Dee and I spent last weekend in St. Augustine. Our main goal: show Peregrine falcons to some friends of ours from Gainesville, FL. We ran into James Wheat on both days at the platform. James helped to point out several of the birds we saw.
Saturday morning, we hit the hawk watch, a week after the watch ended, at the north beach access (30.116538,-81.345118) of Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve (GTMNERR). There is a platform at the top of the beach dune which affords a view of the beach and the lake behind the dune line. Saturday morning's weather did not bode well for hawk watching. Southwest winds in the fall along Florida's east coast often mean the hawks will take the day off and wait for better conditions. Despite these seemingly bad conditions, we were greeted by a Merlin which flew in over our heads while we were still in the parking lot. A good omen, perhaps.
On the platform we spied a distant Peregrine falcon which remained a distant Peregrine falcon for most of the time we were there. It made for a good lesson in hawk watching. James Wheat joined us in the platform while we watched and helped point out more distant specks. Ospreys were in abundance, hunting both the lake and the ocean where baitfish abounded. Several immature and one mature Bald eagle were around as well, sometimes hunting on their own, sometimes taking what the Ospreys worked hard for. There were a few other hawks around. A Northern harrier was working the lake. A Cooper's hawk and an unidentified accipiter flew by as well. Eventually, another Peregrine came right off the ocean, over our heads, giving us nice looks.
Later that evening, after finding some good ice cream in St. Augustine Beach, we headed to Vilano Beach to walk the beaches near Porpoise Point. The tide was rising and the birds on the point across the inlet at Anastasia State Park were retreating and looking for higher beaches. On our side of the water, we found a nice flock of gulls, terns, and eventually skimmers. Most of the gulls were Laughing gulls, as would be expected. About 20 Lesser black-backed gulls were across the way, at the park. Other gulls were represented by singles, one Great black-backed, one Herring, one Ring-billed, and one FRANKLIN's. The Franklin's was a first year bird. Dee took some shots of the bird, or at least the portion of the flock where the bird was. Lighting was a bit iffy at this late hour, and we have not looked at the pics to see what we got.
Sunday morning promised to be better for hawk watching. It lied. We saw nothing of hawks from the platform, save the local Ospreys and eagles.
We started our birding a little south of the hawk watch at Six Mile Landing had several wintering birds around including my FOTS Yellow-rumped warbler. There were several Painted buntings, a species that breeds in the area. Swainson's thrush was a bit unexpected, given the habitat. One was heard calling in the scrub, and another came out for a brief view. An American bittern flew by the ramp, not a new bird for the county, but nice to see nonetheless.
Ducks were in better supply Sunday. Blue-winged teal and Northern shoveler were cruising the lake at Six Mile and near the tower. Four Northern pintail came in for a landing near the tower. These were a bit early and locally rare. They were a new county bird for me in St. Johns County.
After the second day of hawk watching, we headed up to Jacksonville to meet a work friend of Dee's for lunch. On the way, we ducked into Bird Island Park to see if there were any Canada geese, a species I still needed for my county list. Nifty little park with lots of trails, a small rookery island and native plants around. A flock of Black-bellied whistling ducks flew over while we were there, but no geese. Canada geese are resident from the northeastern U.S. to northeast Florida. They have established themselves in many counties in Florida, including St. Johns, yet they still eluded me for my list. Finally, within a mile of entering Duval County, I spied a Canada goose in a retention pond along A1A. TICK!
That was fun. We always like to get up to St. Augustine. Someday we will be back.