Monday, April 26, 2010

Florida: birding down to the wire

This is a no photo blog entry. We had our bags all packed and were all ready for our departure from Orlando airport. Unfortunately, Felix's flight left at 9:30 am and we dropped him off at the airport around 8:00 am. The rest of us had a flight at noon or later. We still had three hours to bird!

In February, 2008, me and three others from the Washtenaw Audubon Society received a generous offer to visit Don Chalfant and his wife, Loree, at their condo in New Sryma Beach on the oceanside. Don is one of the country's leading listers and this was an invitation that none of us wanted to pass up. Of course, we all had Red-cockaded Woodpecker (Picoides borealis) and Bachman's Sparrow (Aimophila aestivalis) on our wish list of birds we most wanted to see. Don pulled through for us with both birds and many others. We had brief looks at a perched Bachman's and we had excellent looks and a long, satisfying visit with three Red-cockaded Woodpeckers feeding together.

On this trip we tried briefly for both birds at the Hal Scott Preserve but when we had no luck within a reasonable amount of time we had to move on. From here our trip took us away from the shared habitat of these two birds. We returned to it briefly at the Three Lakes Prairie, but the habitat was limited in the areas we visited. Our final bird on Wednesday evening was a silent Bachman's Sparrow that perched in a low shadowed bush. So, the Red-cockaded Woodpecker still evaded us.

On Thursday morning we voted; Snail Kite or Red-cockaded Woodpecker. Having missed the Snail Kite twice at Lake Toho... I had little enthusiasm for trying a third time. Vee's vote was for the kite and Jim's and Hope's was for the woodpecker. The woodpecker won the toss.

We arrived at the powerline area of the Hal Scott Preserve - the exact location where we had seen the bird with Don in February, 2008. This was also a different part of the preserve than we had tried for the birds on the Friday before.

Approximately 1/2 mile walk in we heard the gentle pecking of a woodpecker. Then Bill heard the bird call. We located one bird and then another. They were hard to follow to get goods looks while they were moving from tree to tree. And, they were busy. Then one came flying over the trail right in front of us, it's woodpecker undulating flight and plain white cheek clearly visible. It flew to a tree with a broad, white blaze - the sign of an active nest site in this carefully managed Red-cockaded habitat. Both birds were active and most easily seen when they flew over the trail. It's most likely that they were feeding hatchlings.

Very nearby we heard the Bachman's Sparrow sing. Bill played the bird's song on his ipod and the bird flew to a low, open long leaf pine limb no more than ten to twelve feet from where we were standing. It stood in perfect light and continued to sing. I thought of my camera packed away in my carry-on suitcase back in the trunk of the van and my heart sank. But then I remembered why I like birding so much. I stood there then, sometimes with bins up and sometimes not, and just watched the bird sing and sing.

Coming next and my final blog entry for the Florida trip - Florida: the critters (all photos, few words!)

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