TAS North Florida Trip - January 14 to January 17, 2005

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Posted by Paul Bithorn on 10:49:55 01/19/05

Led by Brian Rapoza and myself, twelve hardy, South Florida birders departed on Friday, January 14, 2005 for four days of birding the frozen climes of North Florida on our third annual Tropical Audubon Panhandle Trip. With six veterans from previous trips, we changed our itinerary a bit, in hopes of finding more Florida rarities. We would not be disappointed. Six of our group hailed from Miami-Dade, two from Broward and four from Palm Beach County.

We saw/heard a total of 139 species, including 3 loon, 18 waterfowl, 7 raptor, 1 owl, 7 woodpecker, 4 hummingbird, 3 nuthatch, 3 wren, and 11 sparrow species. Sandhill Cranes and a Bald Eagle were spotted as we passed through central Florida. Our only stop on day one would be O Leno State Park, south of Lake City, where we searched for Fox Sparrows. We came up empty-handed but several Red-headed Woodpeckers and a Golden-crowned Kinglet more than made up for the disappointment.

Our base of operations would once again be the luxurious Red Roof Inn in Tallahassee. Our first stop early Saturday morning was St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge, where we got crippling looks of Henslow s Sparrows at the helipad. John Boyd got some excellent photos, which he has posted on the TAS website, where you can also browse through his collection of photos on his personal website taken during his many travels in the U.S. and abroad. Brown-headed Nuthatches squeaked at close range on the short hike back to our vans, but the bird of the day was a Red-breasted Nuthatch spotted by eagle-eye Abby behind the bathrooms. Several species of duck including Bufflehead, Greater Scaup, Redheads and the duck of the day, a stunning male Cinnamon Teal, in the Headquarters Pond. Nelson s Sharp-tailed Sparrows, Seaside Sparrows and Sedge Wrens were seen in the Saltbushes adjacent to the Spartina Grass along the shoreline near the lighthouse. Common Loon and Horned Grebe were seen offshore.

We made a visit to Jack Dozier's wildlife sanctuary on Alligator Point to check his feeders and get an update on what was being seen in the area. His feeders had Brown Thrasher, Eastern Towhees (northern race), Field, Chipping, Song and White-throated Sparrow, American Golfinches, Pine Warbler and the beautiful white race of the gray squirrel. Mud Cove had Common, Pacific (chin-strap visible) and Red-throated Loon, along with a male Purple Martin and House Finch. John Murphy s yard had a nice flock of Cedar Waxwings fly in, while we were enjoying some friendly banter. A pair of American Oystercatchers and a Spotted Sandpiper were seen along the shoreline on the drive to the nature preserve.

Bottoms Road in Panacea was our next stop, where we would hear a couple of Clapper Rails and bump into Dave Goodwin, Brian Ahern and Erik Haney, who made the trek north from Pinellas County. No Short-eared Owls, but as darkness set in, we headed to the Landing Restaurant for local seafood cuisine and we toasted several Dos Equis Darks after a great day of birding.

Our first stop, early Sunday morning, was near Sumatra in the Apalachicola National Forest. Within minutes, about a hundred yards in from SR 379, we located a family of three Red-cockaded Woodpeckers foraging near one of the many pines marked with a white ring, indicating nesting sites. We would don our boots at our next stop, a wet field on SR 379, five miles north of Sumatra where several Henslow's Sparrow and a LeConte s Sparrow were flushed as we slogged through the wetland. The LeConte s was in the drier grasses further out in the field.
Torreya State Park along the Appalachicola River was our next stop, where a single female Purple Finch was located. The view from the Gregory House, a restored mansion from the Confederate War period, was stunning. A single female Purple Finch was the was located in a mixed flock along the trail that runs along the river.

Disappointed by the fact that the Old Mexico Restaurant in Marianna was closed on Sunday, we pressed on to Florida Caverns State Park, where water levels were much higher than normal. The canoe launch was flooded so we headed to the Blue Hole to search for Winter Wren. A Carolina Wren created some temporary excitement, when suddenly, Maria Rodriguez found a Brown Creeper that provided us with great looks and the oohs and aahs increased to a crescendo, when a Golden-crowned Kinglet fed nearby on a caterpillar at very close range.

We were soon off to Three Rivers State Park in Sneads, where the Canvasbacks, Buffleheads and Ruddy ducks were way out on Lake Seminole as chilling winds blew in our face from the approaching cold front. A pair of Dark-eyed Juncos flushed from the side of the road on the drive back from the park to I-10.
Monday, before first light, we arrived at Tall Timbers Preserve, north of Tallahassee, where we found White-breasted Nuthatches and a small raft of Wood Ducks in the pond adjacent to the viewing area on the Henry Stevenson Nature Trail, as a Barred owl hooted in the distance.

We then headed back to residential Tallahassee, where my brother Michael Jon, a Tallahassee resident since 1996, helped us navigate to three different residences that had rare wintering hummingbirds at their feeders. As the Doors sang in Soft Parade, This was the best part of the trip this was the trip.

Our first stop was a residence in Waverly Hills, where several Pine Siskins graced the backyard feeders. The homeowner graciously led us to a residence nearby, where a Black-chinned Hummingbird visited a front yard feeder. Canada Geese and Hooded Mergansers were seen in a nearby pond on the drive there.

It was off to the Armstrong s in Indian Head Acres, where the female Allen s Hummingbird (my lifebird and statebird #411) was easily found feeding in the front yard feeder and a Rufous Hummingbird fed at a backyard feeder. Nice perfecta!

The grand slam of hummingbirding was completed, when we headed to a feeder on Wekewa Nene, and found the Buff-bellied Hummingbird nectaring at a frontyard feeder. Jim Cox joined us as we buzzed with excitement. Oddly enough, no Ruby-throated humming birds were seen on our four-day trip.

After eating a belly full of BBQ, we headed back to South Florida. The trip would not be uneventful! We lost an hour, while asphalt work was being done in the southbound lane of the Florida Turnpike just north of the Fort Pierce exit and I lost another half hour when my van had a blowout soon thereafter. A woman from the Turnpike Authority called me the next day to make sure we were safe. Wow, southern hospitality lives on. It would be midnight before my head hit coolness of my pillow.

Life is good.............. knowing that the goodhearted birders of the panhandle would so graciously welcome such a large group of birders to see the birding jewels in their yards. My only hope is that someday - I will be given an opportunity to reciprocate.

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