noticed a large "raft" of Pied-billed Grebes, about 75 we estimated,
feeding near us. We noted that neither of us had seen so many Pied-bills
in one raft. They acted more like Red-breasted Mergansers the way they
were feeding and diving not the usual twos and threes you see in the ditches.
As we continued to look out over the lake several more rafts were noted.
The sloped red heads of Canvasbacks were all over the lake. Some you could
tell had been shoving their heads into the mud on the bottom of the lake
to feed causing their heads to look gray. The white foreheads and caps
of Wigeon were everywhere. Their green eye patches shown like emeralds
in the improving sunlight. I thought to myself how strange to see so many
and last year I didn't see a single Wigeon. It was just possible to that
at this very moment I was looking at more Ring-necked Ducks than I have
seen in my entire life. Mingled amongst all of these ducks every third
or fourth head was a coot and mixed through this avian gumbo was a smattering
of Green-winged Teal, Gadwall, Redheads, Mallards and the purple heads
of Lesser Scaup showing as well. I looked long and hard for the green head
of a Greater Scaup, but none were to be seen.
Having come up with numbers that we all agreed with and felt were accurate, we headed back out to the trucks. We spent the next two or three hours birding our way to the back of the refuge or as far as we could go. This is the area where the shallow marsh ponds are at but the wind had come up by now putting the birds down in the grass. Large flocks of Roseate Spoonbills were hiding on the downwind side of the stands of cane. Mixed in with them were numerous egrets and herons. Groups of 10 to 20 weren't uncommon. A flock of a hundred White Pelicans came floating by from the ship channel headed for calmer waters. At the south end of the road we got to watch an Osprey dinning on a fish out on one of the poles in the water. Once he had finished with lunch he showed us how a proper Osprey tided up after a fish lunch. It was this same area that we added nine more Hooded Mergansers to our now impressive list. Once we reached the end of the road we got out to walk a ways. I noticed a couple of ducks that were napping and there were the green heads. My mind went straight to Greater Scaup. Yeah one more for the list. I said "Look guys, do ya'll see what I see?" Deep inside I hoped they did. The ducks tails were facing towards us with their heads tucked under their wings so our main field mark was the green head. John felt we need more info to go on before we made a call. We continued to look and discuss what we were seeing and I continued to hope "Greater". Jack whom had held his glasses steady on the birds from the start said "Look one of them is stretching it's wings", and as the bird settled back down it presented it's side to us a little. The brown sides of a male Shoveler shown clear. My hopes of a Greater Scaup flew away as fast as a flushed Quail. It was a rich time of observation and discussion of what field marks we had and didn't have. We looked and then consulted our field guides and then talked some more. This to me was birding at it's best. With a little more walking and a few more numbers we decided to go back up front and check the woods. We added a few more birds to the list and then we settled down to compile things, and discuss numbers.
It was the late evening hour and the birds were returning to their roost. Numbers decided, we all headed back to the bridge to end the day, and put the marsh to sleep. Wave after wave of Canvasbacks got up off of Lost Lake, 50, 80, 40, they just continued to leave. They headed east to where we knew not? Dabblers got up and headed for the deep marsh. Cormorants returned to the trees that they had nested in this past spring. In twos and threes and tens egrets and herons found their way to sheltered places in the marsh grass. They got a last bite to eat and found a place to settle down and sleep, sheltered in the grass out of the wind. Soon the light diminished and once again a Christmas count was over. For me, each of the past five years' counts have ended here on this bridge. We all began to depart for the day was over. For me though that still small voice that the Bible speaks of called to me once again. I stood in simple awe of it all and said "Good Night", I'll see you soon!