Sunday, December 11, 2016

Payne's Prairie - La Chua Trail

Tuesday December 6th

Spent several hours on Tuesday and Wednesday birding the La Chua Trail situated on the north side of the Payne's Prairie State Park near Gainesville, Florida. I'm here looking for specialty birds we don't see much, wintering in southwest Florida. Targets today include wintering sparrows, the resident Whooping Crane, a wintering Vermilion Flycatcher and wintering water fowl.
White-crowned Sparrow

On Tuesday, there was a late start due to inclement weather. But as the rain abated about 9 am, I made my initial stop at Magnolia Parke in northwestern Gainesville. Historically, Rusty Blackbirds have been roosting here as they wintered in Gainesville. It was actually a bit early on the calendar to expect these blackbirds, and I didn't see any but did have some White-crowned Sparrows, Eastern Bluebirds, a Red-headed Woodpecker and Yellow-rumped Warblers. 

The weather was improving so I moved onto the La Chua Trail, arriving about 10:45 am. The only other birder I encounter was Yve Morrell. Yve is a very active birder from Naples, Florida, whom I have met several times in various birding venues. Currently she's aggressively running a recon in preparation of conducting an ABA Big Year in 2017.  Just a few weeks away.

Yve was already heading out after a successful morning. She had braved the rain and was rewarded in seeing the Lincoln's Sparrow that's been reported here. She also added Savannah, Song, Swamp and White-crowned Sparrows. As for the Vermilion Flycatcher she outlined that access to it was being blocked by construction. 
One of the wild Spanish Cracker Horses that roam the prairie

Spent four hours in birding the area. Even though the rains had stopped it was still windy. Much of  the wetlands have dried up and the Spanish Cracker horse herd could be seen to the east. Huge alligators, as usual, are sunning themselves along the canals and hundreds of Greater Sandhill Cranes are spread across the the flats.
The Sparrows are Staying Low

 Amongst the Sandhills is a lone Whooping Crane. It can be seen from the observation tower, but is a long was off. Due to distance and poor lighting, good photography was a problem. Was also a problem in identifying the hundreds of water fowl and shorebirds present by the tower, due to the bad lighting.

 Was able to identify Mottle Ducks, Blue-winged Teal, Green-winged Teal, Northern Shovelers, Long-billed Dowitchers, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Killdeers, Wilson's Snipes, American Coots, Common Gallinules, White and Glossy Ibis and lots of waders.

Other species included an Armadillo, Ribbon Snake, American Crows, Red-shouldered Hawks, Bald Eagle, House Wrens, Carolina Wrens Red-winged Blackbirds, Savannah Sparrows, White-crowned Sparrows. Palm and Yellow-rumped Warblers, Ruby-crowned Kinglet and a female Painted Bunting.  But no Lincoln's Sparrow

The Florida State Bird

From here I headed over to the nearby Sweetwater Wetlands. Best sighting at Sweetwater were Northern Harrier, Black-bellied Whistling Ducks, Northern Shovelers, Blue-wing Teal Wood Storks and Limpkins.

Black-bellied Whistling Duck

Wednesday, December 7th

Returned to the La Chua Trail for another morning of birding. The weather was nicer and the trail was a lot busier. The horses were out east of the trail and the bison herd was close by on the western side. Counted fifteen of them today. I believe there are probably about 50 cows, left after a recent removal of the bulls. The Bison, Cracker Horse and Cracker Cattle Management Plan

The birding wasn't much different than yesterday. So much of the same. But not all. Was able to add Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Tufted Titmouse, Carolina Chickadee, Kestrel, Black-and-White Warbler, Orange-crowned Warbler, Swamp Sparrow, Marsh Wren and Roseate Spoonbill.
Savannah Sparrow

White-crowned Sparrow

White-crowned Sparrow

Glossy Ibis

Long-billed Dowitcher

A very distant pic of the Whooping Crane

From here I traveled to Clay County and the Ronnie Van Zant Memorial Park to see the Canada Geese and Muscovy Ducks. These ducks are everywhere.                                                       Then, on the long drive home, I made one last stop.  A return visit to try for the Brewer's Blackbird at Bayport Park near Weeki Watchee, After dipping a couple of times this year, I was able to observe the blackbird in the company of a flock of Boat-tailed Grackles.

This female Brewer's Blackbird was been a winter visitor
to his area for several seasons now.

Boat-tailed Grackle

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