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Monday, March 19, 2012

County listing my way home

Work is done for the week and no wife at home, so I decided to bird my way back home.  I planned a route through Glades, Highlands, Hardee, Polk, and Osceola.  Glades and Highlands are flirting with the 200 line, both sitting at 193.  There are a number of missing species for Glades that could be found in mid-March.  Many early migrants such as Hooded, Worm-eating, and Louisiana waterthrush would be new, as well as Cedar waxwing.

My Glades County prospects lay in Fisheating Creek Campground near Palmdale.  Saturday afternoon in March is a very busy time in this place for non-birders.  The low water level was both a blessing and a curse.  Low creek level means pools of water where shorebirds and waders feed.  It also means dry swamps where warblers and waterthrushes fuel up on their journey north.  I hiked the nature trail behind the campground, a life trail for me, and found a few mixed flocks of songbirds.  One flock contained a Ruby-crowned kinglet.  A couple weeks ago, I got kinglet for the first time in Glades.  Today, it was a yawn bird.  Kinglets are relatively easy to find in north and central Florida in winter as well as southeast Florida.  They are thinner in the southwestern counties and thus I still need this species in several SW Florida counties.  On the creek, I watched as a couple of intrepid canoeists haul their boat through a dry section.  They flushed some shorebirds that had gathered on one of the pools that comprise the creek in the dry season.  There was a Least sandpiper and two Solitary sandpipers.  Solitary was first of the year for me.  Not a county tick, though.  I heard a vireo singing down the creek aways.  I hoped it was a Yellow-throated, new for Glades for me, but once I was able to get away from the loud non-birders enjoying the rope swing, I was able to determine that it was instead a Blue-headed vireo.  Only my third of this species in Glades.  Last fall I was about to jump for joy when I found one along CR 731 just south of the Glades/Highlands line.  Glades was the last county to tick Blue-headed vireo and this species was the 54th to crack the all-county list.  Not a total loss, today this would be my Bird a Day.  Bird a Day website  In the end, I did not see any needed warblers and waterthrushes, but I enjoyed birding a new sight and seeing the numbers of Parulas already on territory.

After Fisheating Creek, I decided to abandon Glades for Hardee County.  Highlands lay in between, but the gaps in my Highlands list were not likely to be filled at this time, on this route.  I settled for looking out the window as I headed to a county with more low hanging fruit.  Hardee County's lower branches were replete with fruit.  Middle of the day does not lend itself to songbirding, so I decided to try for shorebirds, ducks, and maybe some rails in the borrow ponds west of Bowling Green.  King rail is the only rail on my Hardee list.  One of the ponds has a good deal of cattails and surely harbors Sora and maybe a late Virginia rail.  I made my first stop at my favorite pair of ponds on a side road off of 664 (27.634796, -81.859695).  Anhingas were nesting in the willows north of the road.  Lots of cormorants and waders.  I need to come back here early in the morning to have a better shot at rails and to explore the orange grove near here for songbirds.  I still need Painted bunting on this county and a number of sparrows that could be found along the road edges here.

My next favorite, and for the next couple months my new favorite pond, was on the way back toward Bowling Green.  (27.634781,-81.853378)   The pond south of the road is a little difficult to view but is full of waders, shorebirds, ducks, and even terns.  The terns were behind an island and only visible when they flushed.  I stopped for 45 minutes and found 36 species of birds.  Many, many shorebirds here, most of which were Long-billed dowitchers.  I still lack Short-billed in many of these inland counties.  They have but a small window of opportunity in these fresh water wetlands.  July and August they are abundant before Long-billed replace them in late fall and winter.  They may also come through in late-April to early June.  Other waders here were both species of yellowlegs, Stilt sandpipers, Least sandpipers, and many Black-necked stilts.  The stilts may have been wintering or early migrants.  There were many ducks, although not that many species.  Some of the Mottled ducks showed signs of gene flow from feral Mallards.  Bad light and a dirty lens made a few look like they may be American black duck, a very rare bird in south central Florida.  Further investigation and a clean lens burst that bubble.  Blue-winged teal often harbor Green-winged teal and Northern shoveler, and even Cinnamon teal.  All of these would be new for me in Hardee.  If there were any here, they were either hidden or had left for the winter.  Across the road there is another pond a gator farm-sized Alligator.  What a monster!  Also there were Blue-winged teal, Ring-necked ducks, and a few American wigeon.  The wigeon was new for Hardee for me.

Coming through Bowling Green, I looked for Cedar waxwings and potential habitat for Cedar waxwings.  Waxwings concentrate in areas with an abundance of food and often stay until the food supply is depleted.  Mistletoe is a favorite food.  They eat the fruits and deposit the undigested seeds on the branches of Laurel and Live oaks, the new growth of which is remarkably similar to the plumage of Cedar waxwings, thus providing excellent camouflage.  I had scoped one oak with Mistletoe on the way through town.  I forgot to check on the way back out.  I looked and listened for waxwings but did not see any.  Later I would see a flock on Frostproof, Polk County, where I already have Cedar waxwing.

Paynes Creek Historic State Park (web site) east of Bowling Green was my last hope of adding Louisiana waterthrush or other migrants to my Hardee County list.  The nature trail along Paynes Creek was the main attraction.  It runs nice and clear, just the way Louisiana waterthrushes like it.  I did not find any, but it was nice to walk and even nicer to see a dark morph Short-tailed hawk flying over the woods.

I made one stop in Polk County at the sod fields at Avon Park Cutoff Road and Singletary Road.  I hoped for an early Upland sandpiper.  This spot is fantastic for Buff-breasted sandpiper in the fall.  Upland sandpiper is a tougher nut to crack in Polk, for some reason.  I have Buff-breasted sandpipers in nine counties state wide and Upland sandpipers in seven.  I have seen more numbers, as many as 84 in a day, of Uplands sandpipers.  Buff-breasted have topped out to eight in a day at the sod fields I visited this day.

My last stop was actually also in Polk County, but most of the viewing area is in Osceola.  When you stand on the north side of SR 60, on the west side of the Kissimmee River, you are in Polk County.  The army corps of engineers has a water control structure south of the bridge.  The Polk/Osceola County line runs along the western edge of the resultant wide spot "lake" in the river and across the north side of SR 60, then down the canal and old river course south of SR 60.  This interesting situation led to one of my favorite things about county listing, the two-county tick.  Along the north side of the road, at the county line, was a Painted bunting, new for both Polk and Osceola County.

This site is great for Limpkin and variable for Snail kite.  This time there were Snail kites everywhere I looked,  I even saw a pair copulating near the road!  Snail kites will probably nest here this spring.  Surprisingly, I did not see any Ring-necked or Mottled ducks, two species I always see here.  I always enjoy this spot when I have time on the way home.

Daylight ran out on the way home and birding came to a close.  Three new ticks for the day, wigeon in Hardee, Painted bunting in both Polk and Osceola.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Bird a Day 2012 03 07

Bird a Day (Bird a Day website) for the day is Wilson's warbler.   A nice male seen and heard in the Hackberry trees near the parking lot at T.M. Goodwin WMA.  Website

Palm Beach County 2012 02 10

On February 10, 2012, I set out to add some key county birds to my Palm Beach County list.  I had a line on a Red-headed woodpecker in the north end of the county.  There were Piping and Wilson's plovers on the beach in Lake Worth, and I was one of the last people to have not seen the nesting Neotropical cormorants at Wakodahatchee.  I also wanted to take a shot at Common myna and House finch, both of which have been reported on eBird in the Lake Worth area.  Snook Island held the possibility of Reddish egret, American oystercatcher, and maybe a few other lagoon birds.  Wild turkeys occur at the park where the Red-headed woodpecker is found and Virginia rails have been seen in Wakodahatchee.  Those two are inevitable county ticks that had somehow eluded me to that point.  The had three main targets were the plovers and the cormorant.  Best case scenario, I could pick up 8-10 new ticks.  I also hoped to check out the parrot roost at The Breakers along the beach north of Lake Worth.  The day promised to be a fun one with new birds and new sites to explore.


The day finally came and so did the rain.  My schedule is such that I must go birding when I can, regardless of weather.  The rain was merciful in the first couple hours as I explored Loxahatchee River Bend Park.  There is a juvenile Red-headed woodpecker in the back of the park and turkeys roam the open areas.  I picked up the turkeys at the farthest back parking lot.  The Red-headed would prove more difficult.  The clouds may have had something to do with missing this species.  They are late risers and can often be difficult to find on cloudy days.  The park has lots of trails, lots of birds, and an interesting history.  It will be worth coming back to if I can get the time.

Next on the docket was Wakodohatchee Wetlands to see the nesting Neotropical cormorants.  I saw my first Great cormorant in a sewage plant in Delray Beach 20+ years ago.  Palm Beach would be the first county where I have seen all three cormorants.


The rain couldn't help itself at this point.  I circled the boardwalk a couple times to determine exactly where the cormorants were.  There are many islands with nesting birds, but only one with cormorants.  I managed to hear Virginia rail on the back section of the trail for my second tick of the day.  There was no sign of the cormorants at the island as 10:00 approached.  The Neotropicals had been reported to leave by 10:00 in past days, so I wondered if I was going to have to come back later in the day.  Right about 10:00, a non-breeding Neotropical cormorant flew into the trees.  It did not fly to a nest, just lanede and squabbled with a Double-crested cormorant nearby.  The rains began to come down steadily at this point.  I had seen Neotrops before, so I decided to head back to the parking area and plan my next adventure.

What an adventure it was!  I arrived at the Lake Worth Pier and parked in the park north of the pier.  The rain was not stopping at all now.  It varied from light to heavy, but did not stop.  I did not have another day to come back and the Piping and Wilson's plovers are very rare birds in Palm Beach, so I set out to get them in the rain.  At least they don't mind getting wet.  I walked north toward the small lagoon that had formed on the upper beach.  After about a half mile, I found the lagoon along with lots of Semipalmated plovers, Dunlin, Lesser black-backed gulls of all ages, and four Piping plovers.  Where was the Wilson's plover?  I could not find it in the flock.  A couple of Piping plovers had bands, but I could not determine the color and arrangement due to the constant activity of the birds and the rain on my binoculars.  I decided to head on up the beach to the next park in hopes of finding the Wilson's plover.  It is about two miles up and back and it rained the entire time.  I failed to find the Wilson's north of the lagoon, so I trudged back.  This time the Wilson's plover was right there in front of me.  That was quite a relief.  It made the day.  Anything else would be a bonus.  I got back to the truck and tried to dry out as best I could.

I headed across the lagoon to check out Snook Island, but found the area closed for repairs.  Maybe for the better since it was still raining.  I needed to get gas before heading home, so I decided to stop nearby in hopes of getting Common myna and House finch.  I had five ticks this day, three high quality ticks and two that were finally on my list.

I did not get any more birds, but more importantly I did not get sick from the wet and cold.  It was a very satisfying day and I got back home in early afternoon.  273 total for Palm Beach.  I have faint hopes of hitting 300 some day.  I am still missing some ridiculous birds like Common loon, Hermit thrush, and Scarlet tanager.  I'll come back and get Red-headed woodpecker eventually and Common myna and House finch.  300 could happen.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Lark Bunting and Green-tailed towhee

Rather than drive partway to Tallahassee the night before and complete the trip the next day, I decided it would be best to get up at 0200 and head all the way up and back in the same day.  This day, February 25, 2012, was my one chance to see the Lark bunting, not on my Florida list yet, and Green-tailed towhee, three different counties (who wants to make it four?) that were in a closed area of Tall Timbers Research Station north of Tallahassee, FL.

I had set out extra early in the hopes of getting some county birding in before meeting the group at the station.  I made it as far as Jefferson County before daylight.  Jefferson is one of my weakest counties, primarily due to the lack of easy access to the coast.  Jefferson is unique among the 67 counties of Florida in that it touches both the Gulf of Mexico and Georgia.  All the other counties along the gulf either connect to Alabama or are cut off from other states by intervening counties.  The coastal section of Jefferson is entirely within St. Mark's National Wildlife Refuge.  Access to this area by foot is possible from the Lighthouse Unit of SMNWR, but it is a long walk.  I will make it someday, but not today.  I say Jefferson is one of my weakest counties not because of my total list (153 at the time of this writing, in a three way tie for #50) but because of the total in relation to the potential list.  I have calculated potential totals for each county based on what I have and the likelihood of getting species that I do not have on those lists.  My last place county (De Soto - 131 species) is at about 91% of its estimated potential total (144.)  Jefferson at 153 is at about 70% of its estimated potential total of 217.  Getting to that total will require several visits to the coastal sections of Jefferson either on long hikes or boating trips.  What adventures to come, if only people would stop paying me to bird elsewhere.

So, Jefferson County listing was the start of the day.  I still have many gaps in my Jefferson County list, including sparrows, ducks, and rails.  These seemed the logical targets for a few hours before heading to Tall Timbers, so I stopped at a small farm pond about a mile north of I-10 on US 19.  The wind was howling already, not a good sign for the chase to come.  I found 16 Canada geese on the pond.  No easy ticks like Hooded merganser and Blue-winged teal which still elude my Jefferson list.  The fence line is festooned with weeds which make for great cover and food for sparrows, many species of which are not found on my Jefferson list.  In the wind and slight chill, the sparrows seemed to opt for the cover over food.  At any rate, I decided to get closer to Tall Timbers and check on Lake Miccosukee for ducks and maybe a rail or two.

One of my favorite spots to hit Lake Miccosukee is on US 90 where it crosses the river which is dammed to create the lake.  This is a known spot for nesting Barn swallows which may explain the extremely early (scout?) Barn swallow that flew over me while standing on the dock.  The boat ramp to access the lake is on the Leon side of the lake, but the lake itself is in Jefferson.  It was here at this ramp that I got my first Black-bellied whistling duck for both counties as if flew over the lake and then over the west bank into Leon County.  This morning there were numbers of wading birds and a few ducks.  Many more ducks were in flight too far north for me to ID.  I suspect the majority were Ring-necked ducks.  I spent a little time and then moved on to another spot.

Another favorite spot of mine is the boat ramp at the end of Reeves Landing Road on the west side of the lake.  Here you can stand at the edge of Leon and look out into Jefferson County.  This is where I got my first Purple gallinule for Jefferson and American bittern on the same day.  Today, I would add merely nothing to the list.  It was time to get on to Tall Timbers to see lots of people that I know and hopefully the two rare birds.

Elliott Schunke who is working with Brown-headed nuthatches at Tall Timbers was the one, along with Andy Wraithmell who found the Lark Bunting and Green-tailed towhee.  He also arranged for special access for the 30 or so people who came out this day.  After everyone was briefed and turned in the right direction, we headed off to the fields of towhees and Lark buntings.  We stopped short of the spot where both birds had been seen on the same perch earlier in the week so we could walk quietly and not disturb the shy towhee.  It was not long that we, or at least some of us, were able to see the Green-tailed towhee perched among the dead vine leaves.  What remarkable camouflage?!?  I don't know if I had ever seen one off the ground before at least in Florida.  I saw each of Florida's first three Green-tailed towhees, but after the onslaught of reports this year, I gave up on keeping the claim of seeing all of Florida's Green-tailed towhee.  I may still be leading the state with four total.  More importantly, they are in four different counties.  I have to admit, I am not that enthused about heading to Possum Branch in Pinellas to see a Green-tailed towhee that would not even be a county tick.  If I'm going to go over there, I want to try for something I don't have like screech owl or Barred owl.  Anyway, it was a good start to the day, now if we could quickly get the Lark bunting, I could be on my way and get home at a decent time.  If only.  The Lark bunting would prove to be a much tougher bird this day.  We tromped all over where it had been seen so many times before,  Elliott showed us all of its perches and favorite clumps, but no bird for some time.  It was pushing noon and no Lark bunting.  This was the real prize for me, a state bird, not merely a county bird.  Finally, as the group was contemplating strategy for the remainder of the day, word came that the bird had been seen in its favorite clump.  I sprinted over there only to find folks talking about White-crowned sparrows.  Who cares about White-crowned sparrows when there is a Lark bunting around?!?  I managed to get people's minds focused back on the bird at hand and they said the bird had dropped down into the bush and had maybe flown out the back.  We surrounded the clump and waited.  And waited, and waited, and waited.  Finally we moved in for the kill only to find that the bird apparently had gone out the back door.  Another strategy session and another sighting, this time the bird was across the field and around the corner.  I sprinted once again and found people saying the bird was up in the pine tree.  Apparently one of the 15,000,000 pine trees found on the property.  After a little more mind-focusing exercises I was able to ascertain the whereabouts of the bird just before it flew clear across the field.  I was happy with this.  Not a life bird look, but it was on my state list now.  I walked across the field where the bird had again landed in a pine tree.  I was able to put a few folks on it before it flew again.  After this, my thoughts turned toward the next phase.  That being lunch and more county listing on the way home.

It was a great trip, always is when you get the bird, and I got to see several folks I knew and meet a few more.  The people part of the trip is always good, even when you don't get the bird.

Hendry County Big Day

What a day, what a day?  I have run 60+ Big Days in the state of Florida, and one in Wyoming, but none so haphazard and prone to mishaps and Big Misses at this 19th day of February, 2012.

I had a chance to scout for this Big Day on the STA 5 CBC on December 31, 2011.  Funny thing about scouting seven weeks before a Big Day is that things change a lot in that time.  More on that later.  I was assigned to C & B Farms, adjacent to STA 5, for the CBC.  The group was meeting at the farm HQ at 0730 which gave me time to do some owling and dawn birding along CR 835 and Deer Fence Canal Road.  I managed to find Eastern screech owl on the CBC, a Hendry County bird for me at the time.  I marked the spot on my smart phone map app for future entry into eBird and for future reference.  On the Big Day, the same three screech owls called to me once again after some coaxing from my iPod.  I had also added Whip-poor-will to my Hendry list that day, but that spot did not come through for me this day. Before heading to my dawn spot, I picked up Burrowing owl in the spot where I recently added that species to my Hendry list.

Dawn found me at the intersection of CR 835 and C-1 Canal.  There is a hedgerow of trees on both sides of 835, the canals running in four directions, and open pasture beyond the hedgerows.  Some semi-marshy area exists along the wide canal, but not much for rails.  This was acceptable as a dawn spot.  I had other spots for rails later.  I had many Virginia rails, Least bitterns, sedge wrens, etc. at the east end of Deer Fence Canal Road seven weeks ago.  I did not get King rail there, but I had OK Slough State Forest
(OK Slough info) and Dinner Island Ranch WMA (Dinner Island Info) on the agenda, so I was not worried.  My hope was to pick up some hedgerow birds such as Orange-crowned warbler which would be new for Hendry for me as well as something nice like Brown-crested flycatcher.  Instead I got most of the usual birds including two species of doves before sunrise and a smattering of herons.  I thought I heard a Yellow-crowned night-heron for number 10, but it turned out to be a Green heron making a very strange call.  I had 98 species to go at that point to tie my record of 108 in one day.  That record was set when I got 84 species at STA 5 on a field trip and decided to hit the marina at Clewiston and then head out to OK Slough State Forest just to see how many I could get.  This day would be slightly more planned than that day and the record would surely fall.

I left my dawn spot with time to bird a little along Blumberg Road before entering STA 5 (STA 5 Tour Schedule), a must for any Hendry County Big Day.  I made a few stops along the way scoping out the new growth and blossoms of the willows in hopes of picking up Orange-crowned warbler.  No such luck, but I got plenty of Northern waterthrush and my only Brown thrasher of the day.  Normally the dirt section of Blumberg is pretty desolate in the morning, but this morning there were multiple sugar cane harvests in progress.  The sugar cane is burned in a ring fire (the field edges are ignited and the fire proceeds toward the center.)  This is not so good if you are a small, non-winged creature in the middle of the cane field, but wonderful if you are looking to eat said creatures.  The caravan of cane trucks made birding difficult, but I was able to find a safe spot near one of the cane harvests.  Even early in the morning, the vultures were in evidence.  Swainson's hawks are known to winter in the area and I still needed that for Hendry County.  I waited patiently for Swainson's as well as any other good day birds that might appear.  No Swainson's would appear and I had to get on to STA 5 ahead of the slow-moving crowds.

I arrived at STA 5 with 44 species in my pocket.  Margaret was there, handing out radios for people to report their findings.  There had been a few new birds for the area two weeks before on the last field trip.  Vermilion flycatcher and Horned grebe would both be valuable Big Day birds and county ticks for me.  I headed immediately to the area where the flycatcher had been seen.  The wind was beginning to blow harder and I had only a limited window before the little red guy would take cover.  Unfortunately, the Red-winged blackbirds had taken over the willows where the flycatcher had been seen last trip.  I walked patiently up and down the road and picked up several day birds, but nothing new for the county for me.  Other hoped for targets were the Cinnamon teal, Eurasian wigeon, and Canvasback.  All three were missed two weeks ago, but I had seen the former two four weeks ago.  I would not see any this day.  In fact, I did not see any Black-bellied whistling ducks, spoonbills, or even the Gray and Cassin's kingbirds that hang out on the west side of STA 5 in the day time.  I was not too worried about any of those as I would undoubtedly see them at some point later in the day.  I was hoping to get to 100 species before I left STA 5 and possibly beat the record at the lake in Clewiston later in the morning.  With all these easy birds missing and no rarities, that would not happen.  My one saving grace, and the one and only county bird of the day, was the two Swainson's hawks that flew in for a cane fire on the south side of STA 5.  I left STA 5 with only 91 species, still missing Carolina wren, Blue Jay, Indigo bunting, and so many others.  Not a good day so far, but I still had a lot of easy pick ups later in the day.  If only this wind would let up a little.

The prospect of getting to 100 without Blue jay was ended when I heard one for #92 south of Clewiston. I checked Black-bellied whistling ducks and Muscovy in a neighborhood along CR 835.  The houses surround some retention ponds which I suspected may hold some of the Black-bellied whistling ducks that rise up and pass over Clewiston some nights on their way to Lake Okeechobee.  None were found.

I looped around Hooker Highway and old US 27 trying for anything that might be new.  I found a Forster's tern which I had not seen recently at the marina in Clewiston.  That was all for the loop.  The wind was beginning to take its toll on song birding this day.

In town I added Rock pigeon but failed to see the Muscovy that I would later find out hangs out in the dual canal halfway between the condo and the lake.  Scouting is so important for Big Days.

Finally the marina down by the lake, Hendry County's tiny claim to Lake Okeechobee.  Several species can only be found here including Brown pelican, Laughing gull, and occasionally other gulls and terns.  I have had Royal tern here in the past.  Not this time.  Last year, during the Big O' Festival Big O' Festival Registration and info, the boat trips netted Ruddy turnstone, Sanderling, many Royal terns, and Herring gulls along the spoil islands lining the canal leading out to the lakes's center.  I must see about a boat trip on future Big Day attempts.  For today, I had to check the canal and scan the lake as best I could from the Herbert Hoover Dike.  I quickly added more birds like Fish crow, Laughing gull, and Herring gull.  A second year Herring gull gave me a start when I thought it might be a Great black-backed gull, very rare inland in Florida, but it was not to be.  I started to leave the marina with 98 species, still 10 away from the record, when I noticed a flock of cowbirds.  I couldn't just pass them by, so I began scanning them.  How about that?  I found a male Bronzed among the many Brown-headed cowbirds.  Not a county bird, but a great Big Day bird.  I alerted Margaret England who alerted the FOS gang who were doing there FOS Birding Weekend in Clewiston this weekend.  They came later and found three Bronzed cowbirds in the flock.  Now, I was at 99 species and still no woodpeckers.  I checked a few oaks on the way out of the marina still hoping to pick up some songbirds although now the wind was really whipping.  Red-bellied woodpecker was there for #100, so much for 100 without any woodpeckers.  But, wait!  I had forgotten to write down Purple martin which was heard while I was atop the dike.  Bronzed cowbird was the Century Bird, much more fitting than Red-bellied woodpecker, and I had found 100 before getting a woodpecker, or even House sparrow.  Now I was only seven away from the record.  Surely it would fall in the next hour or so.

I had not scouted the LaBelle area in NW Hendry County, but I knew that it held a few things not to be found elsewhere.  Titmice should be in this area as well as things like Brown-headed nuthatch, Chipping sparrow, House sparrow that I had somehow missed in Clewiston, and possibly others.  I still needed Indigo bunting for that matter.  The wind, the wind, what is up with this wind?

Anyway, I stopped at a pond outside of town and looked for the first time.  Wow!  There were many Gadwall, Ring-necked ducks, both uninteresting teal (non-Cinnamon types) and wigeon.  Gadwall as well as the Bronzed cowbird are good candidates for Bird-a-Day.  I decided to keep them in mind for future days when I might be able to go out and grab them while staying in Clewiston.  I checked a few ponds along SR 80.  I skipped popping up US 27 where it splits from US 80, heading toward Moore Haven.  A group of Scissor-tailed flycatchers and at least one Western kingbird have been hanging near the county line.  I would get them later along with the previously missed Gray and Cassin's kingbird at the roost at Deer Fence Canal.  LaBelle was new to me and failed to produce much, mostly due to lack of knowledge, but helped undoubtedly by the 20 MPH winds that never ceased.  I hoped to at least pull off a parula and titmouse, but none were found in the oaks along the Caloosahatchee Canal.  I did find Starling and House sparrow and left the area with 104 species, still four shy of the record.  When will this record fall?

I headed south of SR 29 in route to CR 832 and OK Slough.  I was distracted by Spirit of the Wild WMA (Spirit of the Wild info) where I could see some potential Hairy and red-headed woodpecker habitat.  Surely I could at least pick up a Pine warbler, or maybe even Carolina wren.  This area is mostly open pasture, but there are pine flat woods including some dead stands of pines where woodpeckers or Brown-headed nuthatches or bluebirds may live.  The winds again would prove detrimental as I was not able to add anything at all.  It was nearly impossible to bird the area and as there was hunting at this time, I decided to head on to OK Slough.

I entered OK Slough still five away from the record.  I was almost able to run the entire south loop road without four wheel drive due to drought conditions.  Unfortunately, I don't have four wheel drive, so I lost a bit of time doubling back.  I did manage to find a flock of American robins, #105 and my second species of woodpecker, Downy.  I found a wind-sheltered area where I could observe the Yellow-rumped warblers and gnatcatchers, but failed to find anything new even here.  Eventually, a flock of Cedar waxwings flew over for #107.  On the way back to the main road, I saw a crow and realized that it was my first American crow of the day and the record tying species, #108.  Finally!  I headed back to the main road to explore other areas of the forest.

Oil Well Pad Road proved to be one of the most productive areas on the forest.  The hammocks along the way were undoubtedly full of Barred owls.  At least one pair called to break the record at 109.  A Pileated woodpecker flew from one hammock to another for #110.  The marshes along the road were very dry due to drought conditions, but the deeper spots still held King rails.  I got one at the Oil Pad as I searched the marsh for Sedge wren, still lacking on my list.  I hoped for Hermit thrush in the hammocks, but they were another victim of the wind, or perhaps there weren't any present.

Finally I had the record behind me and many easy ticks to go.  Surely I would get to at least 120 and probably 125 or more.  With proper scouting and a better plan, I could maybe dare to dream of 140 or more.

I headed to the last entrance on the north side of the road and headed up the eastern boundary of the forest.  I still did not have Pine warbler or any other pineland specialties.  I finally got one Pine warbler and Indigo bunting but still not much for song birds.  I was really counting on Deer Fence Canal Road with its four species of Tyrannids and multitude of marsh birds at the end of the day not to mention I still needed Great horned owl and Whip-poor-will.  Wild Turkey rounded out the species added in the forest and I headed out toward Deer Fence Canal with 114 species in tow.

I had tarried too long to make a stop at Dinner Island Ranch WMA;  I needed to get on to the kingbird roost before it was too late.  It was too late.  As I approached the area, I was struck but the lack of kingbirds on the wires.  Apparently they go to roost before 1800 hours on February 19.  I had picked up Black-bellied whistling duck along the way for #115.  The kingbirds were to put me up to 119 before I headed to the end of the road to pick up Sedge wren, Virginia rail, Great horned owl, spoonbill, and other bonus birds.  I did manage a Least flycatcher across the road.

I tarried a little longer hoping to find something, then headed to the end of the road to pick up some more stuff and make my way to 120 for the day.  Did I mention there was a prolonged drought and that I hadn't been to the area in seven weeks?  It dawned on me that the marshes that were dry in OK Slough were indicative of the marshes in Deer Fence Canal Conservation Area adjacent to STA 5, where I had counted on Virginia rail, Sedge wren, and Least bittern.  Strike one, strike two, strike three.  Oof!  I looked over STA 5 and picked up a Cooper's hawk, a species that somehow eluded me this day.  No spoonbills flying to roost at this time.  No Yellow-crowned night-heron heading out for breakfast.  A Merlin with a full crop came by for my third falcon species of the day.  That was #118.  The Great horned owls in the cypress dome in the conservation area were silent or absent this day.  I headed back to my Whip-poor-will spot to fail once again.  Darn you, wind and noisy pumps!  Back at 835, I spotted a Great horned owl on the cypress dome for #119.  I made one more stop at my dawn spot to see if an actual Yellow-crowned night-heron would appear, but it was not meant to be.  I ended with 119, one short of my secondary goal and with misses like Roseate spoonbill, all the kingbirds, and even Carolina wren!  A new record, such great potential for more, and a lot of fun to buoy me on my 3 1/2 hour drive home.  I can't wait for the next attempt!

STA 1E

On Saturday March 3, 2012, I had the honor and privilege of leading a trip to STA 1E for Audubon of the Everglades.  These trips were arranged through South Florida Water Management District by Linda Humphries, President of Audubon of Everglades.  Access to these areas is not allowed under normal circumstances.

Linda, myself, Larry and Tony Pasko, and Paton White arrived before the 8:00 start time to scout the route (I had not been there before) and to see where the birds were staying this day.  We ventured into the fog to see what there was to see.  Black-bellied whistling-ducks called in the mist, the only ones we would observe that day.  The habitat on the way out was thick with cattails, good for rails, bad for viewing.  Once we arrived at the target cell, we were greeted with huge numbers of birds of many varieties.  Black skimmers were abundant, probably 300-500 in total.  Very nervous these guys, they constantly flushed, circled, and settled back down, sometimes in a nearby cell, sometimes where they started.  Every time they flushed, I looked around for a Peregrine falcon or an eagle.  Most often there was an Osprey or a vulture overhead.  Among the Black skimmers were many Caspian terns but no Forster's that I could see.  A lone Ring-billed gull flew by.  Shorebirds were also abundant.  Among the hordes were Long-billed dowitcher, Stilt sandpipers, American avocet, Black-necked stilts, and Greater yellowlegs.  There were probably more, but my interest was directed toward the ducks.  I have seen most every shorebird that could be seen in Palm Beach County in winter, but my list of ducks in Palm Beach has many holes.  Canvasback, Cinnamon teal, and Eurasian wigeon would all be valuable county ticks.  Most of the ducks, it seemed, were Gadwall.  American wigeon, the less interesting teal (Green and Blue-winged), Ring-nekced duck, and Mottled ducks were present.  A lone male Lesser scaup skirted the back of the open water.  Scaup are less common than Ring-necked in fresh water, but in some winters can be quite common inland.  The real prize, for me were the three female Canvasback swimming quickly toward the back of the impoundment.  Palm Beach County #274 for me.  This elevated Palm Beach to #4 by itself, breaking a tie with Monroe.  The rest of the scouting trip produced several clusters of birds worthy of checking out with the group, but not much of note.

Upon arrival at the gate the group was beginning to assemble.  While taking a necessary restroom break (there is only one port-a-potty and the group must stay together for the four hour trip) we scoped a couple Grasshopper sparrows that were nice enough to stay up for most of the group to see.  The caravan gathered, release forms were signed, radios distributed, and we were on our way.  The first stop was the skimmer-fest we saw in the scouting run.  Upon arrival it was apparent that many of the birds, most notably the ducks, had moved.  Skimmers were again very jumpy, this time with good reason.  We had barely gotten out of the vehicles when a Peregrine falcon cruised over the birds.  This may explain the lack of ducks.  We managed to get good looks at many of the ducks.  The Canvasbacks were not to be found.  The scaup did not materialize, but we had good close looks at sleeping Long-billed dowitchers and Stilt sandpipers.  We lingered for awhile knowing that this was the best stop of the day.

Eventually we set off to find other birds.  There were several other clusters of Skimmers and Caspian terns.  We stopped for one of the larger clusters and found several sitting groups of Fulvous whistling ducks.  Us old timers remember a time when Fulvous whistling ducks were fairly widely distributed and you had to make a special effort to find Black-bellied.  30 years later the reverse is the case.

We made several stops for Purple swamp hen, a recently escaped exotic that has colonized much of south Florida's wetlands in the last 12 years.  Another few years, and this one will likely be on the ABA list.  They proved to be excruciatingly shy this day.  Every time we would stop to see them, they would scurry off into the vegetation not to be seen again.  Eventually we would get marginal looks at one that came back out on the edge of the marsh for some time.

The winds were increasing when we finally found some non-Caspian terns.  Gull-billed was the prize,  A few were seen, but the wind was proving problematic.  The birds were directly downwind of us.  Terns and other birds tend to orient themselves with they heads into the wind on windy days, therefore we had great head-on views.  We were able to move down the dike a little and get decent views for those who wanted.

The bird of the day was near the end of the impoundment.  I saw a strange-looking icterid fly up and settle on some pipes at the east side of the impoundment.  It was about the same size as the Red-winged blackbird two pipes down.  The massive bill and ruff on the neck told me it was a male Bronzed cowbird.  This species has long been a rare but regular all and winter vagrant in Florida from the west.  Some of the birds in southeast Florida and perhaps elsewhere in Florida, have decided not to go back west and are now resident and breeding.  This male was singing for us, or more likely for any females that may have been present.  It allowed for some distant, badly lit looks.  Some photographers got some decent shots and we were about to leave when I noticed the bird had landed right in front of the lead vehicle.  This is when I realized that it was the Bronzed cowbird that was singing and not Brown-headed as I had thought.  I decided this would be a good ending to the trip even though we had about a half hour to kill before we had to get back.  I'm not a big fan of dragging out a trip just to end at a particular time.  If you are at a good end point and it's near the end time, it's time to end.

So we headed back to the lone restroom and the gate, gathered radios, said our good-byes and heading our separate ways.

I had a really good time and look forward to going again.  Audubon of the Everglades will be leading trips twice a month for the foreseeable future.  The first Saturday of the month will be a birder oriented trip, the third Saturday will be photographer oriented.  More information can be found at their website:

http://www.auduboneverglades.org/?p=2130

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Initial Post

I finally enter the world of blogging.  I look forward to sharing my birding adventures and keeping people up to date on by birding and business adventures.  I promise that future posts will be more entertaining than this one.