|A small portion of the sheet flow water treatment project being built near Paynes Prairie in Alachua County|
|Bachman's Sparrow. Photo by Stuart Kaye|
The plan was to start out at 6:30 AM at Longleaf Flatwoods Reserve for a few target birds, head to Powers Park to see what was around Newnan's Lake, and then meet up with another group at Paynes Prairie by 8:00. Yeah, right.
Twenty-seven people showed up in the parking lot at Longleaf. The early arrivals were treated to an aerial display by several Common Nighthawks who swooped and buzzed over our heads. It was our first target species of the day and it came right to us. Great start. We walked into the park a bit and soon hear a singing Bachman's Sparrow, our second target. I turned to the group to point to the bird and realized that they stretched out over 100 feet behind me, chatting merrily and greeting old friends. I shushed, I waved, I pointed ... the bird was perched in the open at eye level only 30 feet from the trail. You could never get a better - or easier look at a Bachman's Sparrow in your life. Of course, it flew off as the folks in the back of the line were just reaching the spot and several missed it.
|Yellow-billed Cuckoo. Photo by Stuart Kaye|
We had three targets here: Yellow-throated and Prothonotary Warblers and Limpkin. The Yellow-throated was easy. Right above our heads, it sang a greeting to the new morning while dancing from limb to limb in search of breakfast. The Limpkin was easy; two were perched in the open near the fishing pier. The Prothonotary was not so easy. We heard it, but only one of the 27 birders actually saw it. Since TJC is all about seeing birds - without disturbing habitat - that was a dip for the rest of us.
|Blue Grosbeak. Photo by Stuart Kaye|
Timing is everything in birding. When we reached the La Chua Trail parking lot, the first thing we heard was a Yellow-billed Cuckoo. I played a Cuckoo song for just a few seconds, and it flew to us. If you're a birder with any experience with Cuckoos, you know how hard they can be to see in a tree. They pick a spot, never in the open, often high up, and don't move. At all. Getting 27 sets of eyes on the bird was really tough. Then I realized that several people had already started down the trail. Should I go get them or stay here and help people locate it? The dilemma was solved when the bird abruptly flew away, but not before Stuart Kaye got this gorgeous photo (above, right). Also, a singing Summer Tanager put on a little show for us before it too disappeared.
Even in its partially-built state, the place is fabulous. A slow walk around the berm and we found several of the birds we were hoping for. Black-bellied Whistling Ducks congregated in one spot. A couple of Killdeer and Spotted Sandpipers roamed around another. An American Coot and several Mottled Ducks swam among the reeds. Red-winged Blackbirds chased a Red-shouldered Hawk off to our left while a Roseate Spoonbill joined a flock of White Ibises in a low and lazy flight over a pool to our left.
After a long walk we crossed a flat area, forded a stream, climbed a fence, trudged along a short trail and finally found ourselves on Sparrow Alley. We rejoined another section of the original field trip group and learned that they had located an Acadian Flycatcher. I tried for the Yellow-breasted Chat in the spot where it had been found in the morning, but struck out. The field trip finally ended around 1:00 PM after a very successful morning. But I wasn't done yet!
Next I drove through the charming little city of Alachua and checked the wires for White-winged Doves. No luck, but there were a few Eastern Bluebirds. By checking various feeders I found Brown Thrasher, Tufted Titmouse, Downy Woodpecker. Through all of this time, the rain fell in sheets, scouring the streets and keeping the birds hunkered down where I couldn't see many of them.
A Moe's burrito made for a good dinner before I drove out to a cemetery in Newberry. Last year I found Northern Flickers and an Eastern Wood-Pewee here, but once again, the rain was an obstacle. By now it was beginning to get dark and I had one more stop to make. I drove to Watermelon Pond Road to a spot that has never failed to produce a Chuck-will's-widow for me in June. I parked and lowered my window to listen. I immediately raised my window and searched for a towel to clean my glasses and wipe rain off the door and my shoulder. I opened the opposite window and listened. Nothing. So, I thought, why not play a Chuck's call for a few seconds and see if anything responds. Almost instantly, a Chuck flew out from a low perch in a nearby tree, crossed right in front of my windshield, and disappeared into the night. Yes! It had been a challenging day, with long walks in unrelenting sun and then driving rain in the latter part of the day, but it had also been quite successful. I had seen the water treatment facility for the first time, scored 72 species for the day, found many of my target birds, and successfully herded the cats ... ah ... the field trip participants through three different parks. I'd call that a winner of a day and a great start to the 2014 June Challenge.
SPECIAL NOTE: I owe a big salute to Stuart Kaye for the gracious use of his photos for this blog. For the most part, I forgot I had a camera with me, so this would be nearly all text without his contributions. Check out his work at: www.stuartkayephotography.com.
|Brown-headed Nuthatch at Longleaf Flatwoods Reserve. Photo by Stuart Kaye.|
|Here's another look at the King Rail that we saw along Sweetwater Dike. Photo by Stuart Kaye.|
|Blue Grosbeak. Photo by Stuart Kaye|
|This Summer Tanager was singing in the La Chua Trail parking lot. Photo by Stuart Kaye|
|Red Rat Snake near the La Chua Trail parking lot.|