Tuesday, January 20, 2009


I had vacation time to use before the anniversary of my hire date and my birthday was coming up as well, so decided it would be a "Birding Vacation" I decided to get out of Broward to do some birding. But where to go? So I posted on some of the birding lists and asked for some of the best places to bird in their respective areas. I have to tell you the response was over whelming and I wished I had had more time to explore all the wonderful sites that were suggested to me. I was given all kinds of sites to visit with suggestions on what to look for at certain sites on my planned route. I had some idea of what I wanted to do. I would go up one side of the state then cross the state and down the other side and back across to home. Thus I planned my trip accordingly.

Seeing as I usually bird in West Palm Beach I left out that area making the first stop Viera Wetlands in Melbourne, FL . I must say I was quite impressed and will have to do it again one day and allow more time to do it in. It was kind of confusing to drive around and be sure you covered everything but I think we did. Here at Viera I got my first and second lifer of the trip. The first one was a Crested Caracara that flew over and I finally found again in a pine tree. The second were several sightings of Hooded Mergansers. Of course I couldn't get close enough to either one to get anything but ID pictures of these lifers. But I did get some good looks at both.

Other birds seen were the usual GBH, Limpkin, Great Egret, A nice raft of Coots, lots of Cattle Egrets, a Snowy or two or three and several alligators, Oh and pair of Raccoons. We also saw several Palm Warblers and an Eastern Phoebe a few Anhingas some sporting breeding colors and Red-bellied Woodpecker. There were other hawks flying around but I didn't get good looks or pictures. I did recognize one Red Shouldered and one I thought might be a snail Kite. Oh an something I am still trying to ID.

After leaving Viera Wetlands we headed to our next destination. Merritt Island but first we needed lunch, so we stopped at Burger King for Whopper Jrs. (not exactly on my diet but___). We parked on the Causeway and ate while watching the seagulls, Brown Pelican and a Killdeer.

Now I have been waiting for a long time to get back to Merritt Island and I must say I was sadly disappointed. The ducks were so far out and too hard to distinguish without a scope. My poor bins just didn't cut it and forget the pictures. Now was this because of the time of year??? Was the water higher or lower? This time was mid January last time 2 years ago late February or March, but the last time I was there the birds were closer and I didn't need bins to ID most of them and there were way more birds. There was someone else there also complaining. What's up? This time I only saw 4 Rosette Spoonbills’ as opposed to a whole stream full the last time. This time I only saw one White Pelican and last time there was a huge flock of them. There were a lot of Avocets but so far out that I didn't even recognize them. I did snap some pictures and was able once I got home to ID them. Lifers here were the American Widgeon and the Grasshopper Sparrow. We did see a Snipe both days out in the beginning. I should have taken more time to note the stops but I didn't think to do it. Other birds seen were Ibis both white and glossy, Tri-colored Herons, Great Blue Herons, Great Egrets, a Little Blue, Eagles & Osprey, a Lesser Yellow Legs, Grebes, a few Killdeer, Least Terns, Gulls, and Black Skimmers and one lone White Pelican.

We walked out on one trail and watched and listened to Kingfishers fishing along the water’s edge. I always enjoy listening and watching them hunting. Of course they never did come close enough to take pictures of. Ducks seen were Pin-tail Ducks, American Widgeons, Green and Blue-winged Teals and Northern Shovelers, Hooded Mergansers along with several rafts of American Coots. Butterflies seen were Great Southern Whites lots & lots of them. They were everywhere. Gulf Fritillaries, One Buckeye, and one Painted lady. We spent 2 days here and I wished now that we had just booked the one night, although if we hadn't had the second day I would not have seen the Wild Boar. Yup I said wild boar and he looked right at me.........smile. I did just miss the Bobcat hopping through the mangroves, I was told later. Darn, Darn, Darn.

The Eagle and Eagle's nest were a treat as well. I met some nice folks along the trail but no names to mention. One couple came over to point out the alligators to us but we were not looking for alligators had already seen a few of them that day, but I did go look, that's when I learned about the wild boar and soon I had my sites on him. He lifted his head and appeared to look right at me and I wasn't sure how he felt about me being there. I looked around and wondered where I would go if he started charging. But he finally left and went into the taller grass. I did get off one or two shots but not much to write about. More just to say Yup I saw a wild boar.
Now in spite of the birds being so far out we still enjoyed ourselves as we poked across Black Point Drive twice a day. But I must put getting a scope on my list of things to buy this year especially if I am going to take this birding thing seriously. We got out early and left as the sun was setting both days. Of course we did take time for lunch in between.

On Monday morning we were off across the state. Now I guess if we were real birders we could have identified every bird we saw sitting on a fence post or electrical wire but we are not that good at ID'ing on the fly so to speak. We did see lots of Osprey, Hawks, Starlings, Doves, Grackles and Cattle Egrets, along the way but that is the extent of my birding by car. Oh a few Sandhill Cranes as well. We got to Payne's Prairie South mid morning and spent some time trying to see what was high up in the trees in the parking lot (which proved to be an unsuccessful effort. small birds though and later I did get to see Tufted Titmouse. So it could have been more of these or gnatcatcher or perhaps kinglets. There were all over the tree and not sitting still one second.

Then walking down the boat ramp where we saw lots of Anhinga fishing and an Eagle fly over our heads and another juvenile eagle as well. Plus some mystery bird and lots of them flying low over the water. Thought at first skimmers but they weren't Black Skimmers. They were Dark Grey or Black and appeared to be one color. They flew very close to the water. I did not see them skimming as the Skimmers do. Nor did I see them enter the water at all. They just seemed to be checking out the menu. Guess they didn’t like what they saw.
We spent some time on the lake trail got some great looks a Carolina Wren, a pair of Cardinals, some warblers and a Phoebe. My son really liked that spot on the bridge. While driving along the road there we spotting birds in the road but couldn't get close enough to tell what they were. Small birds perhaps sparrows of some kind. We did however get some nice shots of a Thrush that posed nicely for us at the side of the road. We drove to the end of the road and came upon a visitor’s center, where we learned we were in the wrong park to see the Sandhill Cranes. There was a nice view here of the plain and we did walk a trail where we saw several Red bellied woodpeckers and a downy. Thought we heard a Pileated. There was also a hawk that was heard but never seen that seemed to be taunting us the whole time. He had us swiveling and craning our necks searching for him but he was not to let us catch a glimpse of him.
We were getting hungry by now and had decided to just get something to eat and head over to the other side to see the Cranes. But as luck would have it we didn't find any place to eat so we just decided to check out the park. Luckily the ranger gave us great directions. We found it without too much trouble. It was late but we thought we might at least try to see something. I did get caught up in a Sparrows feeding so figured that this might be where the Harris Sparrow was hanging out. Here I got to talking with two nice gentleman and was told that they locked the gates promptly at 5:30. We also talked about cameras while my son decided to wander off further on up the trail think he got tired of all this camera talk. Finally the gentleman left but they didn't give me much hope that the weather condition in the morning would be any better, and they were right. I left them and I went and caught up with my son and we walked a little more then headed back to the car, least we got locked in for the night.. .

We decided to go to Wal-Mart and get him a warmer jacket as he was cold with just his thin sweatshirt on. I got a poncho just in case it rained like they said it was going to and it proved to come in handy for sure. Then we went out and found some food.

On Tuesday when we woke it was pouring down rain..................boohoo.........We listened to the weather and it didn't sound promising so we decided to book the room for one more night. I sure wanted to see the thousands of Sandhill Cranes and the two Whooping Cranes that would be lifers for me.
We then went out for a leisurely breakfast and while eating we decided to drive over to Cedar Key and look for shore birds. You know birding by car. It was a rather long drive but glad we did it. We stumbled upon a Sandbar full of Black Skimmers on a beach as well as a couple of other shore birds. I almost slipped and fell in some beach slime while trying to get a closer shot of the Skimers.

We got back into the rental car and drove around for a while and saw several Osprey one perched on a post eating his catch of the day. While driving we stumbled upon a birding trail next to a cemetery and when the rain let up a little and we decided to walk the trail where I got an American Oyster Catcher (Lifer! Of course that rain didn't stay let up for long and the wind made it hard to control the poncho. Soon I was soaked and cold but still enjoying the day. Again though the birds were so far out it was hard to ID them. I am still trying to ID more of them, but it's not easy. Got to get that scope!

Can you see my lifer? huh? can you? huh? huh?

Wednesday the sun was up and after packing up the car we went to Payne’s Prairie where we walked the 3 mile trail spotting such birds Great Blue, Snowy, Great Egret, Limpkin, Wood Stork , Eastern Wood Peewee, Several Red Shouldered Hawks and several species of sparrows and of course the obligatory alligator and a coot a few coots and moorhens. Of course we saw thousands of Sandhill Cranes which were the reason for coming and staying. I wanted to see thousands of birds. I was of course hoping to see the two White Whooping Cranes in amongst them but was not having any luck. Most people that I spoke too hadn’t spotted them that morning. Perhaps they were gone they said. OH well not to be put off we continued and watch and listened in amazement at all of these Sandhill Cranes squawking and taking flight then settling back down again. It was a site worth seeing for sure. We walked to the end searching the flocks of Sandhill Cranes for the two Whooping Cranes and picking out other birds as well. There were Warblers and Blackbirds and Sparrows and at the end we saw a Killdeer and a Snipe. We saw Glossy and White ibis and Great Egrets, Green Herons, & Tri-colored Herons. At the end of the trail we looked and listened and were amazed again by the numbers of Sandhill cranes. And then began the long trek back. Are you sure it isn't 3 mile out and 3 miles back because to me it felt like it. There aren’t any places to sit and rest along the way and you stand in one spot for long periods of time looking especially at the sparrows, so a bench or two along the way would be a great improvement. They are in fact beginning to build a boardwalk which will make the trail accessable even durning the wet season.

We left Gainesville early afternoon and decided to skip Honeymoon Island and head straight for Sarasota which as it turns out was a long, long, long drive. Wished I had had the time but something had to be forfieted for the extra day in Gainsville.

We got there late afternoon and walked around the Celery fields but were at a loss as to how to proceed. We did see people out on the fields but didn’t see much in the way of birds. Perhaps it was too early in the day and we moved on to a little park I was told about but there wasn’t anything there so we opted for driving over and seeing Myakka River State Park. It was late when we got there and they were soon to close so we just drove around a little. No time for the trails.

Should have just found a place to stay and hit the park in the morning but by now I was getting tired. So we decided to drive closer to Corkscrew and find a place to stay, which we did in Bonita Springs. We were both hungry so after unpacking what we thought we needed we went out to dine. Well we found a place called Buffalo Chips. And I just love good Buffalo wings so we decided to try it out. Well turns out to be a swinging place and it was hopping, with live music and great wings and lots and lots of atmosphere. They give you what appears to be a newspaper and it talks about how things have changes in Bonita Springs and believe me they sure have. On the inside is the menu and they have a little bit of everything we both had the wings. Ummmm Good!

Anyway back to the motel and this great room with two huge beds and a Large comfortable chair and foot stool which I was just dying to try out but fist I needed a shower and a shampoo in the wonderfully clean bathroom. Well if you travel you know that not all rooms are the cleanest but this place was great…………..we paid a little more for this room but it was worth it. OK I have digressed enough back to the trip.
In the morning the sun had disappeared again and it was overcast but they said it wouldn’t rain so off we went to Corkscrew Swamp. Well that is after pulling into to a gas station and checking the oil as the oil light was on. well we really needed gas too. But now after buying the oil the light no longer comes on so I kept the oil who know I might need it in my car one day.

I hadn’t been there in a while but didn’t find many changes. When we first arrived we were hit by Warblers and Blue grey Gnatcatchers and Catbirds. We tried and tried to get some pictures but weren’t very successful. So we paid for our way into the main part and set out on a 2.25 mile boardwalk journey which took us hours. People were passing us left and right but we kept on plodding along. Right away I see some little birds in the pines but too far away to see either through the bins or the camera but from the actions of one I was sure it was a Brown-headed Nuthatch.

Then we came upon the feeders where the Painted Buntings were hanging out with the Goldie’s. Big Treat for me as I haven’t seen Goldie’s since I left Maine years ago so while they weren’t a true lifer they were a FL lifer for me. Oh I forgot to add the first lifer that day was a Yellow Throated Warbler from the parking lot. Later we ran into another group of warblers but didn’t get the pictures of the one that would have been a lifer. But that was an exciting group and they were all over the place. I had more fun watching my son trying to get pictures of these guys and they flittered all through the trees. There was a Black & White and several Blue-Gray Gnatcatchers (I think this has been the most seen bird this year). I believe there were Palm Warblers and Butter butts (Yellow-rumped Warblers) and Prairie Warblers as well.

Later on down the trail we saw another Carolina Wren, A couple of Pileated Woodpeckers, several Red-bellied Woodpeckers and a couple of Downey’s. Another Lifer was the beautiful Great Crested Flycatcher what a handsome feller he was. I only got a picture of his backside thought I though I had taken one of his front as well but maybe it didn't turn out and I deleted it.

We also saw several Yellow-crowned Night Herons and a couple of Black-crowned Night Herons, Great Egrets, Tri-colored Egrets, Little Blues (one Juvenile) Snowy Egrets, Green Herons and a Shrike. No great surprises here. We did manage a couple of alligators as well. So not a lot of new birds for me here but I stilled enjoyed the walk. I was hoping to see a Reddish Egret but that didn’t happen anywhere on the trip.

We got home late Thursday Night. Friday we birded locally but didn’t see much at all. In the afternoon I did some grocery shopping and Saturday I started down with a cold which kept me down all week.

I am still living the Birding Vacation every time I look at the pictures and try to ID some of those far away ducks and shore birds. Think I would do it differently next time. Spent way to much time on the Road. Oh and I would get that scope too!

The Hunter at Dusk