|Female (l) and male Northern Shovelers with an American Coot (r)|
|This Ring-billed Gull watched me dip on the duck!|
You make a three hour drive, stake out a location, get a lifer, have some dinner somewhere, maybe bird some in a National Wildlife Refuge, and drive home.
You make a three hour drive, stake out a location, miss the lifer, decide to go birding in a National Wildlife Refuge, meet a really famous person in the birding world whose work you have read quite a bit, spend some delightful time chatting and birding with said person, and leave with a terrific story to tell other birders.
Normally, I'd pick a lifer over almost anything, but a recent encounter has changed my mind. Let me tell you about it.
But I was eager to see ducks ... so eager that I almost missed something I'm glad I saw. American Coots are present here in Florida in huge numbers. It isn't unusual to see thousands on a walk around a lake, so I tend to overlook them. But one Coot was close at hand, and its red frontal shield was more prominent than on any other Coot I've ever seen. I thought it was gorgeous, and I was lucky enough to get the shot on the left.
Another stop held some White Pelicans, Pied-billed Grebes and Hooded Mergansers. What a contrast in size! Some Yellow-rumped Warblers and at least one Common Yellowthroat danced around in the bushes along the road while a flock of Tree Swallows put on an impressive display of aerial skills.
A bit farther along the road we found the pool where the Northern Pintails like to hang out. Once again they were present in decent numbers. I think the Northern Pintail is an elegant looking bird. The brown, white and gray are displayed with clean lines, artistically aligned with a graceful swirl. I found myself taking dozens of photos because I just couldn't stop!
"Aren't you Julie Zickefoose?" I asked. She turned to me with a huge smile, said she was, and she started chatting with us. I told her about the mystery bird, and she came right over to my scope and checked it out. At first glance she thought it could indeed be a Eurasian -- we saw only cinnamon in the head, with no hint of green -- but she also readily admitted she could be wrong. I sputtered out a few thanks for taking a look, and she actually thanked us for getting her on the bird! What a thrill! Then as we stood there, another car drove up. I watched one of the RVG exchange a few words with the driver before the car drove off. The conversation ended with my friend looking a little startled and at a loss for words. When I walked over, I was told "That lady asked what we were looking at. I said a possible Eurasian Wigeon. She said, 'What, just one?' and drove off." We started laughing and did so again and again throughout the rest of the day.
We decided to lunch at the Visitor's Center, so that was our next stop. We spent money in the gift shop, watched a Painted Bunting and some Red-winged Blackbirds at the feeders, admired a Great Blue Heron and enjoyed our lunch at one of the picnic tables.
Our next destination was Biolab Road, a narrow, unpaved drive along the water's edge. This is usually really good for shorebirds, but the tide was high and the time of year not ideal for numbers and variety. Still we got some good looks at Black-bellied Plovers, a Killdeer, a Least Sandpiper, numerous Short-billed Dowitchers, both Lesser and Greater Yellowlegs, and a few Dunlin. One spot held a nice group of Black Skimmers and Caspian Terns.
|Great Black-backed Gull|
In all, it was a terrific day. We tallied about 50 species including nine ducks. After studying several field guides, we decided that our mystery bird was probably a Eurasian x American Wigeon Hybrid, but I'm no expert so don't take my word for it. And of course the day was crowned by the meeting with Julie Zickefoose. She may not be as famous as the original Jay-Z, but she's our JZ, and did I mention I'm a big fan?
|You know you wanted another look at a Northern Pintail!|
|A bonus look at a Northern Shoveler|
|Caspian Terns and a Black Skimmer|