Some Florida Specialties!

The Traveling Trinovids arrived at my office from their California Pelagic adventure late on Friday evening. There was not enough time to get them shipped out again before the weekend, so I decided I would try to find some of the localized Florida specialty birds that occur in my area on Monday before sending these out again. I had morning plans and it was incredibly hot through the afternoon so I decided to head out in the evening when it got a bit cooler again. My son Austin, was intrigued by the notion of this big year and when he heard me say I hoped to find the 350th bird for Travis’ list, he said, “I’ll go Dad if you can wait until after dinner.” I knew this would mean less time in the field and likely less birds seen, but it’s becoming rare that my teen-aged son wants to go birding with me so I happily waited for him.

Florida's only endemic bird species, Florida Scrub Jay

Florida’s only endemic bird species, Florida Scrub Jay, 5/27/13 – Leica V-lux 4 camera

We headed out near 5:45 and made our way Southwest toward a known hot spot for  Florida’s only endemic bird species, the Florida Scrub Jay. We made a quick stop en route at an area where Monk Parakeets are often found, but it was quite windy here and there was no sign of them. Five minutes later we had an extremely low Swallow-tailed Kite sailing above the road and then spotted our first Scrub Jay on a wire… then another and another until we’d seen 5. We took a few quick pics of the bird on a lower wire basking in the evening sun before moving on. It was now 6:08 PM.

Gray Kingbird

Gray Kingbird, Punta Gorda, Florida, 5/27/13 – Leica V-lux 4 camera

I hopped on the interstate and crossed the Peace River bridge getting off at Punta Gorda. “Let’s hope we can find a Gray Kingbird in the historic down town section”, I hadn’t seen any here this year but I hadn’t looked in this area since mid April and they are typically a late arriving migrant here. Gray Kingbirds are a tropical species, wide spread through the Caribbean but barely reaching the US in Florida. I pulled into the Hospital parking lot where they had nested the year prior and we were fortunate to find one immediately. We once again paused briefly to appreciate the bird and snapped a documentation shot through the car window before moving on. We needed to add 5 birds to break 350, and birds would start heading to roost shortly. It was now 6:21 PM

Monk Parakeet doing some remodeling

Monk Parakeet doing some remodeling – Leica V-lux 4 camera, 5/27/13

We continued down the road with windows open listening for the raucous calls of Parakeets along the palm-lined roads here. We heard instead the distinctive squeaky “chip” of a Yellow-throated Warbler here and got a brief view. They love to glean insects from the palm fronds and this little bird was mostly hidden high in the fronds. Continuing East, we almost reached the last palm tree in the row when the unmistakable call was heard. There were as many as 5 pairs of Monk Parakeets in the giant, colonial stick nest built into the base of the Palm fronds. The bird above was doing a bit of a touch up on its nest entrance. Four new species in just 50 minutes, good! It was now 6:51.

We continued south east from here toward an area where I’ve often found Burrowing Owls and (rarely) Mangrove Cuckoos. I arrived at the first burrow only to find it filled with no signs of recent activity. Then to another in the same condition… we drove slowly past the long stretch of Mangrove forest listening to no avail either. Uh, oh had our luck changed?!?… I turned to eBird to look for any other recent owl sightings. It had been a couple months but there was a report near the local golf course. So I programmed the address into my phone and followed the directions, figuring this would get us close. I stopped at a couple good vantage points and scanned as we were approaching without luck. Continuing, the phone finally said “You have arrived at your destination!” and here sat an adult Burrowing Owl perched atop a short sign post at the side of the road which read “Important bird  site, PLEASE KEEP OUT”.

adult male Burrowing Owl

adult male Burrowing Owl – Punta Gorda, FL, 5/27/13 – Leica V-lux 4 camera.

We stayed in our car a respectful distance from the birds, and noted in total there were 6 owls here: two adults and four fledged youngsters. The adults (above) show whitish underparts with thick brown, horizontal barring, while the youngsters show dark brown “bibs” on unstreaked buffy-orange underparts. The youngster below was hiding out in the culvert running under the driveway of the residence here! We stayed here a bit longer as this is a favorite species for both my son and I, plus this was the 350th bird species for the Traveling Trinovid’s list… a moment to be savored!

immature Burrowing Owl in driveway culvert

An immature Burrowing Owl in driveway culvert – digiscoped with Leica V-lux 40 camera through a Leica APO Televid 65 mm spotting scope

It was 7 PM by the time we pried ourselves away from these cute little Owls and I sped south and west toward the famed pine flat woods at Babcock Webb WMA where we hoped to “pad the list” with at least three more species. We kept an eye out for Snail Kite, Limpkin, and Purple Gallinule as we motored past the ponds here but it was honestly quite late and since these are a bit of a long shot, I didn’t invest any real time here. What we needed to do was to find she birds still active and fast, if we wanted to add the three pinewoods specialty breeding birds here.

recording a Bachman’s Sparrow!

Luck was with us nee again though and we first heard a distant singing Bachman’s Sparrow. These birds are notoriously skulky and rarely come out of the thick underbrush, except to sing and even then will typically only go up to the top of the palmetto or perhaps a low exposed pine branch. Austin tried in vain to record the bird but between the wind and distance an iPhone alone was not the right tool. It did offer me a nice photo op of him carrying “Travis”, our Traveling Trinovid though.

It was getting dark here, so we didn’t take any extra time trying to get images of the birds and even if we’d tried quality would have likely been poor.

dusk in the pine flat woods

dusk in the pine flat woods

As we drove further along I heard a single distinctive “chirr” call of the endangered Red-cockaded Woodpecker from a sparse stand of skinny pine trees (in the image above). We stopped the car and got out, listening for more calls and slowly walked toward the small patch of trees. I could hear Eastern Bluebirds chattering and heard a distinctive squeaky “ee-err” call of a Brown-headed  Nuthatch. They sound a bit like a rubber ducky being squeezed and as it flew from tree to tree with the bright orange sky behind, it appeared like a little rotund ball with wings with a slightest hint of a tail. A few moments had passed and still no sign of the Red-cockaded Woodpecker but we hadn’t seen any woodpecker fly out and there were no obvious roost / nest cavities in this little stand of trees…

Red-cockaded Woodpecker cavity

Red-cockaded Woodpecker cavity

We stood there in silence, listening intently. Common Nighthawks were flying around calling their buzzy, nasal calls, a distant Eastern Meadowlark rattled, and a Red-winged Blackbird called from the nearby marsh. We were about to give up when we heard a soft “tap, tap, tap” on a tree to our right, then again, “tap, tap, tap”. We couldn’t see the bird but just stared in the direction of the setting sun hoping the bird would move and show itself. Moments passed when we heard “chirr, chirr” and saw the bird bounding away, flying out of this woodlot and across open space, landing at the base of a cavity in a distant roost tree marked by a bold white ring of paint. It tapped loudly 3x here and then disappeared into the hole. The unmistakable shape of a Great Horned Owl glided through the trees behind the marked roost tree, and more nighthawks were calling all around. It was time head for home, our mission successful. The Traveling Trinovid’s year list now sits solidly at 353 species after only 51 days!