Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Florida - Three Lakes

Today we drove around the St Cloud area stopping at various places including Reptile World and a call into the Three Lakes Management Area reserve to eat our picnic we had prepared in the morning.

This gave me an opportunity to look for a few specialist birds found in this slash pine habitat such as Brown-headed Nuthatch, Red-cockaded Woodpecker and Bachman’s Sparrow. The sparrow eluded me but the nuthatch and woodpecker both showed very well in pines close to the entrance track allowing me to get some decent photographs.

Supporting cast seen today included further Bald Eagles, Pine Warblers, Eastern Bluebirds and another Northern Harrier.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Florida - Fort-de-Soto

Another day on the beach was decided upon for today with a drive to the Gulf Coast where we would visit Fort-de-Soto, an island south of St Petersberg.

The island is a lovely spot and was very quiet today. The girls collected shells from the beach and I scanned the sandbanks for birds, soon finding a sizable flock of around 300 Black Skimmers which I had missed over at Merritt Island on previous visits.

Distant views required a concerted effort to separate out the small plovers and after a fashion I was able to pick out the Wilson’s Plovers and Piping Plovers from the more commoner Semipalmated Plovers on the sands. Scanning the edges of the mangroves from North Beach I counted seven Yellow-crowned Night Herons, a single Reddish Egret, American Oystercatcher and Roseate Spoonbill. Another Northern Harrier and Cooper’s Hawk were picked out on leaving the island later in the afternoon but the Dowitchers that apparently been near the causeway road earlier in the day had departed.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Florida - A Day Birding

Whilst planning our holiday I had contacted a Florida birder via the Birding Pals web site and was lucky enough to find Gallus Quidgley who works near Orlando as a Park Ranger. Gallus had agreed to pick me up at 6am today and to spend a whole day in the field to see as many of my target species as possible. An opportunity not to be missed and a day I had looked forward to for some time.

The day’s bird watching started at The Sugar Mill Botanical Gardens in Port Orange on the Atlantic coast. A fantastic oasis of mature woodland and ornamental flowering shrubs that provide me with my first Ruby-throated Hummingbird that fed on the bright orange flowers of the fire plants. Other species at this site included a very obliging Barred Owl, several American Redstarts, fly over Chimney Swifts, several Black-throated Blue Warblers, a Swainson’s Thrush, a Sharp-shinned Hawk, Scarlet Tanager and several Tufted Titmouse. Not a bad start !

Our next stop was Seabird Island by the causeway at Port Orange where a large gathering of Brown Pelicans were joined by two American Oystercatchers and some Caspian Terns amongst other Tern species already seen. The tides were higher than Gallus had hoped at this time of day so we agreed to move on and return later in the day when more sand banks would be visible. Flyover birds from the car as we drove down to Merritt Island were six American White Pelicans newly arriving as a winter visitor to Florida, a Peregrine and a Red-tailed Hawk

On Merritt we drove the Shiloh Marsh Road and along the way added many new species for the day including wildfowl such as Blue-winged Teal, Mottled Duck, Shoveler, Pintail, Lesser Scaup and an American Wigeon. My first Reddish Egret and Tree Swallows as well as two skulking Swamp Sparrows

Shorebird numbers were low probably as a result of water levels being kept artificially high leading up to the start of the duck shooting season. Dunlin, Western Sandpiper, Least Sandpiper and a single Semipalmated Sandpiper were all picked out along with some Greater Yellowlegs. Fourteen Roseate Spoonbills were counted on the marsh and a Northern Harrier was quartering.

The day ended back at Port Orange in the fading evening light watching the sand bank at Lighthouse Park, Ponce Inlet. Sadly no Black Skimmers as expected but some Lesser Black-backed Gulls and an adult and juvenile American Herring Gull.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Florida - Turkey Hunt

I decided to make an early start and to drive the short distance over to Lake Toho to see if I could locate any Wild Turkeys supposedly seen most often at this time of day.

The Southport Road was quiet and I chose a few road-side stops to look and listen for birds. A small group of Blue Jays and Eastern Bluebirds made for a colourful start to the morning. There were many more birds seen at this time of day with dozens of Palm Warblers, my first Pine Warblers, some Eastern Phoebe and a close encounter with a Bald Eagle that swooped down and plucked a Cattle Egret from the field right in front of me. It all happened so fast that I didn’t managed to set my camera for optimized shots of a fast moving bird in flight.

The highlight was a pair of huge Pileated Woodpeckers that flew over calling. Magnificent birds to see and another of my prime target species.

And on the way home, of course a small group of Wild Turkeys that evaporated into the undergrowth once I'd got my camera poised.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Shuttle Launch

A fantastic experience not to be missed. For the few minutes it took for this bird to get into orbit, I took little interest in the Belted Kingfishers, Brown Pelicans, Ospreys and the like on Indian River this morning.

Florida - Merritt Island

We spent the hot afternoon driving north through Titusville and then over to Merritt Island where we watched a group of six Manatees at close quarters before calling in at the visitor centre and taking a walk around the hammock trail boardwalk. Few birds were seen in the hot sun but I did connect with my first Downy Woodpecker, Black and White Warbler and a White-eyed Vireo.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Florida - Joe Overstreet Landing

The journey home was diverted towards St Cloud and Lake Kissimmee where we found the Joe Overstreet Road referred to in my birding guide for Florida. American Kestrels greeted us on almost every pylon and a field had over a hundred Cattle Egret feeding together. Palm Warblers were seemingly everywhere and soon became very matter-of-fact. Other birds along the roadside were Sandhill Crane, Blue-grey Gnatcatcher, Eastern Meadowlark, Eastern Phoebe, Savannah Sparrows and the regular flyover Bald Eagles. At the lake side I found my first American Coot and a second Snail Kite, this time a fine male which was feeding along the lake’s edge and was watched unpicking the apple snails from their shells. The onward journey rewarded me with two Crested Caracara by the roadside. One sat on the fence having been feeding on White-tailed Deer road kill. They both gave excellent close views from the car and some nice photographs of a distinct bird were gladly taken.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Florida - Honeymoon Island

Today we decided on a day on a beach on the Gulf Coast. It was warm in the high eighties and following a drive of an hour and a half over to Tampa and Dunedin we settled onto the fantastic white-sand beach at Honeymoon Island.

Offshore were feeding Forster’s, Sandwich and Royal Terns along with the ubiquitous Laughing Gulls in their winter plumage. The sandy beach stretched to the north for two miles or more and I strolled for part of the way seeing Willet, Turnstone, Knot, Black-bellied Plover, Sanderling and Hudsonian Whimbrel in the surf line.

Osprey were common fishing offshore and a single Northern Harrier flew through scattering the Red-winged Blackbirds that were feeding in the grassy dunes. A fearless Green Heron allowed me to approach to within a few feet and my first Brown Pelicans were seen offshore. The hoped for Magnificant Frigatebirds were absent however.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Florida - View from an Airboat

Tired from our journey the day before, a late breakfast was had and we decided to drive to Lake Toho to take a ride on an airboat and to get our first look at our Floridian surroundings. Of course there would be birds. En-route the Turkey Vultures, Black Vultures and a few American Kestrels were viewed.

At Boggy Creek Captain Chuck took us out for a half hour “bird flush” and in no time I had clocked Great White and Great Blue Heron, Tricolored Heron, Snowy Egret, Cattle Egret, Little Blue Heron, Double-crested Cormorant, Anhinga, White Ibis, Glossy Ibis, Belted Kingfisher, Wood Stork, Limpkin and Greater Yellowlegs. Our driver slowed at strategic points to view a perched Snail Kite and a pair of Bald Eagles on their nest platform. I was left thinking that environmental pressure on the birds during the breeding season would probably be adverse although Lake Toho is one of many huge lakes in Florida.

Florida - day one

As always the first morning is greeted with the sounds of unfamiliar birds and I chose a pre-breakfast stroll around the vicinity of our villa situated close to a golf course and area that would undoubtedly harbor birds. This first morning was grey and it had rained in the night but within 50yds of our home I started to collect species not seen before. Bright red Northern Cardinals, Northern Mockingbird, Blue Jay, Mourning Dove, Loggerhead Shrike, Common Ground Dove and a confiding Brown Thrasher started the day off. What was also very apparent was how tame the birds seemed compared with birds at home in the UK. Three Sandhill Cranes walked along the pavement completely undeterred by me trying to creep up to take some photographs. If anything I ended up backing off as my telephoto lens wouldn’t focus that close !