TAS Panhandle Field Trip - 1/16 to 1/19/2004

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Posted by Paul Bithorn on January 21, 2004.

Led by Brian Rapoza and myself, twelve south Florida birders departed on Friday, January 16, 2004 for North Florida, in search of the winter migrants that rarely wander much further south than Gainesville. Six of our group hailed from Miami-Dade, two from Broward and four from Palm Beach County. Brian's personal quest was to reach the "holy grail" of 400 species in Florida, but he fell short by one. Maybe the Red-legged Honeycreeper at Bill Baggs will have that honor. The F.O.S.R.C. is keeping an open mind on the two previous reports (Boca Chica Key and Dry Tortugas) of this species, exercising an abundance of caution, and has considered them as probable escaped cage-birds until ensuing records suggest otherwise.

We saw/heard a total of 141 species, including 2 loons, 16 waterfowl, 8 raptors, 3 owls, 6 woodpeckers, 2 nuthatches, 3 wrens, and seven sparrows. Sandhill Cranes and Crested Caracaras were spotted on our drive through central Florida. Our first birding stop was midday at the Home Depot Pond in Gainesville. Long-billed Dowitchers, both Yellowlegs and Wilson's Snipe were present. La Chua Trail in Paynes Prairie Preserve was our next stop, where we saw Savannah, Swamp, Song, Chipping, White-throated and Vesper Sparrow, Sedge Wren, and heard a Barred Owl.

Our base of operations would be the Red Roof Inn in Tallahassee. Our first stop on Saturday was Tall Timbers Preserve, north of Tallahassee, where we found Red-headed Woodpecker, several White-breasted and Brown Nuthatches, Eastern Towhees, including a northern, adult, red-eyed individual. Our second stop was Fran Rutkowsky's residence, a natural habitat and bird magnet, par de excellence, where in spite of not seeing the Western Tanager frequenting her suet feeder, we did see a male Northern Oriole, Pileated Woodpecker, Carolina Wren and Chipping Sparrows.

We then made the two-hour trek to Pensacola, stopping at Earl Scarborough Park at the I-10 rest area east of the Apalachicola River in search of the mythical Dark-eyed Junco. Stefan Schlick had a brief glimpse of a suspect, but we could not relocate it. My arch-nemesis would once again get the best of me. We visited the Bowman home at 7980 Boyd Avenue in Pensacola, where we were greeted by a tree full of Cedar Waxwings and a very gracious host in Glenda Bowman. As a cold front moved in with heavy rains, she invited us to view her feeders from her closed in porch. Suet, hummingbird and seed feeders along with a beautiful arbor with honeysuckle vine and a water fountain attracted Carolina Wrens, White-throated Sparrow, American Goldfinches, House Finches and a trifecta of Florida rarities -- Broad-billed (male) and Black-chinned (female) Hummingbirds and a male Purple Finch. We hoisted celebratory libations in honor of our good fortune that evening at the Old Mexico restaurant in Marianna.

We began Sunday with a short stop at Crowder's Landing, in search of Winter Wren, but rain dampened our efforts so we moved on to I-10 to head to Sumatra. Brian suggested we make a pit stop and take another shot at the Junco at Scarborough Park. Within minutes the radio crackled with the cry "we have the juncos!!!" As I lumbered across the park I saw a small flock of birds scatter. Drats! Linda McCandless patiently searched the trees in the area, chancing upon a young female, sitting perfectly still in a small oak. We would soon find adult males and females in the same tree.

Strike up the band! Sound the trumpets! The curse has been lifted! Oddly enough, instead of openly showing any emotion, I felt a little melancholy in knowing that the chase was now over.

From there we headed to Sumatra in the Apalachicola National Forest. Stefan soon heard a Red-cockaded Woodpecker near one of the many pines marked with a white ring, indicating nesting sites. Our next stop was a wet field on SR 379 five miles north of Sumatra where Brian flushed a Henslow's Sparrow into a small shrub. Look for Wax Myrtles near the paved road in this area. Armed with rubber boots we were all afforded killer looks at a range of ten feet. The field was too deep and mucky for us to drag our rope in hopes of flushing a Yellow Rail.

Apalachicola Airport is off limits, so we had no shot at Sprague's Pipit this year. The Apalachicola CBC did not locate any this year, so it would have been a long-shot anyway. It was off to Alligator Point.

We made a visit to Jack Dozier's house to check his feeders and get an update on what was being seen in the area. His feeders had Brown Thrasher, Eastern Towhee, Field, Chipping and White-throated Sparrow, Pine Warbler and the beautiful white race of the gray squirrel.

We birded Bald Point locating Redheads, Lesser Scaup, Red-breasted Merganser, Willet, Sanderling, Dunlin and Least Sandpiper. At the KOA Campground and Mud Cove we located Common Loon, an adult male and juvenile male Black Scoter and Red Knots. American Oystercatcher and Spotted Sandpiper were seen on one of the docks.

As dusk approached, we headed to Bottoms Road in Panacea, getting a glimpse of a Short-eared Owl along with Sedge and Marsh Wrens and Clapper Rails called all around us. Posies ,in Panacea, was sold six months ago and is now The Landing. Fortunately, the new owner has maintained the quality of the seafood.

We started our last morning looking for an American Woodcock reported from Wakulla. No luck. On to St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge, where a Bittern flew across the road in front of us. Several species of duck including Canvasback were in the Lighthouse Pool and a Red-throated Loon and Horned Grebes were seen offshore.

We ran into David Simpson and Andy Bankert, who told us of the Canada, Snow and Ross's Geese they had found in Tallahassee. Unfortunately by the time we got there, about 1 p.m., two boys were fishing in the pond and had probably flushed the geese.

No problem. We soon found the stunning male and female Common Goldeneye in Central Park Lake in Tallahassee.

Life is good................forming kindred relationships with our family of birders and seeing three Florida lifebirds - Broad-tailed Hummingbird (404), Purple Finch (405) and the once rare and elusive Dark-eyed Junco (406).

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