Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Back to Payne's Prairie

Thursday July 25th

Today, as I was taking the dogs out for a walk, a trio of Barn Swallows made an appearance above my home. These were the first Barn Swallows to visit us in some time and marked the end of the summer birding doldrums here in southwest Florida. I can also  add several shorebirds - Piping Plover, Marbled Godwits, Least & Western Sandpipers and Spotted Sandpipers -  as recent arrivals  seen this morning at Bunche Beach.

Barn Swallows were a common theme yesterday  as I had been invited to return to Payne's Prairie by noted wildlife photographer Bob Pelkey. Barns were the only swallow species observed on the day with nesting birds seen under I-75 overpasses in Alachua County and dozens seen at Power Line Road.
Black-crowned Night-heron at Alachua Sink. Photo by Bob Pelkey

The day started at three in the morning with our departure from Ft Myers so that we could arrive at the La Chua Trail in Payne's Prairie Preserve when the gates were opened. Our arrival was greeted by lots of bird song and we had a nice mixed flock at the trail head. Here we started with Northern Bobwhite, White-eyed Vireo, Blue Gray Gnatcatcher, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Tufted Titmouse, Carolina Wrens, Carolina Chickadee, Black-and-White Warbler, Northern Parula, Osprey, American Crow, Black Vultures, Blue jays, Eastern Wood-Pewee (253) and Orchard Oriole.

From here we entered the trail, with our target bird-of-the-day being the Mississippi Kites. t I had dipped on them  my  visit back on the 4th. 

After passing through the horse barn we entered the boardwalk, which curves around  the Alachua Sink. Here we saw their herd of Spanish Horses with Cattle Egrets hitching rides on their backs. Bison and cracker cattle also roam the prairie. Several waders and large alligators were active and Black-crowned Night-herons and Green Herons were observed in flight. Checked the nearby snags for roosting kites, but just found more vultures, Great Blue Herons, Great Egrets and Anhingas in the trees. 
Mississippi Kite at Alachua Sink. Photo by Bob Pelkey
As we progressed along the trail we added Blue Grosbeaks (253), Eastern Towhee and Indigo Buntings. Near the observation tower we added a skulking King Rail (254) and Common Moorhens. The whooping cranes have not been reported here for over a month, probably because of rising water from our above-average rainfall, have relocated them. No sandhill cranes seen as well.

By ten o'clock the day was heating up and we finally caught sight of the soaring birds we had been searching for. We had our Mississippi Kites (255) which put on a very nice show. We actually had eight of them soaring overhead with a single Swallow-tailed Kite in their company. Also had a surprise here when a hummingbird zoomed past us as we watched the kites.

Back at the trail head we relocated the mixed flock seen earlier. Here we added a posing Yellow-billed Cuckoo and Downy Woodpeckers to our list. 
Swallow-tailed Kite at Power Line Road. Photo by Bob Pelkey
Heading back toward  home we added a stop at Power Line road near Brooksville.  This location had been good for Mississippi and swallow-tailed kites, but the Mississippi kites have not been using the area lately. We did see several Swallow-tailed Kites including a family of four, which Bob was able to photograph an adult feeding a frog to a juvenile.  We also had the Barn Swallows, Redheaded Woodpeckers, Eastern Meadowlarks, American Kestrels, Mourning Doves and a lone juvenile Brown-headed Cowbird.
Redheaded Woodpecker seen at Power Line Road. Photo By Bob Pelkey
Lastly we stopped at Ft DeSoto in Tampa Bay to try to photograph the Brown Booby that has been observed here lately. Bob had tried for it a couple of days ago and  had dipped on it then, just  as we did today. we did see most of the expected shorebirds and waders, Some of these included Western, Least and Semipalmated Sandpipers, Marbled Godwits, Short-billed Dowitchers, Laughing Gulls, Willets, Ruddy Turnstones Cormorants, Brown Pelicans, Sanderlings, Sandwich Terns, Royal Terns, Foster's tern, Least Terns and a suspected common tern. We also added another juvenile Brown-headed Cowbird.
On the way out of the park we made a stop at the Terra Verdi ponds were we saw the pair of Redhead ducks that has been summering here. Also lots of Magnificent  Frigatebirds overhead, Fish Crows, Rock Pigeons, White Ibis, Cormorants, Laughing Gulls, and a pair of Nanday Parakeets.

In all it was a hot, exhausting day with some very good results. Bob got some great shots and I got some good counts and we tally about 80 birds for the day. 

Day's List - (81)

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck, Redhead, Northern Bobwhite, Wild Turkey,   Wood Stork, Magnificent Frigatebird, Double-crested Cormorant, Anhinga, Brown Pelican, Great Blue Heron,  Great Egret, Snowy Egret, Little Blue Heron, Tricolored Heron, Cattle Egret,  Green Heron,  Black-crowned Night-Heron, White Ibis, Glossy Ibis, Roseate Spoonbill, Black Vulture, Turkey Vulture,   Osprey, Swallow-tailed Kite, Mississippi Kite,  Red-shouldered Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk, King Rail, Common Gallinule, Black-bellied Plover, Wilson's Plover, Semipalmated Plover, Willet,  Marbled Godwit, Ruddy Turnstone, Sanderling,  Semipalmated Sandpiper, Western Sandpiper, Short-billed Dowitcher,  Laughing Gull, Least Tern, Forster's Tern, Royal Tern, Sandwich Tern,  Rock Pigeon, Eurasian Collared Dove,  Mourning Dove, Common Ground-Dove, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Red-headed Woodpecker, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, American Kestrel, Nanday Parakeet, Eastern Wood-Pewee, Loggerhead Shrike, White-eyed Vireo, Blue Jay, American Crow, Fish Crow, Barn Swallow, Carolina Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, Carolina Wren, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Eastern Bluebird, Northern Mockingbird, European Starling, Black-and-white Warbler, Northern Parula, Eastern Towhee, Northern Cardinal, Blue Grosbeak, Indigo Bunting, Red-winged Blackbird, Eastern Meadowlark, Common Grackle, Boat-tailed Grackle, Brown-headed Cowbird, Orchard Oriole
Reptiles - American Alligator, Water Moccasin, Black Racer, Peninsula Mole Skink, Green Anole

Friday, July 12, 2013

Long-billed Curlew

Thursday, July 11th

A very bad phone camera shot
of the Long-billed Curlew at Bunche Beach

I haven't been to Bunche Beach for  sometime, especially as so many of the birds have departed for there breeding grounds. However, some of the species will have already returned south in July.  Today I was lucky to find the Long-billed Curlew, assuming it is the same individually we have been seeing here for a some time, that has been a resident on this beach. Bunche Beach and Ft Desoto Park in Tampa had been the most reliable locations for seeing this species in Florida.
As I arrived a pair of Snowy Plovers were departing the area. Did not see too many species on this visit, but did find a Laughing Gull, a couple of Brown Pelicans and lots of Short-billed Dowitchers and Willets. Ospreys were hunting from overhead and Prairie Warblers were calling from the brush.
From Bunche Beach I moved onto Bodwitch Point Park on Ft Myers Beach. Here a nesting colony of Least Terns has been roped off along with a couple of turtle nest sites. Again there was not a lot of variety. Brown Pelicans, Double-crested Cormorants and Laughing Gulls were occupying  buoys and other features. Had a few Willets, Ruddy Turnstones, Wilson's Plovers and a lone Sanderling. Gray Kingbirds and Eurasian Doves sat on the wires outside of the park. So basically the Least Terns were dominate species here on my visit.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Birding the Fourth of July

Thursday July 4th
I have set a birding goal of finding at least 300 species in Florida before the end of the year. To accomplish this goal, a birder in Florida will need to travel to various corners of the state. I had envisioned trekking up to the Tallahassee area in search for several species that nest in the panhandle, such as Kentucky and Hooded Warblers, Summer Tanagers, White-breasted Nuthatch, Mississippi Kite, Yellow-breasted Chat (one of my nemesis birds), Yellow-throated Vireo and Acadian Flycatcher. Was going to use the Fourth of July weekend for the overnight trip, but reality required a change in plans. Instead the trip was limited to a day trip up to the Gainesville area. Were many of the species are being reported.
Was on the road by 5 AM and made my first stop for birds on a rural road near Plant City to check-out a pond on  Bethlehem Road. My brief stop found a pair of Canada Geese, Chimney Swifts, Moorhens, White Ibis and a Sandhill Crane. The Canadians were my 250th species for the year. Seems that it was a good start.
One of many gators found along the La Chua Trail
By 10 am I reached the LA Chua Trail at Payne's Prairie Preserve south of Gainesville. Mississippi Kites are regularly seen here and recent reports of Blue Grosbeak, Yellow-breasted Chat and Whooping Crane were also targets for the day. But on my visit none of the above were located. I did add Carolina Chickadee, Indigo Buntings and Least Bitterns.
By noon I had reached a new venue for me. Gum Root Park in eastern Gainesville. Again, resent reports named Acadian Flycatchers, Yellow-throated Vireos and Summer Tanagers. And again I strike out on the target species. But I did add Whited and Red-eyed Vireos and a Pileated Woodpecker.
Swallow-tailed Kite
Had a bit of time left before meeting family in Tampa for dinner so I made an added stop at Power Line Road, which borders Hernando and Pasco County. This is an excellent spot for Swallow-tailed and Mississippi Kites.  Before reaching Power Line Road I came upon nesting Barn Swallows using an underpass under I-75 at Micanopy. 
Mississippi Kite seen in 2012
Photo by Bob Pelkey
So I explored Power Line Road for about an hour hoping to sight a Mississippi Kite, but again would dip on a targeted species. This proved to be the theme of the day.  Did find, FOS for me, Eastern Kingbirds which were #251 for the year.  Also added several American Kestrels. At time of the year the wintering Kestrels had returned north, except for a sub-species called Southeastern American Kestrels, which are Florida's resident kestrels.  Other species seen here included several Swallow-tailed Kites, Red-shouldered Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk, Eastern Bluebirds, Red-headed Woodpeckers, Eastern Meadowlarks and Cattle Egrets.
It was a long day, dipped on almost all of my targets, but I did find several good birds for this trip. I'll need to try again soon.

Day Total (51) -
Canada Goose, Mottled Duck, Anhinga, Least Bittern, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Snowy Egret, Little Blue Heron, Tricolored Heron, Cattle Egret,  Green Heron, White Ibis, Glossy Ibis, Black Vulture, Turkey Vulture, Osprey, Swallow-tailed Kite, Red-shouldered Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk, Common Gallinule, Sandhill Crane, Mourning Dove, Rock Pigeon, Chimney Swift, Red-headed Woodpecker, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Pileated Woodpecker, American Kestrel, Eastern Kingbird, Loggerhead Shrike, White-eyed Vireo, Red-eyed Vireo, Blue Jay, American Crow, Fish Crow, Barn Swallow, Carolina Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Eastern Bluebird, Northern Mockingbird, European Starling, Northern Parula, Eastern Towhee, Northern Cardinal, Indigo Bunting, Red-winged Blackbird, Eastern Meadowlark, Boat-tailed Grackle, Common Grackle, House Sparrow