Monday, February 11, 2013

When a Miss Doesn't Matter

Brown Thrasher at Vaill Point Park
Recent reports out of St. Johns County have mentioned several really good finds - Red-breasted Nuthatch, Hairy Woodpecker, and Ash-throated Flycatcher.  So the Big Red Van headed out early on Sunday morning and reached Vaill Point Road at 7:30.  Unfortunately, the park at Vaill Point doesn't open until 8:00.  So we spent a little time birding along the road.  A retention pond near the beginning had Hooded Mergansers, Pied-billed Grebes. and a Little Blue Heron, with a gorgeous male Common Yellowthroat in the grass near Moultrie Creek.

If you don't know about Vaill Point Park and you're anywhere near St. Augustine, you need to fix that.  This is a very nice little park with paved trails, an observation deck, and a dock on Moultrie Creek, and lots of birds.   Seriously, it can be a very birdy place.  For example, when we got into the park I immediately headed toward the trail.  But it took nearly 45 minutes to get there.  Why?  Well, it started with a singing Brown Thrasher that was followed by Eastern Towhees, Gray Catbirds, and a mixed flock of the usual suspects.  When I tried to walk along the trail we had to stop every few feet for a Hermit Thrush or an Ovenbird.

Red-breasted Merganser with Breakfast
When we reached the dock, we got to watch a Red-breasted Merganser capture a small fish, an immature Bald Eagle soar over head, and a Belted Kingfisher buzz the head of a Great Egret.  The weather was perfect - low 60s, low humidity, bright sunshine - and the air fresh and sweet.  I had a hard time pulling myself away from that dock.  After about two hours we had over 30 species, but there was much still to do so we went on to our next stop.

Six Mile Landing is a boat ramp on the north end of Guana Lake.  There was a report of an Ash-throated Flycatcher in the area.  We saw no signs of it, but still spent some time scoping out the lake.  At a distance we saw a large number of scaup.  I stared at them for a long time, studying their shape in the water and their head shape.  I suspect there were both Greater and Lesser Scaup in the group, but I'm pretty confident that the group was dominated by the Lessers.  There were lots of tall, peaked heads and what I think of as somewhat short bodies.

Gray Catbird
Next we moved on to Nocatee Preserve in Ponte Vedra.  I have the feeling that this is a relatively new property.  My quick glance at it suggests that it's going to be terrific.  It's situated behind Ponte Vedra High School.  As we pulled into the park we saw a brilliant Eastern Bluebird perched on the fence near the cell tower.  Remarkably, that was a new county bird for me.  (How do you get 150 species in a county in north Florida without seeing a Bluebird?)  Recent reports mentioned Red-breasted Nuthatch and Hairy Woodpecker.  We looked for both and even tried playing both songs, but we saw neither species.  We walked into the woods just a brief way and encountered a nice mixed flock that included a Black-and-White Warbler and my first Blue-headed Vireo of 2013.  Unfortunately our time was getting short, so we had to leave.  But as I was getting into the van, I heard it ... unmistakeable ... a Hairy Woodpecker!  I hustled over toward the call but was unable to locate the bird.   I won't count heard birds on my life or county lists - I never trusted my ears enough - so tempted as I was to make that little tick mark on my list, I let it go.

So there it is.  I was 0 for 3 on the targets, but had a wonderful day anyway.  It was everything I love about birding - new places, a quiet time in the woods, beautiful birds ... What a great morning!

Moultrie Creek from Vaill Point
The Trail into Nocatee Preserve