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Monday, January 28, 2013

Post Festival Blues

I'm back in Clewiston monitoring nesting birds on Herbert Hoover Dike.  Not so exciting, but I did make a very birdy stop on the way down.  In twelve minutes I recorded 34 species of birds on Bluefield Road south of SR 70 in extreme western St. Lucie County.  A male Painted bunting flew across the road signaling that it was time to stop.  I got out and got my target, Tufted titmouse.  This was new for me in St. Lucie County.  This species is common and widespread, except in southeast Florida where you must search the western edges of the counties in the hope of finding one.  I have them now in 64 of 67 counties.  Martin, Palm Beach, and Broward remain.  Broward has a few where the Big Cypress ecosystem spills into the Micosukee Reservation.  Access is difficult, but maybe someday.  Martin and Palm Beach are very difficult for this species.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival Day 3

I have birded all of the spots on Wes Biggs's famous Central Florida Hotspots tour, but had never actually run the trip myself.  On Day 3, Jim Eager and I joined Dave Goodwin to run this trip while Wes worked on Lake Okeechobee.

The trip was pretty successful.  Everyone was safe, had a good time, and got to see some great birds.  What more could you ask for?  The weather was not too terribly cooperative at first as we were socked in a fog back, everywhere we went.  Not too long after sunrise, the fog lifted and we had beautiful weather the rest of the day.  Most of the birds cooperated.  Red-cockaded woodpeckers were at their post.  One bird was roosting outside a cavity, something I hadn't seen before.  Young birds will sometimes roost on trees, outside cavities, until they are able to fashion a cavity for themselves.  For the second day in a row, and ever, I was able to put a scope on a Brown-headed nuthatch for several minutes.  Bachman's sparrows were somewhat vocal, but not visible for the third day in a row.

Whooping cranes were in the appointed place.  We had to wait for the bird to take it's head out of the cattle feeding trough before we could get proper views.

Overstreet road failed to produce Red-headed woodpeckers, but did produce a nice Crested caracara.  The landing failed to produce the Long-billed curlew that shows from time to time.  We did have nice views of Snail kite and a juvenile Northern harrier for comparison.

Lunch at Forever Florida (Florida EcoTours) was very good.  I sat on the porch with some of the crew while Dave and Jim took the other folks around the grounds to look at warblers and other songbirds.

Our last stop was a bit of a dud.  Florida scrub jays are long gone from the site and the snags have decayed to the point that Red-headed woodpeckers have abandoned the area.  Perhaps they will run the tour differently tomorrow.

We got back at 4PM on the dot, exactly on schedule.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival Day 2

Day two is partly finished.  The field trip is done and now I pack to go up to the festival HQ for some schmoozing, get our motel room, and get my packet so I can be official.

The field trip to St. Sebastian River Preserve went well.  A few new birds were heard at least.  I heard an Eastern bluebird, unusual but regular on the preserve, and several Chipping sparrows.  Bachman's sparrows were singing and calling today.  One posed briefly on a pine log before taking cover.  Others were less cooperative.  Brown-headed nuthatches were sitting so long in one place that we were able to put them in the scope!

This time we had time for Stick Marsh parking lot where we had stunning views of breeding plumage Roseate spoonbills and a brilliantly camouflaged Limpkin hiding in the brown vegetation.  It's brown feathers with white spots made it virtually impossible to see in the dappled light.

Cap it off with another great meal at Marsh Landing and you have another great day of Florida birding!

Now, I pack and head up to HQ to get our motel, schmooze a little, and pick up my registration packet. Tomorrow I help lead the Central Florida Specialties trip.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival Day 1

The frist day is done, at least for me.  I met the field trip at St. Sebastian River Preserve in the dark of morning.  We headed out and waited and waited for the Red-cockaded woodpeckers to emerge.  One bird had moved in the last week to a cavity right next to the road.  Perhaps that is why the delay.  More likely, it was the cooler weather that keeps the food (ants and other bark foraging insects) in bed later.

Sammy was her usual excellent self, making arrangements for vehicles, keeping track of the birds, informing everyone about RCW's and what is happening at the preserve.  We got extended views of four RCW's and a special appearance by two Brown-headed nuthatches.  Bachman's sparrows were unusually silent.  They don't usually do much singing at this time of year, it is barely the beginning of the season for them, but they are usually quite vocal at dawn.  We heard only one doing it's high thin wake up call, and not very often at that.  Attempts to see the bird were met with failure.

Lastly, at the preserve, we saw a pair of Florida scrub jays along Scrub Jay Road.  Only two of the four were present.  Perhaps the other two were across the canal on the south 40.  This family's territory stretches across two canals, a tall line of trees, and about 150' of open grass.  Not the usual pattern for this species.  Perhaps it is a tribute to the great management of scrub habitat on the other side of the canal.

Now, I rest a bit.  I won't be going to HQ this evening.  Tomorrow, I will go and stay the night, but today I must rest.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Festival to Festival

Everglades Birding Festival (http://www.evergladesbirdingfestival.com) is done.  I had a great time with Paddy, Jim, and Sam.  I look forward to next year.  The festival has gone through it's growing pains and is finding it's way in the world now.  Minor tweaking is in store, but it seems to have found it's niche.  The underlying reason for doing this festival is to generate more business, and it paid immediate dividends for me.  I was out guiding for the last day and a half.

Now, I am preparing for Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival.  I will be promoting Wes Biggs' tours (http://www.floridanaturetours.net) of the Dry Tortugas.  I am one of the leaders for Tortugas II.  Also, I will be promoting Sam Fried's Panama trip this summer.  Sam hasn't put the trip on his web site (http://www.flightsoffancyadventures.com) at the moment.  I will be passing out fliers for his Panama trip at the festival.  And, of course, I will be handing out my own cards.

I look forward to seeing old friends and meeting new ones.  If only I could squeeze in a little sleep!

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Everglades Birding Festival continues

Today, we went to Miami with nine birders from the festival.  Sam Fried (http://www.flightsoffancyadventures.com) was co-leader and driver.  We started the day by dipping on the three Caribbean strays that had been seen recently on Cape Florida and Virginia Key.  We had expert help from Angel Abreau who staked out the spot for Banaquit and gave up pointers on where it had been seen.  The Bananaquit had the last word and did not show for us.  We missed the La Sagra's flycatcher on Virginia Key and decided not to even mess with the mountain bikers at the Spindalis site. By the time we got to the "Dog Park" at Matheson, we did not see any Orange-winged parakeets or get very good looks at Common Hill Myna.  We did get a couple of fly by mynas and a ventriloquist myna that we could never get eyes on.  The adult Red-headed woodpecker, very rare in Dade County, was present on a palm tree.

The afternoon highlight was five Red-whiskered bulbuls in Kendalwood.  We abandoned the sight after some brat on a go cart kept running the streets, but we came back to quiet, except for the peculiar chirp of the bulbuls.  An oriole was sighted as well, but it was only a Baltimore, not the hoped for Spot-breasted.

White-eyed parakeets were very aloof at the feeders in Miami Shores.  We were treated to looks at three pairs of Chestnut-fronted macaws which had evidently been spending a lot of time in the palms behind the house.  Many of the fronds were shredded by their big bills.

Good thing we got those macaws, because the Country Club was a dud.  We heard another hill myna in the neighbors' cage.  2-5 Egyptian geese were on the greens.  No parrots came in by the time we had to leave.

Overall, it was a good trip.  The people enjoyed it.  They were safe and comfortable.  They got to see what it is like to dip on a chase and how unpredictable exotics can be in south Florida.  Tomorrow will be a more native adventure, although we will surely see Common myna in Florida City.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Everglades Birding Festival

I'm in Fort Lauderdale at the Everglades Birding Festival (http://www.evergladesbirdingfestival.com)

Tonight we were treated to some of the stories of James Currie's life, including how he got into birding and how he fought off three lions bare-handed while searching for Wattled cranes in Africa.  James is perhaps most famous for his TV show, Birding Adventures.  He has his own channel on YouTube.  I haven't checked it out yet, but I will.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

I'm gearing up for the Jackson County Christmas Bird Count this Saturday.  I will be covering Territory 2, where the bulk of Florida's Horned larks occur.  Florida is unique among the lower 48 states in that it is the only state that does not have a breeding population of Horned larks.  Well, at least it used to be until Andy Bankert stumbled across a few birds during his Big Year in 2007.  Since then we have found that these birds appear to be resident, rather than regular winter visitors.  I was in the area when Andy found them and was able to add them to my Florida list within 45 minutes of getting the call.  I missed getting them as a life bird in Florida by only a few months.  We had several in Colorado that summer.  I will be in the area the day before to scope out habitats and figure a good strategy for covering our territory.  I have done this count before, but it was in Territory 1.  This time I'm in Territory 2.  Not that I remember much about Territory 1 anyway.  The count is quite interesting in that it is mostly in rural areas.  Lots of road side birding in farms and ranches.  Lots and lots of blackbirds.  Our area tallied 15,000 Red-winged blackbirds in a morning last time.  We also got Rusty and Brewer's  blackbird.  The count is entirely inland with very little water.  It usually records around 90 species.  Andy Wraithmell, the compiler, is hoping to get to 100 species this time.  I'll do my part to help.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Shorebird Big Day 2012 09 11

With a new year, I have made many resolutions, including working on my blog.  It has been nine months since I have made an entry.  So here goes.  I will recycle a story I wrote about my experience back in September of 2012.

Dateline September 11, 2012:

I haven’t written a birding story for a long time, so here I go.
Last Tuesday, September 11, 2012, I set out to do a Shorebird Big Day.  My previous experience with a Shorebird Big Day, was an unplanned affair when I got 18 species of shorebirds in the cane fields of Pam Beach County and decided to head to Fort DeSoto for some coastal species.  I ended that day with 27 species of shorebirds.  This time a Shorebird Big Day was in my mind from the start of the day.
On a given day in late August in Florida, you could get 25-26 species of shorebirds simply by birding the cane fields and hitting the west coast for salt pipers.  To get to the magic number of 30, you must get some of those rare but regular species e.g. Buff-breasted, Upland, Golden plover, Wilson’s phalarope, Long-billed curlew, or, better yet, rarities like  Ruff, Hudsonian godwit, Curlew sandpiper, etc.  The day before, I found 20 species of shorebirds in Palm Beach County during my surveys.  I was aided by Tropical Storm Isaac which dumped considerable amounts of water in the cane fields.  Fields that would have been drained a couple weeks ago were just now getting back to shorebird-friendly levels.  The sod farms were just peeking out from under their blanket of water.  Late migrating shorebirds were taking advantage of this abundance.  Two fields in particular hosted thousands of birds, many of which were Blue-winged teal and wading birds.  One sod farm hosted Wilson’s phalarope, Buff-breasted sandpiper, and Am.  Golden-plover.  These were three important key species.  American avocets were also present, a species not always easy to find on the west coast, setting the stage for a run at magic number 30.  Bunche Beach lay about two hours away.  At least nine species could be added to the 20 found in the cane fields.  One more and I would make 30.  The tides at Bunche Beach were scheduled to recede in the afternoon.  This would give me time to survey the fields, get 20 species of shorebirds again, and head to the coast to catch Bunche Beach in its glory.
The Big Day started to look like a Big Dud.   Six Mile Sod Farm held four key species the day before.  On this day it looked as if it held zero.  No sign of golden-plover, Buff-breasted, phalarope, or Avocet.  I had seen more Avocets elsewhere, but without the other three keys, the shorebird Big Day was doomed.  I eventually found a golden-plover and an Upland sandpiper.  That was one of three and a replacement for another.  Still I saw no sign of the two Wilson’s phalaropes and the four Buff-breasted sandpipers from the day before.  Next to me, on the road, was a Long-billed dowitcher.  Or was it?  Actually, it was a Wilson’s snipe!  Bonus!  I’ve always thought that doing a Shorebird Big Day ca. Sep 10 is best because of just this thing.  You have a better chance at things like snipe, White-rumped sandpiper, Buff-breasted sandpiper, and even maybe an early Dunlin, while not losing out on species found in August.  The limiting factor is that there are usually not many or any flooded fields at that time.  Thank you Isaac!  Now if I could find a Buff-breasted and a Wilson’s phalarope, I’d head to Bunche Beach and breeze my way to 30.  If only.  I searched the King Sod Farm of US 27 with no success.  My surveys this day brought me near one of the major flooded fields, but no phalaropes were near enough to find.  I left the cane fields with two missing species and two new species for a net of zero.

 I reached Bunche Beach and the tide was already on its way out.  I may have missed the Long-billed curlew which likes to feed in the water as the tide recedes.  Birds were everywhere and I quickly added Willet and Sanderling.  I decided to walk to the east first as the curlew had been seen in that direction recently.  I scanned both directions first and added many new species.  Wilson’s plover, Piping plover, Red knot, Marbled godwit, were new for the day.  On a side note, I eventually pulled a Cliff swallow from the Barn swallows for my #198 in Lee County. Lee was the last of the southern counties to add Cliff Swallow.   Long-billed curlew and Snowy plover would make 200 if I could find them.  I counted in my head; I would only be at 29 shorebirds for the day with the rest of the regulars and these two.  Snowy plovers usually do not show at Bunche Beach, so I would have to go elsewhere, or skip it, leave Bunche Beach with 28, and hope for two more in the cane fields.  Wilson’s phalarope and Buff-breasted sandpipers were there late in the day yesterday.  Maybe they would be back again this evening.  I walked to the east end of the beach and saw no sign of curlew among the masses of Willets and other shorebirds.  There were no godwits either, a species with which Long-billed curlew often associates.  A Long-billed curlew is literally the biggest shorebird on the beach and would be obvious at any distance, rendering the long walk unnecessary, but I was hoping for an early Dunlin or something even more interesting.  Nothing was forthcoming.  The common birds pushed me to 27 shorebird species, tying my personal best, but a long way from the target of 30 species.  Lack of curlew was a cause for worry.  I would need to leave the area and walk a bit for Snowy plover.  Without at least one more species on Bunche Beach, I would not have the time to go for Snowy plover and go back to the sod farm for two species to make the magic number 30.  Where the heck is that curlew?  It’s not like it can hide on a mud flat.  I walked all the way to the tidal creek to the west and scanned all the way to the causeway.  Nothing!  As I walked, I had a feeling I should check through the plovers on this one little strip.  A beautiful male Snowy plover presented itself for #28 on the day, a new record, and #199 lifetime in Lee!  Now I could go back to the fields with the hope for 30.  If only the curlew would show, it would be so much easier to get one than two more at the cane fields.  I had a big decision to make.  Do I take my new record and be satisfied with that, then head over to Sanibel to try for Lee County #200, or do I head back to PB County and try for the long shot at 30 shorebirds?  I got back to the parking area and decided to take one last look to the west.  What was that?  I thought I saw a large shorebird with a honkin’ ibis bill.  It dipped below a small rise in the flats.  I stayed on it and eventually the Long-billed curlew showed itself!  #200 in Lee at last and now a much better shot at 30 shorebirds, maybe even 31. 
A little over two hours later, I was at the Six Mile Sod Farm in Palm Beach County.  It took about 20 minutes, but I finally found a Buff-breasted sandpiper for #30.  I briefly considered heading down Brown’s Farm Road to try to ferret out a Wilson’s phalarope or Ruff in the waning daylight, but decided 30 was enough.  What a day!  I knew the stars were aligning when the fields had so much water and so many species and the tides were right for an afternoon visit to Bunche Beach.  Had I shirked my responsibilities and simply gone birding all morning at the cane fields, I might have gotten a couple more species and not needed to come back to Palm Beach at all.  I’m not complaining though, I’ll take what I can get.  I may never get that special opportunity again.