Monday, February 1, 2010

Tundra Swans
Payne’s Prairie to New Smyrna Dunes

January 22nd - Day #4

Payne’s Prairie -
 On day four of my birding vacation I arrived about 8:00am at the LaChua Trail in Payne’s Prairie Preserve, south of Gainesville, Florida. Had earlier started my day with a Carolina Wren and a flock of American White Pelicans flying over the hotel parking in town, which I took as a good omen for the trip.

We had lived in Gainesville back in the 80s when I was the cafeteria manager at the nearby Nationwide Insurance regional offices. At that time I was too busy with work and tending to my growing family for birding. In fact I was just starting up my interest in family history research which did eat up my spare time. So now I am back to check out a great birding site.

Back in January 2009 was, in fact, my first visit to the LaChua Trail, which is very impressive. Had been attracted here by Florida Rare Bird Alerts to a Harris’s Sparrow, very rare in Florida, and of the presence of a pair of Whooping Cranes. On that visit I did score on the Harris’s Sparrow and on the Whooping Cranes. Both lifers.

The whoopers were among several thousand Sandhill Cranes wintering on the prairie. They were adorned with tags and telemetry, as they were a part of the flock of birds that wildlife management are trying to reestablish to Florida. This status negates their qualifying as ABA countable at this time, but I had to see them in the wild and they are now on my lists. Technically, I need to look for them in Texas on their wintering grounds or at the Platte River during migration. But I don’t live over there, I live here.

A surprise last year was the arrival of a flock of Snow Geese. Very unusual in Florida. I witnessed their arrival and was able to get a photograph as they grazed among the cranes. Several days later I noticed remarks on the Birdbrains message board about these same geese and that in fact one of them was a rarer Ross’s Goose. A review of my photos showed that I had a photo of the bird. Cool! Two new lifers. Plus I was able to see one of the resident bison, that lives on the prairie along with a herd of wild horses.

My 2009 list - Snow Goose, Ross's Goose

This year was different. The thousands of cranes, including the whoopers were not on-hand this day. Did find about thirty Sandhill Cranes. Also counted well over a hundred large, some very large, alligators warming themselves in the sun along the trail on this chilly morning. Got five sparrows including Field, Chipping, Vesper, Savannah and White-Crowned Sparrows. Found four ducks including Mottled Ducks, Wood Ducks, Northern Shovelers and Blue-winged Teal. Other interesting sightings included Stilted Sandpipers, Merlin (supposed to be very unusual here), Northern Harrier, Eastern Towhee and an American Bittern. Plus a fly-over of Long-Billed Dowitchers.

My 2010 list - Wood Duck, Mottled Duck, Blue-winged Teal, Northern Shoveler, Wild Turkey, American White Pelican, Double-crested Cormorant, American Bittern, Great Blue Heron, Snowy Egret, Little Blue Heron, Cattle Egret, White Ibis, Glossy Ibis, Wood Stork, Black Vulture, Turkey Vulture, Northern Harrier, Red-shouldered Hawk, Merlin, Common Moorhen, American Coot, Sandhill Crane, Killdeer, Greater Yellowlegs, Stilt Sandpiper, Long-billed Dowitcher, Eastern Phoebe, Blue Jay, American Crow, Tufted Titmouse, Carolina Wren, House Wren, Northern Mockingbird, Palm Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, Eastern Towhee, Chipping Sparrow, Field Sparrow, Vesper Sparrow, Savannah Sparrow, White-crowned Sparrow, Northern Cardinal, Red-winged Blackbird , Northern Shoveler, Pied-billed Grebe, American Bittern, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Little Blue Heron, Cattle Egret, White Ibis, Glossy Ibis, Bald Eagle, Northern Harrier, Red-shouldered Hawk, Merlin, Common Moorhen, American Coot, Sandhill Crane, Whooping Crane, Killdeer, Stilt Sandpiper, Eastern Phoebe, Loggerhead Shrike, Blue Jay, House Wren, Northern Mockingbird, Palm Warbler, Chipping Sparrow, Vesper Sparrow, Savannah Sparrow, Song Sparrow, Harris's Sparrow, White-crowned Sparrow, Red-winged Blackbird, Common Grackle, Boat-tailed Grackle

My list - Tundra Swan, Pied-billed Grebe, Merlin, Loggerhead Shrike, Eastern Meadowlark
Bartram Farm, St John’s CountyNext was about an hours drive east toward St Augustine for a pair of juvenile Tundra Swans wintering on the Bartram Farm development along CR13A in St John’s County. This is an extremely southern location for this species and the initial observation reported that original flock was of twenty birds. For some reason these two elected to stay put, which is fine with me as I had been considering a trip to South Carolina to look for wintering swans. Should make the trip someday. Following the Florida Rare Bird Alert directions I drove right up the swans. They were standing on the shore of the lake right next to the roadway. Pretty cool!! Another lifer.

My list - Northern Gannet, Brown Pelican, Double-crested Cormorant, Willet, Ruddy Turnstone, Sanderling, Laughing Gull, Ring-billed Gull, Black Skimmer, Parasitic Jaeger
Gamble Rodgers recreation Area
Next, onto the Atlantic Ocean. Arrived at Flagler Beach about 2:00pm and was amazed by the hundreds of Northern Gannets feeding off the beach. Checked in at the Gamble Rodgers park to look for the reported common eider that had been enjoying this stretch of beach. It was a no-show during my visit, but there was still a good show to watch. The Northern Gannets continued feeding and I had a lifer appear when a dark-morphed Parasitic Jaeger flew in, harassing a gull. With it getting late, I passed on the Florida scrub jays and marsh wrens to be found in the habitat on the western side of A1A at Gamble Rodgers park 
New Smyrna Beach
My last stop for the day was at New Smyrna Beach at the Ponce Inlet in Volusia County. Arrived about 4:00pm, so I hurried along the boardwalk toward the rock jetty for my target. Ponce Inlet is about the most southerly location to reliably locate wintering Purple Sandpipers. I did find a pair of these birds here last year and in a recent email request about them with local Ponce Inlet birding expert, Michael Brothers, a reported recent survey found a pair on the Smyrna Jetty. They prefer rocky shorelines, or rocky jetties and are often in the company of ruddy turnstones.

I attempted to walk along the boulders making up the jetty, but my shoes were too slick for the slippery rock. About had a serious spill, much for the entertainment for the locals. I did get my tick on the Purple Sandpiper, but it was too far out for my camera. So I’ve include a shot from last year. As I was heading out the Northern Gannets arrived at the inlet and were actively feeding. Cool!!.

My list - Northern Gannet, Brown Pelican, Snowy Egret, Willet, Ruddy Turnstone, Purple Sandpiper, Laughing Gull, Ring-billed Gull, Black Skimmer, Eastern Phoebe, Yellow-rumped Warbler

Whooping Crane with crowd of Sandhill Cranes from January 23, 2009

A Ross's and Snow Geese grazing with the cranes at Paynes Prairie January 23, 2009

Alligator sunning along side LaChua Trail - 2010

Flock of Turkeys along LaChua Trail in the early morning - 2010

Purple Sandpiper on the jetty at New Smyrna Beach in 2009

Pair of juvenile Tundra Swans at bartram farm in St John's County - 2010

A trio of Ruddy Turnstones on the Jetty at New Smyrna Beach - 2010

Count for the day was 59

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