TAS North Florida Trip Report

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Posted by Brian Rapoza on 17:43:42 01/22/08

Nine birders joined Paul Bithorn and me this past weekend for Tropical Audubon's annual winter trek to the Florida Panhandle. Paddy Cunningham brought an additional six birders; John Kellam and Karl Edwards met up with us once in the Panhandle. In spite of Saturday's heavy rains, and frigid temperatures on Sunday and early Monday, we still managed to tally 135 species.

Our first stop was on Ranch Road in Astatula, on the northwest side of Lake Apopka in Lake County, where after a few minutes of searching, we found the Say's Phoebe discovered there several weeks ago. After lunch, we headed north to O'Leno State Park in Columbia County, where a Fox Sparrow was reported earlier in the week. We could not locate the Fox Sparrow, but Paddy Cunningham did spot a Winter Wren along the trail to the river sink. Unfortunately, the wren could not be relocated. We also saw the first of many Red-headed Woodpeckers for the trip.

Saturday morning began at Torreya State Park in Liberty County, where just like last year, we easily located a flock of Dark-eyed Juncos in front of Gregory House. Heavy rains associated with a passing cold front prevented us from birding the park extensively, so we moved on to the home of Ray Dennis in Blountstown, Calhoun County. After only a few-minute wait, the spectacular adult male Broad-billed Hummingbird that had been banded there made an appearance. White-throated Sparrow was also seen while there. We continued west, where the rains forced us to break early for lunch. The rains finally abated, which allowed us to visit Hightower Road, near Vernon in Washington County. After considerable searching, we found and eventually had crippling looks at one of the Fox Sparrows previously reported from that location. Next stop was the home of Dara and Lloyd Dobson in DeFuniak Springs, Walton County, where we had to deal with frigid post-front conditions. The Dobsons graciously provided coffee and a space heater while we waited for their banded female Anna's Hummingbird to arrive. After a short but seemingly endless wait, this adorable little hummer finally made an appearance. Our last stop of the day was at Ponce de Leon Springs State Park in Holmes County, where we added Golden-crowned Kinglet and Brown Creeper to our trip list.

Sunday began at St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge in Wakulla County. We searched for Rusty Blackbirds at bridges along the first stretch of the refuge road, but found none. Driving on, we spotted a bobcat crossing the road near the trailhead for the refuge's primitive trails. At the helipad near the trailhead, we managed in-flight looks at both Henslow's Sparrow and Sedge Wren. Brown-headed Nuthatches were seen near the trailhead. Three Black-necked Stilts were at Stony Bayou Pool #1; a few Northern Shovelers, Lesser Scaup and Bufflehead were in Mounds Pools. Duck numbers were highest at Picnic Pond, where we found several Canvasbacks, Buffleheads, Hooded Mergansers and Ruddy Ducks, plus a lone female Gadwall. Four American Avocets were feeding along the shore. After a delicious picnic lunch, generously provided by former Miamian Jean Quincy, her daughter Lynn and Apalachee Audubon President Elizabeth Platt, we headed to the lighthouse area at the end of the refuge road. Red-breasted Merganser, Common Loon, Horned Grebe and American White Pelican were found in the bay, while Nelson s Sharp-tailed and Seaside Sparrows as well as more Sedge Wrens were flushed from adjacent salt marsh. A Clapper Rail was heard, but not seen, by a few participants. We stopped at the visitor center on our way out of the refuge, where we found a flock of Rusty Blackbirds, as well as a few Wilson s Snipe feeding along the edge of the pond behind the visitor center building. From St. Marks, we headed west to agricultural fields east of Malone in Jackson County, where we hoped to find Horned Larks. We failed to find the larks, but did find good numbers of American Pipit and Vesper Sparrow.

Monday began at Tall Timbers Research Station in Leon County, where former Florida Keys resident and now Tall Timbers employee Chris Borg helped us to explore the property. We failed to find any of the recently introduced Red-cockaded Woodpeckers, but we did see several White-breasted Nuthatches, Eastern Bluebirds and Red-headed Woodpeckers, plus Yellow-bellied Sapsucker and House Finch. Our trip ended at the home of Tallahassee resident Fran Rutkovsky, where we saw Rufous Hummingbird, Western and Summer Tanager, and Bullock s and Baltimore Oriole, plus Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Downy Woodpecker, White-breasted Nuthatch, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Carolina Wren, Carolina Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, Pine Warbler, Chipping Sparrow and American Goldfinch, all coming to feeders in her amazing backyard.

I added three birds to my Florida list (Say s Phoebe, Broad-billed Hummingbird and Anna s Hummingbird). Paul added those three birds to his Florida list, plus Fox Sparrow, which was also an ABA life bird! Participants added untold life birds to their lists. Three birders have already signed up for the January 16-19, 2009 trip; contact me if you d like to sign up as well.

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