That's right ... stakeout!
Most birding expeditions fall into two broad categories. First there are the ones spent on foot exploring a habitat, whether woods, prairie, marsh, beach or lake, searching for as many birds as possible and maybe the one or two cool birds that have been seen in an area. And there are the trips spent birding from a vehicle, perhaps in a car while you check out the fields and farm ponds of an area or maybe on a boat on a pelagic trip looking for birds rarely seen from land.
|A LONG distance iPhone shot of a Peregrine Falcon|
Last week, those of us in the southeast had a rare opportunity. A Townsend's Solitaire was found at Honeymoon Island State Park off Florida's Gulf coast. Only the second record of this species ever to visit Florida, this bird ought to be hanging out in the Rockies. I was stoked! This would be a lifer for me, and I wanted it! Yet for a few days, a combination of factors kept me home in Gainesville. Finally, on Thursday, the Big Red Van made the 150 mile trip to Pinellas County and a state park I had never visited. The trip down was uneventful other than a bunch of funny stories and the usual talk of birds. At one point one of us saw some Limpkins in a retention pond, but the rest of us missed them. Too bad. We couldn't stop; we had a bird to see.
We pulled into the park at 8:30 or so, found the reported location of the bird, piled out of the van and looked up. No bird. Well, not exactly. There was no Solitaire, but there was a Peregrine Falcon. Not a good sign. Walked up the path a bit, checked out every tree top, snag and bush. No bird.
|Lifer #448, a Townsend's Solitaire|
Maybe forty-five minutes later, we decided to split up. Two of us would change locations a little by moving off the path and back toward the parking lot. We checked cell numbers and two of us moved away from the others. On the way to the parking area I heard a guy say that he had seen the bird earlier in the week feeding in a tree across and beyond the parking lot. I wandered in that direction and put my bins on the tree. It appeared to be a cedar, and it was loaded with berries. If I were a Solitaire, that's where I'd be. We continued in that direction until we heard a whistle. Someone was calling to us from just in front of that tree. We scrambled over to them, and there it was - a Townsend's Solitaire - a life bird!
|An Anhinga at Brooker Creek|
The morning was nearly gone so we left the park and stopped for a celebratory lunch at the Island Outpost. For the most part, the food was terrific. I had a jerk chicken sandwich that was outstanding. But I have a special note to the staff there: if the menu lists specific ingredients for a sandwich, that's what you put on it. And if the error is pointed out, just fix it. Read your own menu!
Anyway, we decided to spend the rest of our time at a place we noticed on the way in. Brooker Creek Nature Preserve is a Pinellas County nature education center, and it's terrific. Before Thursday, I had done all of my Pinelas County birding at Fort DeSoto, so while I had lots of birds on my county list, I was missing some common woodland birds. Brooker Creek turned out to be a treasure trove. I picked up a nice set of county birds including Hermit Thrush, Tufted Titmouse, Pine Warbler, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, and Belted Kingfisher.
|A Common Yellowthroat near the Brooker Creek bird blind|
Eventually, it was time to start back to Gainesville, but we had one more stop to make. Remember the Limpkins seen earlier in the morning by one of us? Well, if we could relocate it, that would be a Pasco County lifer for the rest of us. We were almost back to the interstate when we found the right shopping area with the shallow retention ponds. Remarkably, about 8-10 Limpkins were still there!
That was a fitting end to a really great day. There were county ticks in three counties, a really delicious meal (for me, anyway), lots of laughs and conversation with good friends, and (of course) the Townsend's Solitaire, my 448th lifer. That's what I call a successful stakeout!
|Another view of the Townsend's Solitaire|
|Blow this up - you might see a woodpecker's tongue!|
|Pygmy Rattlesnake at Brooker Creek|