Thursday, 29 March 2012

Top 10 Observations From the Past Few Days

1.  Not everyone thinks you're a Peeping Tom, while Birding in residential Neighbourhoods.  The past few days I have been greeted by lots of friendly people just checking to see if I was okay, lost, my car broke down, if I could use a ride, if I was looking for a Bobcat, enquiring as to what bird I was looking for, without once being accused of unsavoury business in their neighbourhood.

2. Those damn birds just won't cooperate and be where I am.

3. Why would you report on E-birds to every E-bird follower on the Internet that there is a Cinnamon Teal in a gated community into which you cannot enter without the permission of a resident?

4. You meet the nicest people while out and about.  Last night I met a gentleman from England, and his son, who was out on his second day ever of birding with his dad.  We talked for about 25 minutes,(dad timed it), and he encouraged me to stay until dusk to hear the Whip-poor-will.

5. Rules are not set in stone.  I had not recorded a Boreal Chickadee earlier in the year, as I had never seen or heard one on my own prior to the day someone pointed out the sound.  However, in the case of the Whip-poor-will, even though I have never seen one, I have heard them call in the past and the call was unmistakable and identifiable.

6.  Always take the advice of a local birder when they tell you where the good spots are.  I stayed until dusk at Weekiwachee Preserve and counted bird number 236 for 2012

7.  Nothin' wrong with those Chicken McBites and a frozen raspberry lemonade as an afternoon snack while sitting in a McDonald's parking lot, using their free Wi-Fi.  After all, nothing in life is free, so might as well give them a bit of business in thanks for their Internet.

8.  You never know what you'll see when out looking for a bird.  A couple of days ago, I spotted no new birds, but had I been doing a Big Butterfly Year, I'd have had a Big Butterfly Day with at least a dozen species.  If I was doing a Big Pair of Shoes on Electrical Wires Year, I'd have counted more than a dozen pair of shoes on wires in the last week.

9. If you don't get the bird you're looking for, sometimes you get a nice alternative bird, as I got great photos yesterday of Mottled Ducks.  I had seen them, but had very far away photos of them in February.

10. Life is good when the worst part of your day was not seeing a Cinnamon Teal, a bird name that sounds more like a nice dessert or, say, a girly cocktail.  Neither of which I would turn down after a long day of bird chasing.

Friday, 23 March 2012

Picture Day and a Cautionary Tale

Just a few few photos from the last two days, including new birds, the Brown Thrasher from yesterday and the Lesser Yellow-legs from this morning at Circle Bar Reserve.

But it was the story I left out from yesterday afternoon that should provide a little background to my early evening birding.  I was walking all over this neighbourhood looking for the non-existent Budgerigar, and prior to spotting the Thrasher, when a car drove up to me, and stopped.  I thought, "I have a bad feeling about this," and I was not wrong.  The man, in an accusatory fashion, looked out his open window, and with just a hint of anger and mistrust said, "What ya doin' here?  You a Peeping Tom or something?"

I was taken aback, but had kind of expected that's what he was going to say.  I've stalked birds in neighbourhoods before and wondered what people might be thinking if they looked out their windows.  I said, "No, I am a birder, I'm peeping at birds."  He looked doubtful, and said, "We're a close-knit community and look out for each other."  I nodded and said, "I'm just looking at birds.  Really.  Here, you want to see all the naughty photos I've taken?"  And I showed him the screen of my camera and paged through the Palm Warblers and Mocking Birds and ducks.  He relaxed a bit, and I said, "you know, you could have just asked nicely what I was up to, rather than jumping to concusions. Then he surprised me, put out his hand to shake mine and apologized for jumping to conclusions without evidence.   I guess he must be the neighbourhood Gladys Kravitz.  We parted on amiable terms.

And it was as I was walking back to my car that I was rewarded for the above indignity by getting the Brown Thrasher and learning a valuable lesson about birding in close-knit communities.  And in an ironic twist, I need not have even gone there to get that Brown Thrasher, as last night, in Dunedin Hammock Park, the first bird I saw as I walked into the hammock was, naturally, a Brown Thrahser.  I had started my day very early to drive to Circle Bar Reserve, where I was able to add another bird, a Lesser Yellow-Legs, and get a couple of nice photos of an American Bittern. 

How about that.

Included in the following photos from the past two days, is one of the pink blob that turned out to be the American Flamingo, when viewed through my 35 power scope.

Juvenile Yellow-Crowned Night Heron

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Come For the Budgerigar, Stay For the Thrasher

I knew it was a long shot to drive an hour north of Clearwater to find a wild Budgerigar on the front lawn of a suburban home, but I had no other plans for the evening and there were lots of parks and waterways nearby, so I figured it would be good birding regardless of the results.

And it was. Lots of birds in the neighborhood, including nearly as many Palm Warblers as in The Dry Tortugas, and in the surrounding parks many Eastern Bluebirds, both male and female, and even two Pileated Woodpeckers.

But the real fun of the evening was chasing a brown bird all around the mulberry bushes, trees and shrubs , back and forth across the road, from river to pond, until it finally alighted on top of a bush in full view and like a movie star that runs from the paparazzi until it suits her purpose, posed for me for just a few seconds, just enough to get a little publicity, and then was gone.

The bird turned out to be a Brown Thrasher, and a very nice bird it was. And as is often the case, it's not always the bird you're chasing that is important, but the chase itself. The bird had me running around like a crazed lunatic, but in the end it was I who got the glory, while the bird sat for a quick photo shoot.

It didn't hurt, either, to get bird 234 on day 82 of my Big Year.

Now I must sleep, as there are yet more birds to chase and 284 days still ahead of me.


Wednesday, 21 March 2012

A Tale of Two Places

It was the best of days, it was the worst of days, it was wonderful birds, it was terrible seasickness, it was an amazing day, it was a very long boat ride, it was the horror on The Yankee Freedom, it was the splendor and joy of The Dry Tortugas.

It started with a very long drive to within an hour of Key West, where at 1am I found a quiet parking area just off of US1 South, and slept in the backseat of my car with a pillow and blanket I had procured from my hotel before I left.  I slept fitfully and awoke at 5am.  I took my first two seasickness pills.  I drove into Key West, stopped at a McDonald's for breakfast and free Internet and afterwards drove the streets of Key West, noticing how many people were up and jogging, walking and biking at 6 in the morning while it was still dark.  Must have been the roosters that practically litter the streets of Key West and cock-a-doodle-do before the first break of dawn.

Too bad I can't count them toward my Year Birds.  Oh, but there would be others.

I headed to the ferry docks and took two more seasickness pills.  I was ready for the Cat, The Yankee Freedom high speed catamaran.  Or so I thought.  I couldn't have been more wrong.  I had been on a Cat once before, going to Nova Scotia from Maine, and had suffered some symptoms, but stayed inside the boat and sat quietly with my eyes closed and managed not to throw up.  Only in my dreams this time around.

But that was the least of my problems, at the time.  As soon as I boarded the ship there were photos to take and I discovered that the Compact Flash card in my Sony SLR wouldn't function or format.  Oh No!  This was bad.  The only chance I had was to find another birder or photographer on the boat who had an extra CF card.  No luck there, but I did meet three other Birders, Jean, Scott and Sheryl, who I was to spend the day with on the Island.  Without my SLR I was only able to use my pocket camera and iPhone to take pictures, but I left my e-mail address with Jean, who did have a working SLR with a good lens and hopefully she will send me photos of the birds I missed photographing.

But as the boat set sail from Key West to the Tortugas, the lack of a working camera turned out to be the real least of my worries.  I wanted to sit on the top deck, as there were pelagic birds to be seen, but about half an hour into the two and a half hour boat ride, I started to feel it.  It wasn't good.  I had to run down to the main deck and in the tradition of many birders on pelagic boat rides before me, contributed to the sea.  Well, it wasn't that prosaic.  One of the crew handed me a white bag and told me to stand at the back of the boat and face outwards.  It was the best place to be if you were seasick.  Well it turned out, for me at least, that the seasickness pills literally did their job.  I was seasick.  It wasn't so bad.  I filled a couple of bags.  There went breakfast and coffee.  I actually felt a little better afterwards and was able to join my new birding buddies back up on deck.

And as we approached the island Jean pointed out Magnificent Frigatetbirds, (are there Kind'a Nice Frigatebirds?), Masked Boobies and a Sooty Shearwater, flying over the boat.  Three new birds before I even set foot on the island.  And thankfully, once I did set foot on the island I started to feel better.  Had I known how the day would end I might never have ever left the island.

We started seeing birds right away, Brown Noddy and Sooty Tern were flying in large flocks on the adjoining islands.  Within the parade grounds of the old fort, there was a large group of Palm Warblers on the grass and a Northern Rough-winged Swallow flying high on the walls.  We took a tour of the island with our guide, Chelsea, an ornothologist who later helped with some bird identifications, and learnt the history of
Fort Jefferson.  It was amazing to be following in the footsteps of such history, including Dr Mudd, who was imprissoned there for aiding John Wilkes Booth.  It was even more thrilling to be following in the birding footsteps of so many birders who had made the same trip, from John James Audubon to Sandy Komito and most recently, John Venderpoel. 

It was a great morning and if I knew what was to come, I'd have never eaten lunch on the boat.  It was good food and good company eating with Jean, Scot and Sheryl, but I was feeling queasy and left the boat as soon as I finished eating and awaited them on the dock.  After lunch we got really good looks as the Brown Noddy and Sooty Tern through my scope and we were able to spot and identify a Northern Gannet flying over head.  We also saw even more of the Rough-winged Swallows and more warblers and a blue-grey Gnatcatcher before it was time to leave, but no new species.  I was hoping for 5-10 new birds on the island, so six was good.  The only miss was the Roseate Tern, which just hadn't yet arrived on the Tortugas.

It was a fantastic day and one I will remember for a life time.  I made new birding friends and saw a few birds that can't be seen anywhere else on a North American Big Year.  So there was the wonderful fulfilment of my first big year dream, mixed with the worry about the trip back.  I thought I'd be okay.  I really did.  I had been sick on the trip over and had taken 4 more pills and even felt fine as the Cat pulled away from the island.  I was on deck hoping to seen one or two more pelagic birds on the trip back.  It was not to be.  The horror show was about to begin and for the next two and a half hours I did not care about seeing new birds.

I could go into gory details about the voyage, but suffice it to say I was not alone.  There were a dozen of us lined up at the back of the boat with our little white bags and the staff was nice enough to supply me, at least, with extra ones and a green garbage bag to put the full ones in.  I looked at the poor woman standing next to me, after she finished filling one of her bags and said, "We're all equals here."  She smiled grimly.  It didn't matter where you were from, what you did for a living, what your status in the community was, how much money you made, at the back of a boat filling a white bag or contributing to the water when your aim was off, you've reached the point where there is no shame and no reason to apologise to your neighbour, who was, literally and figuratively, in the same boat as you.  It was like the vomit scene in "Stand By Me."  The more one of us retched and hacked the sicker the others became.

I spent the next two hours standing at the end of the boat, leaning on the rail, with my head buried in my arm, wondering if it would ever end.  The seas were choppy and the boat was flying over the water, bouncing us off the deck.  At one point I asked if maybe we couldn't slow down the boat just a tad and the crewman told me that I would feel just as bad, but for twice as long. 

Eventually the trip ended, and I was  back on the dock.  I had upped my total to 230 birds and had hoped to find more that evening in some local parks, but oddly enough, all the parks in Key West close between 4 and 6 PM, not at sunset and I was unable to go to any of them.  Just as well, as I still felt pretty horrible.  My throat also felt raw and I sounded like my chain smoking aunt from New Jersey for the next few hours.

I decided to drive most of the way that night up to Everglades National Park where my next destination was the Snake Bight Trail.  Ever since I had read about it in The Big Year, I had thought about it endlessly.  The story of Greg Miller walking the trail to see the American Flamingo, getting "a thousand mosquito bites," was like the legend of King Aurthur and his quest for the Holy Grail to me.  I wanted to experience that, even if I didn't find the Grail, ahm, the Flamingo. 

Before my great quest, though, I took a great walk on the Anhinga Trail, home of the car eating Black Vultures.  I had to cover my car with a tarp to ensure the windshield wipers and rubber window seals would still be there when I returned.  The vultures were everywhere.  On the rails and walking in the paths and on top of decks.  They were close enough to pet them, though I am sure they would have taken off, or bitten my hand off, if I had been dumb enough to try.  They even wanted to steal and eat my backpack when I left it on the boardwalk while I was looking at the  baby Anhingas.  There was no shortage of birds, but my big score on the Anhinga trail, in addition to baby and juvenile Anhingas and naughty Black Vultures, was finally seeing a Green Heron in Florida.  And not just one, but a dozen including a juvenile.

Now it was on to Snake Bight Trail.  Only another 34 miles into the park.  I always envisioned it right inside the park entrance.  Well it's a big park, so maybe 34 miles isn't that far.  Along the way I stopped and saw lots of shore birds and Roseate Spoonbills.   Finally I arrived at the entrance to Snake Bight.  I liberally coated myself in Deep Woods Off, hoping to avoid death by a thousand mosquito bites.  Having now walked the 2 miles each way, they really should rename it the Mosquito Bites Trail, as I had to coat and re-coat myself in the bug spray several times during my walk and still had to swipe away the bugs.

I walked at a brisk pace and stopped every time a bird flew by, or landed in the path, but they were almost entirely Grey Catbirds.  Finally, around the halfway point, a pair of Swallow-tailed Kites flew over, as was confirmed by my National Geographic field guide.  As  I was approaching the end of the path, leading to the boardwalk, a Red-shouldered Hawk flew by, very close to me.

Now the moment I had been thinking about for months was approaching.  I knew that it was a long-shot to see an American Flamingo at the end of Snake Bight.  I had no idea of what I was even going to see when I got there.  It had taken me about 40 minutes to walk to the end, where I found a boardwalk leading out into the marsh.  I had no expectations, I just wanted to make a pilgrimage that so many birders had made before me.

And when I came out into the open area at the end of the boardwalk, I felt as though I had entered Shangri-La.  A large, endless vista, filled with every shore bird and wader imaginable.  But no Flamingo.  It was the journey I told myself, not the bird.  I decided to see what was out there.  I grabbed my binoculars and scanned the water, and the horizon.  Was that a pink blob way out on the water? 

I grabbed my scope and tripod, quickly set it up, and focused in the distance.  Yes, it was now a bigger pink blob, but obviously a bird.  It could have been a Roseate Spoonbill, but it wasn't moving, had it's head tucked in, and if it had stayed where it was, I'd have never been able to make a positive identification.  I did note that it had a very pink, almost salmon coloring.  The Spoonbills were a pale pink with white and a white neck, as I had seen earlier in the day.  I held out hope.

After about 5 minutes of watching the bird, it finally took off, flew slow and low over the water and landed again.  It was a little closer and I could see it was a bigger bird, even further off than the Heron's and Egrets it looked big.  And quite tall, too.  I could see the deep salmon color and no long spoon shaped bill.  It then flew even closer, and directly across my field of view in the scope. It filled the scope.  All deep salmon pink, no spoonbill, no white and a big wing span.

It was an American Flamingo!  It landed once more, so I could get a good look at it, and then flew off.  I waited another 10 minutes or so, but it didn't return.  Alas, no photo, except one I took right when I got there that has the pink blob in the background.  But no doubt here.  On my walk back to the car there was an extra spring in my step and I hardly thought about the mosquitoes.  It was great. 

Two days, two great Big Year places and ten new birds for my Big Year.  Now I can look forward to the rest of Spring Training picking up a few more spring birds and then off to what I hope will be a great day of birding in Arizona on April 4.

And so ends my epic tale.  I arrived in South Florida just looking for an adventure, to feel like I had something in common with Greg Miller.  I left with 233 birds on my list and realized I had more in common with Al Levantin, who was sea sick on every pelagic trip he made during his 1998 Big Year.

 Next time I visit, I may just travel by Sea Plane

The View from the end of Snake Bight Trail 

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Upon Returning from South Florida

This is a short post.  A preview of sorts.  I just returned from south Florida, The Dry Tortugas and Everglades National Park.  It was an amazing adventure that I will be documenting in an epic Blog, entitled, "A Tale of Two Places."  It will be full of drama and pathos, comedy and horror.  There will be birds, both living and not.  There will be some good photos and some photos that were never taken due to technical difficulties, if you will.

The true story of the two days and two cities, and boat rides to both heaven and hell, will both amuse and sicken you.  It did me.

Check back soon, for all will be revealed in this Epic Big Year Blog!

Here are some appetizers:

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Dry Tortugas, Here I Come...

... Lots of birds for every one. Sorry. The above doesn't work without the correct tune in your head.

This could be the most exciting trip of the year so far. I am stopped in a McDonald's parking lot, stealing their free Wi-Fi and getting a bite to eat. I have discovered that all McDonald's offer this alluring feature of Internet and food. I am enjoying the new Chicken McBites.

Yesterday I went back to the Orlando Wetlands and did not get as many birds as my first trip, and couldn't find a Green Heron, but did have an American Bittern fly right in front of me and land in the reeds, but it vanished in the rushes before I could get my camera focused. But it was bird 223. I also had a scary encounter with an alligator that was partially blocking he trail just before I saw the Bittern. I had to gingerly make my way around it as my heart skipped more than one or two beats. Not sure i even took a breath. Luckly i wasn't lunch.

Near the end of the trail I encountered two couples, one older and one younger than me, if anyone is keeping track, and noticed they were looking at the Bald Eagle I had seen flying overhead a little earlier. It was on a dead tree a couple of hundred yards away, or about 200 meters if anyone is counting. One couple didn't have binoculars, just a camera-it was the older couple-so I pulled out and set up my scope so we could all have a good look. Quite magnificent, it was.

The younger couple had just taken their first bird class that morning and were already one Green Heron up on me. With my luck I will find one in the Everglades while hunting for the American,(pink), Flamingo.

So off i go again, stuffed with a Big Mac meal, still 5 hours and a long night before I arrive in Key West and prepare for tomorrow and the Dry Tortugas. It begins with a 2 hour plus boat ride on The American Freedom II at Cat that travels at high speed. I have been on on going to Nova Scotia and expect to be sea sick, if just a little. Best to be ready.

And, to paraphrase Star Wars, May the Birds be with Me.

Friday, 16 March 2012

I Came, I Saw, Ibis

A White-faced Ibis, that is.   It was at the end of a long day of chasing and not finding much of anything. Sure there was the Mocking Bird and Loggerhead Shrike on a deserted dirt road where I was hoping to find the Ash-throated Flycatcher.  There was the fun of being stopped on the side of the dirt road by a Police Officer, asking if I needed help, and had to say, thanks for asking, but I'm just looking for a bird.  He didn't quite get it.  And there was the near pants peeing excitement as I almost got taken out by a transport truck on the side of the road on US52 while searching for that same flycatcher in another reported location.  There was the thrill of seeing the Sandhill Cranes with their new baby chick, and the disappointment that the sparrow I saw was in fact a Savannah and not the elusive Clay-colored I've been searching for these past two weeks.  Oh, and an Eastern Bluebird on a wire on US 98 was nice too, as were the Roseate Spoonbills.
Yet at the end of the day I had my 12th new bird for March, in 13 days and bird 222 for 2012.
It was about 5pm on Tuesday, when I arrived at the Circle Bar Reserve near Lakeland, in Polk County, and begun my search for the White-faced Ibis.   It had been reported on FLARBA and it was my last hope for a new bird that day.   I found the trail quickly thanks to GPS coordinates provided in the post and a hiker who was just leaving gave me some good directions. As I walked he trail I kept my eyes peeled for other birders who might also be looking for the White-faced Ibis.
Back home in the Niagara-Toronto-Whitby corridor, every time there was a good bird to see the same group of birders and photographers showed up. We were quite the merry band of chasers. I made a lot of good friends along the way. Here in the Tampa Bay area I have not run into many birders at all. Until today, thankfully.
My first stop on the loop path was a gentleman with his camera pointed down into the swamp.  I thought, "Oh his is going to be easy, he must have the bird in his lens."  Nope.  He was photographing a snake, in a little pond with a Blue-winged Teal, couple.   No White-faced Ibis.  On the opposite side of the path, in Heron Pond, there were more Teal, some Glossy and White Ibis, but no obvious "White-faced Ibis.
On I went.  Further into the reserve.  I ran into an actual birder this time.  He had been coming from the opposite direction and I asked him if he'd seen the White-faced Ibis.  Nope.  He didn't even know about it.  And didn't much care to help me look for it either.  So on I went.  And there before me in the grass on the path was a sparrow.  It had the markings of a Clay-colored Sparrow, but upon close inspection also had a yellow streak above it's eye.  A Savannah Sparrow.  I've seen a lot of them.  Know it by heart now.
I continued along the path, rounded a corner, and yes, in the distance, three people, with cameras and binoculars focused on one spot.  It had to be the Ibis I was looking for.  I approached and asked if they had the White-faced Ibis.  Nope.  It was two Sandhill Cranes with their new chick.  That was a true highlight of the day.  It was an amazing sight and just fun to watch and take some photos.  I asked about the Ibis, and was told it had been in a pond just up the way.  Another  birder offered to walk up with me.  Was the White-faced there?  Nope.  But there was a female Wild Turkey and the Spoonbills, so I took a walk and saw them.  I was about to snap a photo of a Roseate Spoonbill when the other birder started calling myself and the other photographers, who were still at the Sandhill Crane spot, to come see.  She had spotted the White-faced Ibis.
It was in a pond with lots of Coots and once I saw it there was a noticeable difference from the Glossy Ibis I had seen elsewhere around the park.  The sun was perfectly seated behind me for a change.  It always seems the sun is often behind the bird I am photographing.  This time the bird was perfectly lit.  All four of us watched and photographed the bird and enjoyed seeing a good Lifer.  But was it?  These birds don't often get any further east than the Gulf Coast of Texas.   I would need to look long and hard, look at the photographs to make sure.

After we finished with the Ibis, my new birding friend took me for a walk to find an American Bittern, but it seemed to have retired into the tall grass for the evening.  No worries, as Circle Bar Reserve is a place I shall return to again this month, as it's only an hour from where I am staying in Dunedin
Wednesday evening I went back to Possum Branch to check on the nesting Killdeer, and thankfully someone from the local Audubon chapter had roped off the nesting area.  I also went to another local park and saw a Carolina Wren on the Boardwalk.

Yesterday I went back to the Circle Bar Reserve to see the White-faced Ibis again.  And this time there were multiple birders there who had also seen and identified it as such.  And upon closer examination I could see the pink in the eyes.  It might be a hybrid between a Glossy and White-faced, but the consensus amongst the Birders who had seen it the last few days, was that it was indeed a White -faced Ibis.  I shall accept it as such until shown otherwise.

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Black and Blue, Grey and Purple, Red and Yellow

I guess the above could be the description of a bruised leg, or the colours of the birds I saw today.  Glad it was the birds and not the bruise.  In Dunedin Hammock Park yesterday that's all I saw.  Black and White Warblers, Blue-grey Gnatcatchers, red Northern Cardinals and Yellow-rumped Warblers.  And at the Dunedin Harbor, later on, Purple Martins.  I also saw a Bald Eagle in the Hammock Park.  Is bald a colour?

Saturday, 10 March 2012

The Real Florida

After I chased down the Red-headed Woodpecker in the on Thursday morning I had to work, but in the evening, I went birding in Possum Branch.  I was going to go to Honeymoon Island, but I only had an hour of sunlight left.  However, the day did end on a good note.  I finally found one of the two sparrows that have been hanging out with the Green-tailed Towhee, the Swamp Sparrow.  The last one on my to-bird list is the Clay-colored.  I also saw the Killdeer that seems to have taken up residence, nesting in the grass, and out in the swamp, a Long-billed Dowitcher.  Not a bad evening of birding.  Even the Red-winged Blackbirds were kind of quiet.

These types of places are what the Florida Board of Tourism refer to as The Real Florida. Now, I do love the theme parks and love a day at Epcott, but too many Florida tourists only see that part of Florida, and miss out on the nature preserves and wildlife areas.

One of them being Orlando Wetlands Park.  It is a massive Wildlife Sanctuary just east of Orlando in Christmas, Florida.  And I pretty much had the entire park to myself as I went out on the trail in search of the Vermillion Flycatcher.  And the only sounds I heard for the next 4 hours, were those of birds, and, I think frogs.  It was very cool.

 Of course, I did not follow directions or the map very well and I took the wrong path and the very long route to the location of the bird.  In the ensuing two hours I was lost, found, lost again.  So, here I am, lost in an empty park, not another human in sight, and no clue as to where on the map I am.  And just as in Young Frankenstein, when Igor says to the good doctor, as they are digging up a corpse, "Could be worse, could be raining," it started to rain.  Big, heavy drops.  I was getting wetter and wetter.  I couldn't remember whether the Mythbusters had said you stay dryer running or walking.  I walked, stopped, looked at some birds, tried to keep my camera dry, and got a pretty good soaking.

I found a shelter eventually, and waited until the rain slackened a bit.  I discovered I was about 2 miles out of my way from one of the few maps in the park.  I continued on, hoping I was going the right way, but doubtful, and it rained again.  Another mile later, under another shelter was a guy waiting out the rain, having gone out on bicycle.  So there were other humans left on the planet.  He was lost too.  But together we studied the map and eventually I figured out where we were, and it was not too far from where I was headed.  We headed off in opposite directions and about a half hour later, as the sun came out and I started to dry off, I found the location of the Flycatcher.  I also found a Purple Gallinule as I was searching for the elusive Flycatcher

There were actually two of the Vermillion Flycatchers and after a lot of scanning through my binoculars,  I was able to spot them across the swamp doing their little flycatcher thing.  I got out my scope and actually got some good looks at them, but they were too far for my SLR lens and wouldn't sit still long enough for me to get a photo through my scope.  I stayed about half an hour and saw an Eastern Phoebe, along with Turkey and Black Vultures and Red-bellied Woodpeckers, to name just a few.

So after 2 hours of walking and about 20 other species of birds, I got the bird I had come for. I  I think I will return next week for more species and hopefully a good picture of the Vermillion.  As I made my way to the parking lot, I picked up a Caspian Tern and Black-bellied Whistling Ducks.  I even ran into a group of birders coming into the park.  I was heading out as the thunder started rumbling.  I suspect the birders I left behind got even more soaked than I did.

The Whistling Duck was my favourite of the day, as I remember seeing a crazy looking hybrid duck in Niagara Falls that kind of looked like one.   I was also quite proud of myself for identifying most of the birds on my own, including a Blue-winged Teal I saw right near the end of my 4 hour walk.

The day netted 29 species in total, including 4 Year and Lifers, giving me a grand total of 220 Big Year Birds, and 10 for the Month of March.

Oh, and aside from birds there were the alligators.  And another first for me, actually seeing an alligator walking on land.  Very cool, and a little scary, as it was right behind me, taking a walk with a Limpkin.  I'd love to see the hybrid beast that comes from that mixed marriage.

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Drive, Look - Repeat...

How to find a Red-headed Woodpecker:

1: Check FLARBA updates.

2: See report of Red-headed Woodpecker on grounds of the former Riviera Middle School.

3: Drive from Dunedin to St. Petersburg,(30-40 minutes).

4: Spend an hour or so looking for the Red-headed Woodpecker, either as the sun comes up or sets

5: Drive back to Dunedin, discouraged at only hearing the incessant cries of Blue Jays.

5: Repeat.

And so I followed the above protocol on Monday afternoon, Tuesday afternoon, Wednesday morning and evening to no avail.  But, finally, this morning,(to avail?), thinking this would be my last and final attempt for the Red-headed Woodpecker this time around, it was just sitting on a fence when I walked around the corner.  It posed politely for a photo, before hopping onto a tree trunk for some pecking, before disappearing into a another tree.  Good enough me.  I finally saw the bird, proving once again that Big Years are about Patience, determination and not giving up no matter how crazy you feel wandering around a suburban neighborhood wondering if the "neighbors" are reporting you as a Peeping Tom.

Now I can move on, though it was a nice neighborhood to bird in.  Mostly quiet, many dog walkers out and about, including a woman who had just yesterday seen the woodpecker hereself,(gave me hope to go on).  Lots of Hawk, including a Red-Shouldered Hawk this morning, Doves, and Ibis and Killdeer, and more Blue Jays than the team I work for.  The Blue Jays call is one I can add to my list, along with Osprey and Red-winged Blackbird, that I don't care for so much.  Give me good ol' song birds anytime.

It is both fun and interesting that some "rare" birds are just so easy to find, the Green-tailed Towhee, for instance, that is at Possum Branch every time I visit, yet it took multiple attempts to find this guy, even though it has been seen at least once a day by others since it was first reported.

#214 for 2012:

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Chasing Sparrows is Anything But a Lark

Well, less than 48 hours after looking for new sparrows in Fort De  Soto and Possum Branch, I had my own version of Groundhog Day, with a twist.  Though I was repeating everything I did from Friday afternoon, including an early morning, unsuccessful run for the White-winged Dove, this time I actually did find one of the Sparrows.  FLARBA had reported a Lark Sparrow near the Old Fort and it was just a matter of finding the correct bush.  I walked the general vicinity of where the sparrow was supposed to be seen, and before even seeing it, I heard it loud and clear.  I had it's call in my iPhone, so I knew what to listen for.  Even still, after hearing it and once again listening to it's recorded call, it took several orbits of the bush to actually spot it.  And when I did, it was clear as day and I had no trouble at all getting a great photo.  Bird number 3 for March, in 4 days - while working a full time job - and number 213 for the year.

So I felt good.

Of course, good only lasts so long, and once against was Ground Hog Day all over again, as I went to Possum Branch before heading home.  Once again I tried for the Clay-colored and Swamp Sparrows and neither showed themselves.  I shall try a morning run at them, instead of at sunset next time.  This time I saw both the Cotton Tail and Marsh rabbits.  The Savannah,  Lincoln's and Song Sparrows all came out to say a cheery hello, as well as the now ubiquitous Green-tailed Towhee.  And there were Greater Scaups and Herons and Egrets at the party too.  Not to mention folks fishing in the little river close by.

I also stopped by Moccasin Nature Park and took a walk around the trail, where, amazingly there was a  group of Common Peafowl.  A Peahen and 3 Peacocks.  As I later found out, they are part of a group of about 50 locally breeding Peafowl that live on and around a nearby farm.  I would love to count them as number 214 for the year, as they are living and breeding out of captivity, and are alive and unrestrained.  I shall need some help and advice on including them on my Big Year List.

No birds to chase tomorrow.  Perhaps a trip to Honeymoon Island, after work.