Sunday, 12 February 2012

Florida: The Sunshine and Birding State

Well, I finally have time to sit and ruminate about the Florida Birding Extravaganza.  106 species seen and in a wide variety of locations, all within easy driving distance of Dunedin, which will be my home for the month of March, where I will be doing my day job as Video Coordinator for the Toronto Blue Jays.  The great part is that I will have time to hit many spring birding and migration hot spots.

But back to the past week:

Bailey Tract:

I spent way too little time talking about Ding Darling WP.  And I forgot all about the Bailey Tract, nearby, where we walked the trails looking for a Sora but instead found alligators and pretty much all the waterfowl we could want to see, including a juvenile Great Blue Heron, which looked like a completely new bird at first glance.  They are white with green legs, and heron shaped.  As I learn this whole birding thing I have to keep in mind the tale of The Ugly Duckling.  The kids in many cases don't look anything like the beautiful birds they will grow up to be.  In the case of the juvie heron, it was quite stunning in it's pure white plumage.

Ding Darling Wildlife Preserve

Next up was Ding Darling.  We rode bikes from the Nature Center to the Wildlife Park and then the 4 mile trail.  It was great, and as I mentioned we saw the Yellow Crowned Night Heron right as we arrived in the park.  It seemed to be the equivalent of a WalMart Greeter near the front gate.  It was pretty easy to spot the birding hot spots as there were always people one step ahead, stopped at the side of the road with cameras, binoculars and scopes trained on various creatures, mostly birds.  One of those stops was a look at a lovely flock of White Pelicans, a Roseate Spoonbill and the Dunlin

Evening Boat Trip

After the bike ride and a brief rest and snack break we were off on a boat tour of Tarpon Bay to hopefully see some new birds, and while there were no new Year Birds seen, we were graced with the sight of hundreds of Brown Pelicans and many other water fowl spending the night in the mangroves.  It was an awesome sight and combined with an amazing sunset, it was a perfect end to a long day of Birding.

Corkscrew Swamp Wildlife Sanctuary, Middle of No Where and Bunche Beach

One of my favourite parts of the trip was meeting up with Noreen and Edgar, whom Sue had met a few years ago and I had just enjoyed a birding trip with this past January, as my Big Year was getting under way.  They took us on a tour  of the Corkscrew Swamp boardwalk and though it got off to a slow start, by the end of the morning we had seen 25 species including 17 new Year Birds.  We heard a Sandhill Crane right off the bat.  It took a while to see anything at first, but as the wind died down and the sun broke through, we were off and running spotting birds everywhere.  There was the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, a view of a Short-taild Hawk flying overhead; the excitement of seeing the Great-crested Flycatcher and a beautiful female Summer Tanager.  Everyone but me had seen the Carolina Wren, when it first appeared and I thought I might not get another chance, but later in the walk we chanced upon it again and I got my first look at a wren in the wild.

Once again Noreen and Edgar showed me how birding is really done and it was a reminder of how much I have yet to learn.  But that's okay.  That's why I am doing this.  An I love the chase.  Before we left we got a chance to see the Ovenbird and incredible Painted Bunting at the feeders outside the visitor Center.  All in all and great morning of Birding.

But we weren't done yet.  We drove to an even more remote spot than the location where we sought out and didn't find the he Fork-tailed Flycatcher,(twice!), and along the way saw a Wood Stork in a drainage ditch and a Snail Kite on top of a telephone pole.  You just never know where something new is going to pop up and thanks to Noreen and Edgar's trained eyes, we got a great look at them.

I am not sure where we ended up, but let's just call it The Leigh High Acres Middle of No Where Wildlife Area.  It smack in the middle of what seems like a failed Fort Myers housing community.  And I hope it stays that way.  We were treated to great views of Limpkins, male and Female Mottled Ducks, a Glossy Ibis and even got to have a fabled Snipe Hunt.  They are tricky little shore birds to find, but Noreen had the magic touch with the scope and we were able to see the Wilson's Snipe up close and personal.

Thanks again to Noreen and Edgar.  If the two of you are reading this, I look forward to you perhaps making a visit to Toronto so we can show you some of our favourite Birding Spots.  Just brush up on those Northern Birds if you ever do make it up here.

We ended our birding in the Fort Myers area with sightings of a Sandwich Tern,  Sanderling and Piping and Snowy Plovers at Bunche Beach, before heading back up to Dunedin.

Possum Branch and the Courtney Campbell Causeway.

Our whirlwind Birding Extravaganza ended up Dunedin, pretty much as it had begun, with a Sedge Wren which we both heard and saw, in Possum Branch and our final drive back to the Airport, along the Courtney Campbell Causeway, where I saw the first birds of the trip, the Common Grackle and Osprey.  We stopped along the bridge twice an saw at least a hundred Black Skimmers, a Marbled Godwit and the bird I had been looking for all trip, finally on the last day, the Bonaparte's Gull.  Woo Hoo!   Not sure how many times I had looked for the Bonaparte's in Bayfront Park, and along the Niagara River without success, and down in Florida this week, but finally spotting it, and getting a picture, while that was just icing on the cake.

I shall post pictures later today, in a separate blog entry.

For now, it's time for a Wild Goose Chase.  Litterally.

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