Thursday, October 11, 2012

County Listing in Highlands and Hardee

Cypress Swamp Trail at Highlands Hammock State Park
I really enjoy county listing trips because they involve dark-to-dark birding and exploring places I rarely get to see.  Tuesday’s day-long adventure in Okeechobee County was terrific; very productive and filled with great vistas from the Kissimmee Prairie to Lake Okeechobee.  Wednesday’s birding had a slightly different goal.  Rather than accumulating as many species as possible in one county, my goal was to move my county life total above 50 in both Highlands and Hardee counties.  The plan was to hit Highlands Hammock State Park early in the morning, and Paynes Creek State Park in late afternoon and early evening.

Eastern Phoebe
Highlands Hammock State Park is gorgeous.  The Cypress Swamp boardwalk takes you through an ancient swamp with tall cypress trees and a prehistoric feel to the air.  The walk out to the dam along the bike trail north of the county road is through a mixed forest along well-maintained paths.  And the dam itself is in a lovely spot that was also very birdy.  If I lived closer to Sebring, I’d be in this park as frequently as possible.   Our morning included an Eastern Phoebe, a Swainson’s Thrush, a Rose-breasted Grosbeak, a Chestnut-sided Warbler, a couple of Black-throated Blue Warblers, some Ovenbirds, and numerous Black-and-white and Yellow-throated Warblers.  But the bird of the day was at the eastern end of the dam where we found a stunning Blue-winged Warbler.   The tally for the morning included 15 new county ticks.  This brought me to 59 species for Highlands.

Ovenbird Hiding in the Vines
After lunch we headed up to the Bowling Green area and Paynes Creek State Park.  Just one step out of the car was all it took to score two county ticks: Indigo Bunting and Northern Cardinal.  The latter was actually significant in that Hardee County had been the only one of Florida’s 67 counties in which I had not seen a Cardinal.  So this bird completed the cycle and became my third all-county species (joining Mourning Dove and Northern Mockingbird).  We walked the Peace River Trail and then the short Monument Trail.  Late afternoon birding has never been very productive for me.  We saw the typical woodland species, but few of the migrant warblers we had hoped for.  Finally we stopped at the intersection where the trail turns toward the suspension bridge.  A nice little mixed flock produced Red-bellied and Downy Woodpeckers, a Brown Thrasher, a nice Northern Parula, a House Wren and an Ovenbird.  Nothing spectacular?  True, but a county lister celebrates every new tick, and each of these birds was new to the county for me.  The “slow” birding of the afternoon resulted in 19 new species for my county life list bringing me up to 64.

The two days included seven spots on the Great Florida Birding Trail, 89 species (including 12 warblers), 80 county listing life ticks and three county lists moved above 50.  Can you tell that I love this stuff?

Peace River at Paynes Creek State Park

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