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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.

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