Friday, February 20, 2015

January Getaway - Part 3

On January 23, we decided to go to Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary first, mainly because we'd been doing a lot of driving and not much walking the past couple of days. It was a really nice walk around the boardwalk and although there weren't too many birds, it was nice to be among the tall Baldcypress trees with epiphytes, and even a few orchids, on them. A Clamshell Orchid was in bloom, but was too far away to get a decent photo. A male Painted Bunting had been reported at the feeders near the visitor's center, but it never showed while we were watching.
Ancient Baldcypress at Corkscrew Swamp, FL

From there we headed west toward Sanibel Island, but with a stop first at Bunche Beach. When we were hear in 2009, there was very little parking available, and the fee was $8, and what it looked like was a lot of  non-birders on the beach, so we skipped it. This time, the parking meters were broken, so it was free! And once you got past the first crowd of beach bums, it was about 1/4 mile walk to an area where there was a bunche of shorebirds. People walking by seemed to disturb them only a little, and in fact there was one guy sleeping maybe 20 feet away from them.
Shorebird flock at Bunche Beach, FL

There were a lot more birds here than it first appeared. Click here to view my eBird checklist for this location. It was a bit challenging to try to separate individuals out for photos, but I worked at it for a while and had some good success. The most numerous species in the flock was Willet.
Willet at Bunche Beach, FL

Next most numerous was a surprisingly well-hidden group of Black Skimmers.
Black Skimmers at Bunche Beach, FL

Mostly sleeping, Marbled Godwits stayed mostly in the back of the group, except for one cooperative individual.
Marbled Godwit at Bunche Beach, FL

Smaller numbers of other species were around the fringes of this sleeping flock, including a dowitcher that I'm pretty sure is a Short-billed.
Short-billed Dowitcher at Bunche Beach, FL

A couple smaller shorebirds turned out to be Western Sandpipers, which have been much less numerous on this trip than on any previous trip we've taken here.
Western Sandpiper at Bunche Beach, FL

From here it was a short drive to the causeway to Sanibel Island. Anyone who has birded in Florida before knows to check out the causeways, and to pull off anywhere it is possible. This causeway had good access, and a few shorebirds. Photo highlights from here though were two gulls, one very common (Laughing) with several plumages present, and a much rarer Lesser Black-backed Gull.
First winter Laughing Gull. Sanibel Causeway, FL

There seemed to be very few young Laughing Gulls on this trip. Most were adults in winter plumage.
Winter adult Laughing Gull, Sanibel Causeway, FL

One Laughing Gull at this spot was getting quite a bit of its summer black hood; very unusual I thought for January.
Molting adult Laughing Gull, Sanibel Causeway, FL

The Lesser Black-backed was an adult, and a new species for our Florida list.
Adult Lesser Black-backed Gull, Sanibel Causeway, FL

Once we got onto Sanibel Island, and worked our way through the heavy traffic, we got to the Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge, where we'd hoped to drive the very birdy auto loop road. Unfortunately it was Friday, the only day of the week this road is closed! It pays to check ahead, I guess, but there's very little we could have done to alter our schedule anyway. Even a trail near the end of this loop, which had been hosting a White-crowned Pigeon, was also closed despite the ABA guide (published in 2005) suggesting there was a way to walk this trail anyway. Staff said no way, so we walked a different trail where one highlight was a red morph Eastern Screech-Owl roosting in a palm tree right next to the boardwalk.
Eastern Screech-Owl, Ding Darling NWR, FL

Another highlight was a group of bathing Roseate Spoonbills, which were very photogenic.
Roseate Spoonbill, Ding Darling NWR, FL

Roseate Spoonbill, Ding Darling NWR, FL

Roseate Spoonbill, Ding Darling NWR, FL

Roseate Spoonbill, Ding Darling NWR, FL

Other waterbirds were in short supply along this short trail, so we were directed to the Bailey Tract of the refuge, which was about a mile away from the main refuge. There were dikes here with marsh and open water, but not many waterbirds unfortunately. The highlight here was another butterfly species, one that tends to be only in tropical and subtropical regions, a White Peacock.
White Peacock, Ding Darling NWR, FL

We crawled through the traffic and got off the island, and stayed the night somewhere north of Fort Meyers. The next day, January 24, we made a long drive north to Bradenton, and drove across the Sunshine Skyway, stopping at all the pullouts on both sides to check for birds. Unfortunately, it was very chilly (in the 40s) and VERY windy, overcast, and raining. This didn't bode well for birding on Mullet Key and Fort DeSoto State Park. As we got closer, the rain stopped and the wind subsided a bit, though it was still overcast. Just before the causeway across to the island, in front of an apartment complex, we found a flock of perhaps 75 Nanday (Black-hooded) Parakeets.
Nanday Parakeet, Tierra Verde, FL

Unlike the ones we saw on the east side of the state, these were for sure ABA countable! ABA bird #692.
Nanday Parakeet, Tierra Verde, FL

The causeway across to Mullet Key had a few birds, the most accessible for photos being Brown Pelicans and Royal Terns.
Brown Pelican, Fort DeSoto causeway, FL

Royal Terns, Fort DeSoto causeway, FL

At Fort DeSoto, the clouds broke up only a little, and it was still windy, but dry. Checking the shorelines on the west side of the island turned up little except large breakers on the beach. A walk along a bike path to search for a previously reported Groove-billed Ani turned up a few birds, but not the Ani. This would have been a new bird for my Florida list as it has become more common there in recent years, while the Smooth-billed Ani has become scarce (fairly easy to find in the 1970s and 1980s). So, we went to the eastern end of the island and found a beach with a bunch of shorebirds, including one that I had not photographed before; Wilson's Plover.
Wilson's Plover, Fort DeSoto SP, FL

The distinctive large bill was not as obvious when they were among other shorebirds as a couple other characters. Wilson's Plovers are very distinctly more long-legged and short-tailed than other small plovers with them, which included Semipalmated and Piping Plovers.
Wilson's Plover, Fort DeSoto SP, FL

Wilson's Plover, Fort DeSoto SP, FL

One of the Piping Plovers on the beach had colored leg bands and leg flags. I've reported this bird to the Bird Banding Lab, but have not heard back yet where it was banded. Chances are, it was in northern Michigan as west Florida and the Panhandle seem to be places where our birds winter.
Banded Piping Plover, Fort DeSoto SP, FL

We continued north to Honeymoon Island State Park, where we hoped to see more shorebirds. But when we got there, it was difficult to find the beach where we'd had good success photographing plovers and an American Oystercatcher back in 2009. In the nature center, we were told that a storm had messed up most of the beaches on the island. Too bad. A consolation was getting a really good look at a couple of Common Ground-Doves.
Common Ground-Dove, Honeymoon Island SP, FL

From here we went north and stopped at a couple more spots for shorebirds, before heading to Hernando Beach, where our 7th target bird of the trip had been seen in the past. In 1978, Budgerigars were known to be in Miami in flocks of 1000 or more, and in an ABA guide from 1984, western Florida was known to have "flocks of thousands" in localized areas. Now, however, numbers have dwindled to the point that it is very difficult to find them. We only made a half-hearted effort in 1978 and missed them. We spent over an hour driving around the residential area of Hernando Beach, without success. As it was getting to dusk, we stopped to ask an older couple, who had bird feeders behind their house, if they'd seen any parakeets lately. They were very friendly, and said they'd not seen them in a couple years. This was our only chance for Budgerigar on the trip, so this was a clean miss.

The next installment of this blog will take us out of Florida and back home, with some highlights yet to come. Stay tuned.

No comments: