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Sunday, December 8, 2013

County Listing in DeSoto

At one time, common knowledge stated that DeSoto County, FL would be one of the hardest counties to achieve the magic number of 100 species of birds.  There are virtually no public parks in the county, no National Wildlife Refuges, State Parks, Wildlife Management Areas, or State Forests.  There is just a city park in Arcadia, the Peace River, and lots of roadside birding along orange groves, pastures, and woods.  Many years ago, after I started County Listing in earnest, I did an "accidental" Big Day in mid-November.  I actually spent 4.5 hours outside of DeSoto County in nearby Manatee and Hardee Counties, yet still managed to get 101 species for the day.  My life list for DeSoto was only about 70 before the day began.

Such an awesome, day leaves me wondering how much more I could have gotten knowing now what I do.  I did not travel south of Arcadia on SR 31 nor did I know of the lakes of Lake Suzy Estates in southwest DeSoto County or the wetlands on 769 in northwest DeSoto, or the Burrowing owls in the west.  I have often though of doing another Big Day in mid-November.  Totals could top 120, a remarkable day list for a county where it was once thought that 100 in a lifetime was difficult.

My life list for DeSoto climbed to 150 before today and I still have many holes in the list.  Does one dare to dream of 200 in DeSoto.  Not likely, but certainly I can go way past 150.  Today, I decided to try to inch my way closer to 200.  I took the long way to Circle B Bar Reserve for a meeting of the heavy weights of the Florida Breeding Bird Atlas.  Driving up SR 31, I spied a large group (120) of American white pelicans circling west of the road.  I knew I needed that for DeSoto County, but I was still in Charlotte.  I knew DeSoto was near, but I was not sure exactly how far.  I pulled off the road to assess the direction of movement of the pelicans.  I spied a far distant green sign that I thought must be the county line.  Checking with my ever-present binoculars, I confirmed that it was indeed the county line.  The pelicans were beginning to drift NW, so I drove up to the county line and started a point count on with BirdLog.  Most of the pelicans (80 of 120) eventually made their way into DeSoto air space and I had my first tick of the day.

The main reason I wanted to take SR 31 was to check the sand pit, now filled with water, on the west side of the road.  I pegged this spot as a good place to get American coot, a species that I was only missing in DeSoto and Gilchrist Counties.  I set up by the pond and scanned the barren waters, only turning up a couple Common gallinules, and some cormorants.  I waited some time in hopes that a coot would come out.  I waited.  I waited.  I watched the clock, since I was on a schedule.  I decided to stand up as high as I could in the bed of my truck and, barely visible along a spit of dry ground, there was a single coot.  Nice.  County listing makes good birds of birds that taste like mud.

Mission accomplished!  Many other possible ticks could be had along this road.  Grasshopper sparrows are undoubtedly all over these pastures, some of the wooded ditch banks may have Painted bunting, the retention ponds in the orange groves most definitely have Sora, and probably Virginia rail and American bittern, but those would have to wait.  I have a schedule to keep.

But wait!  There is a flock of terns flying over a pond behind the building!  I forgot about the DeSoto County Wastewater Treatment Plant, but I did not forget that I needed Forster's tern for DeSoto.  One would have been sufficient, 56 was overkill.  I checked every one, hoping for a Bonaparte's gull or some other species of tern.  Not happening, but at least I got a third tick.  If only I could get high enough to see into the pond behind the building.  Bonus bird, there was a flock of about 50 white pelicans circling east of the ponds.

I am really looking forward to getting back to this area early in the morning to rack up some more county ticks.  A Big Day next November.  125+ sounds reasonable.

eBird lists

CR 31 at County Line
"Coot" Pond
"Rail/Bittern" Pond
Bonus stop

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