My Montana

My Montana
My Montana

Saturday, January 11, 2014

In Search of Some Rare Birds Visiting Florida

There are several rare birds along the Florida coast,between the Georgia line and Jacksonville.  Last Wednesday, the first warm-up day after a record cold spell that sent the temperatures down to the low twenty's at Okefenokee with single digit chill factors, Cindy and I went hunting them.

The first place we stopped was at Fort Clinch State Park, which is at the north end of Florida's Birding Trail. A Harlequin Duck has been reported here for the past several weeks. We got to the park a little after 8:00 A.M. and bundled up.  I was in long underwear bottoms,  fleece pants and my thin nylon pants on top. I had on a fleece shirt and my lined winter volunteer jacket.  And I wore two hats on my head, one to keep warm, and one to stop the wind.  I occasionally wore gloves but usually needed bare hands to operate the camera.

The sun barely came out all day and we were the only souls out looking for the duck.   The first bird we saw was a bald eagle.  Then we saw ring-billed gulls, pelicans, several ruddy turnstones, and  a few ducks.  There were merganzers among them and I think a few scooters. But the pictures I took, then blew up to look came out fuzzy due to the low light and the high winds blowing me around so I couldn't determine which species we saw. But the Harlequin duck was not in sight.

This gull hovered over where the waves were slamming on to rocks

The only brown pelican I could capture in color

Happy Birder

After about an hour in the freezing wind, we decided to continue down to Little Talbot Island State Park  to see the Snowy Owl that has been bringing in lots of birdwatchers.  We found a ranger on permanent assignment to keep visitors from harassing the owl.  It was at least 70 yards away and mostly was sitting with its eyes closed or shuttered, and often with it's head turned away from us. But what a beautiful female bird.

Juvenile Female Snowy Owl

Our last stop was at Huguenot Memorial Park where we were again unsuccessful in finding the snow buntings that hang out there, but did find seven purple sandpipers, lifers for me. My battery died just before we found the sandpipers.  After a much needed lunch of pea soup - I brought my camp stove and heated it up -, Cindy started back to try and find the Harlequin duck, while I [put a new battery into my camera and went back to try and relocate the sandpipers. The wind was increasing and soon my camera was covered with fine sand and it was getting in my mouth and eyes. Before I gave up, I found greater black-back gulls and skimmers. Also the wind and waves were pushing lots of jellyfish on to the shore.  And I was amazed to see sanderlings pecking at the jellyfish.

Hooded merganser

Some of a flock of red knots

Cindy's picture of two of the purple sandpipers

Sanderling pecking at jellyfish

Royal and Forster's terns

Beach Scene

Skimmer and ring-billed gull
The Anhinga Made Me Late

I thought you might like to "see"  in words what I saw Friday.

I started the day with a trip to the Boardwalk.  It was so foggy and drippy, that I left my camera in the car and only counted birds. I lingered at the tower until I knew I would have to rush back in order to open the Visitor Center on time.  Just as I was about to go back, an anhinga swam into view. It was moving like a dancer or like a woman carrying a load on her head.  The only part of it I could see was its perfectly straight long neck, with its bill pierced through an 8" fish that looked like a catfish. The water moved around its swimming body, while the rest of it was still. 

 It swam to a little grassy island, only about five feet across.  Then it commenced shaking its head to try to remove the fish. It never tried to use its feet to help in this operation. This took at least a minute.  Then it caught the fish again between its top and bottom bill and shook its head sideways, shaking it harder to the left.  During several shakes, the fish aligned straighter and straighter until the bill and the fish made one line. Then the bird swallowed the fish in one gulp.  By the time I got back to the car, I was about fifteen minutes late.  Staff had already opened the center but forgave me my lateness.