Eight birders joined Paul Bithorn and me this weekend for TAS’s annual four-day North Florida tour. Egyptian Geese, seen near our meeting location in Pompano, were the first of twenty-three waterfowl species tallied during the tour. A large flock of Wild Turkey was spotted along Florida's Turnpike during our morning drive. We spent our first afternoon on the La Chua Trail at Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park, south of Gainesville, where we hiked among the thousands of Sandhill Cranes that congregate in the prairie every winter. A single Whooping Crane was found among them. Large numbers of Wilson’s Snipe, several American Pipit and a single Stilt Sandpiper were among other birds encountered during our walk. Before sunset, we visited Dauer Hall on University of Florida’s campus, where five Vaux’s Swift were seen returning to their evening roost in the building’s chimney.
Our first stop during our first full day in the Panhandle was at Lake Henrietta, south of Tallahassee, where we found a flock of hundreds of Rusty Blackbirds gorging on acorns that accumulated around the lake. A Limpkin, plus Song and White-throated Sparrow was also present here. The rest of the morning and much of the afternoon was spent at St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge, where we tallied fifteen duck species, including Canvasback and Redhead in Lighthouse Pool and Surf Scoter, Black Scoter and Common Goldeneye offshore. A Golden-crowned Kinglet was seen near the visitor center. American Golden-Plover and White-rumped Sandpiper were found among the shorebird flocks on mudflats at Stony Bayou; a brilliant red Vermilion Flycatcher was seen nearby. A single White-faced Ibis was found in the Mounds Pool area. Later in the afternoon, we visited Alligator Point, where a significant section of the road was still closed due to storm damage. At Bald Point State Park, we found a large flock of shorebirds that included over fifty American Oystercatchers, nine Marbled Godwits and a single Snowy Plover. Just before dusk, we stopped along Bottoms Road, where we saw one Clapper Rail but heard many more. A distant Black Rail was heard only. Nelson’s and Seaside Sparrow also offered brief looks before darkness descended.
After the passage of a strong cold front, which brought heavy overnight rains, conditions the next morning were considerably windier and chillier. Our first stop was the Sumatra area in Apalachicola National Forest, west of Tallahassee, where we easily located Red-cockaded Woodpeckers along Forest Road 123. In a nearby pitcher plant bog, we had fleeting looks at several Sedge Wrens and a couple of Henslow’s Sparrows. South of Sumatra, we encountered an American Woodcock standing in the middle of the road! Tragically, it was struck and killed by an oncoming car seconds after we spotted it. After stopping to photograph the deceased bird, we continued to Apalachicola Airport, where we found a flock of Vesper Sparrows near the entrance. At least two Sprague’s Pipits were flushed from grassy areas between the airport’s runways. In the afternoon, we drove north to Florida Caverns State Park in Marianna, where were surprised to discover that the Chipola River had risen significantly in recent days and flooded much of the park. Several common species, including Hermit Thrush and Blue-headed Vireo were found along the few still-accessible trails. We searched for Horned Larks in an agricultural area north of the park, but only found a large flock of American Pipits. A final stop at Sneads Park, adjacent to Lake Seminole, produced only a few Chipping Sparrows, seen near the entrance.
Our last morning began at Tall Timbers Research Station, north of Tallahassee, where it was much less windy but even colder than yesterday. We walked down the Stevenson Trail to the bird blind, where American Goldfinch, Carolina Chickadees, Tufted Titmice and House Finch were visiting the feeders. On the way back, John Hutchison spotted a Brown Creeper in the pines along the trail, but the rest of us were unable to relocate it. A Red-headed Woodpecker, Golden-crowned Kinglet and a couple of White-breasted Nuthatch were among the birds seen as we headed back to the vans. A Northern Bobwhite scurried away from the road as we were leaving the property. Before heading back to Miami, we made two more quick stops. First we visited a residence in Tallahassee, where within minutes, a Calliope Hummingbird was in view at one of their feeders. Finally, we stopped at a small roadside pond in Monticello, east of Tallahassee, where, among a flock of Canada Geese were two Snow Geese and three Greater White-fronted Geese. A flock of Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks was also present.
By trip’s end, we had tallied 163 bird species, plus wild hog, river otter, white-tailed deer and bottle-nosed dolphin. Here’s the bird list:
Greater White-fronted Goose
American White Pelican
Great Blue Heron
Little Blue Heron
Black Rail (heard only)
Barred Owl (heard only)