January 30, 2009

Florida - Boring Birds Edition

Okay, here's my Florida trip report. Pics at the bottom :-)

January 30 – I got back last night from a week in Florida. Saw some great birds, played at a fantastic dance weekend and spent some time with Sarah's grandparents. On January 22 I flew into Tampa with mom and Noah. It was dark by the time we left the airport but in the morning I started picking up year birds fast. Gnatcatcher was the first official bird of the trip, followed by other common species like Osprey, Mockingbird, Laughing Gull, etc. In the afternoon we went out to a small island south of St Petersburg and walked the beach. There were lots of Sanderling and Ruddy Turnstones feeding by the water and several Loggerhead Shrikes on the telephone lines. On the way back I picked up a few more easy southeast birds like Anhinga, Wood Stork and White Ibis. When we arrived at the dance hall in Gulfport the next morning (January 24) I found some large shorebirds in the area which turned out to be Willets, Marbled Godwits and American Oystercatchers. However the first really exciting bird of the trip was a SANDWICH TERN mixed in with some Royal and Forster's Terns, right outside the dance hall. This was essentially a life bird; I had it on my list from one previous sighting over ten years ago that I don't remember at all. The bird was very cooperative and stayed on the beach for most of the day, hanging out with the other terns and, another favorite of mine, Black Skimmers. Sarah flew down on January 25 and the only new birds that day were several parrots of some kind, seen very briefly while driving back to the hotel from dinner. We tried to turn around and relocate them but with no luck. After packing things up we drove south to Ft Myers for the night. We got up early on January 26 and headed out to Sanibel Island to visit J.N. “Ding” Darling NWR. It was of course amazing. We had great looks at REDDISH EGRET, ROSEATE SPOONBILL, Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, Little Blue and Tricolored Herons as well as a beautiful pair of COMMON GROUND-DOVES. Over on the beach we had a couple Northern Gannets and a soaring Peregrine Falcon. Around noon we headed back inland and south, hoping to find Short-tailed Hawk or something else interesting. Unfortunately we got caught in some bad traffic and ended up wasting a lot of time since we didn't have good directions or a decent map. So we didn't find much new for the rest of the day. We started out in the morning on January 27 at Bunche Beach in Ft Myers (the end of John Morris Blvd) looking for plovers. We walked east for a long time without too much luck (although we did get to see several more Reddish Egrets). When we got back towards the parking lot I took a quick scan west and found several small and distant groups of plovers so we decided to get a closer look. Before long we could pick out a bunch of PIPING PLOVERS, little white spots on the sand, mixed in with the Semipalmated Plovers. After we'd watched them for a while I was able to pick out three or four WILSON'S PLOVERS as well. This was another “nearly” life bird. I had one previous bad look at this species on a boat ride in Texas several years ago. Very excited about finding our goal birds for the morning, we started heading east towards Lake Okeechobee looking for open land birds along the way. At some point we missed a turn and ended up heading way north of where we had planned. It was in this area that we found our first CRESTED CARACARA along the side of the road. What a fantastic bird! Sarah especially enjoyed this one since it was a lifer for her. We dipped on Burrowing Owl but we saw another Caracara along the way. Once we got to Lake Okeechobee we picked up several new species including a pair of WESTERN KINGBIRDS and our first alligator. The sun was beginning to go down and we'd pretty much stopped actively birding when it finally happened. Sarah and I both shouted out at the same time... LIMPKIN (full blown, honest-to-goodness Life Bird)! It was feeding in a ditch right by the side of the road. This was definitely my most sought after goal bird of the trip and I was thrilled, after scanning roadside ditches for so many hours to finally see one. Of course, after we get a few pictures and headed on our way again we find three more Limpkins within a mile or two. We thought for sure our birding was done for the day but there was still one more surprise for us. As we were approaching St Lucie I saw a (somewhat) familiar raptor fly up and land on a telephone line right by our car. It was an immature SNAIL KITE and we turned around one last time to get some decent, sunset scope views of this beautiful bird. We arrived in Vero Beach that evening and stayed with Sarah's grandparents. January 28 was Sarah's birthday and in the afternoon we went on an airboat ride at Lake Garcia. New species were Purple Gallinule, American Bittern, Caspian Tern and Ring-necked Duck but we also got another quick look at a Limpkin and fantastic, extended looks at a Peregrine Falcon that would follow the boat and dive bomb the coot. It was amazing to watch it use the boat to flush the waterfowl. Airboat rides are always a ton of fun. On January 29 we headed back across the state to Tampa (to catch our flight back to Syracuse). We picked up several new birds along the way including Eastern Meadowlark and American Pipit. In Lake Wales we pulled into a Publix grocery store so I could use a restroom. When I got back to the car Sarah had the scope out and had found a flock of BLACK-BELLIED WHISTLING-DUCKS in a small lake across the road! This was yet another “nearly” life bird; seen badly once before on the same Texas boat ride. We drove around to get a closer look at the ducks with better lighting and we even managed some photos despite the wind. Also on the pond were Blue-winged Teal, Glossy Ibis, Wilson's Snipe and several MOTTLED DUCKS. It was a great trip and got my year list up to 145.

Crested CaracaraCommon Ground-DoveLoggerhead ShrikeLimpkinSnail KiteBlack-bellied Whistling-Duck