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.