Friday, January 21, 2011

Whoopers at LaChua Trail

Thursday January 20th

American Bittern along the LaChua Trail
 Held a one day winter birding trip to north Florida. Would have enjoyed a more expanded trip, like I did last year. But you can't always get what you want. Elected to return to the LaChua Trail at Payne's Prairie State Preserve, south of Gainesville. Good location for wintering cranes, sparrows and ducks. Lots of big gators too. After a four hour drive from Ft Myers, arrived about nine o'clock, found the weather to be nice.  Started out cool but comfortable.

One of the features at Paynes Prairie are the free roaming bison and horses present on the preserve. Had a trio of horses at the trail head and found a bison cow and calf trying to rest, some what concealed near the trail. As for birds, it was pretty quite.  The Sandhill Cranes were spread out and my not have number more than a hundred on this day. Luckily I did get to the see the Whooping Cranes. Three of them could be seen from the observation tower at the end of the trail.  Too far out for my photography though. I believe at least four of the whoopers are year round residents and are joined by some additional wintering cranes down from Wisconsin.
Bison - cow and calf resting

One disappointment at the observation tower was that there was virtually no water.  So no ducks.  In the distance something had spooked a concentration of a couple of hundred ducks. Could see them rise and settle back down, but were too far out to see more that silhouettes. The  waterway paralleling the trail was active with a lot of Common Moorhens and a few American Coots and Pied-billed Grebes. Again lots of gators.
Red-shouldered Hawk
Raptors were dominated by Red-shouldered Hawks. An American Kesteral was active at the Big Sink. and a Northern Harrier could be seen hunting the marsh. The sparrows were disappointing only a few Savannah Sparrows, a single White-crowned Sparrow and a Song Sparrow.  Dipped on vespers, swamp and white-throated sparrows.  Heard what could have been american pipets, but were not seen. Found a few Eastern Phoebes and Palm Warblers and all the usuall waders, including a juvenile Black-crowned Nightheron.  American Bitterns are usually an ease find here.
 Had some luck with a mixed flock near the parking lot as I was leaving which included Yellow-rumped Warblers, Blue Jay, White-eyed Vireo, Fish Crow, Tufted Titmouse, Gray Catbird, Carolina Wren and a Carolina Chickadee. Lots of Northern Cardinals

Red-shouldered Hawk at Lust Road
Next was to hit a couple of spots near Zellwood, by Lake Apopka, on the way home. First stop was on Ranch Road in Astatula. Here was one of my nemisis birds.  A Say's Phoebe which has wintered in the pastures located here for several years now. Say's are a rarety to Florida.  But so many people had commented on how easy it was to locate over the years.  Well I have stopped here several times, sometimes a two or three stops in a day without spotting the bird the past two winters. I have only had a brief sighting with all these attempts. Well today, it was sitting right out in the open acting like a flycatcher.  Hopping down to snatch a bug and zip back to its seat. Several Eastern Meadowlarks were present, but did not see any of the eastern bluebirds or scrub jays that are often observed here. I would have to add the I finally located an American Robin as well. My first and only so far for the season.
Western Kingbird on Lust Road
Then it was around the lake to Zellwood to check out the birds on Lust Road.  In the past western kingbirds were an easy find here and ash-throated flycatchers have been reported here as well.  I did luck into a trio of Western Kingbirds, more Savannah Sparrows and three soaring Red-tailed Hawks. Plus a young Red-shouldered Hawk. But no other flycatchers. Getting late, so time to  head for home.


  1. Enjoyed the report from one of the spots on the Great Florida Birding Trail I hope to visit someday.

  2. Great pictures Tom! I walked the trail yesterday and saw many of the same birds - but the Whooping Cranes were closer. Afterwards, drove by FU beef farm to see Ross' Goose. I enjoy your blog!