Sunday, February 7, 2016

January 30, 2016 - Birding in Florida, Day 2

We had already planned that today would be spent in the area of St Marks NWR between the visitor center and the lighthouse.  There's a wide variety of habitats for the birds and lots of places for birders to observe from either by just pulling off the road or by taking short and longer hikes.  The refuge is about 45 minutes from the campground and we thought we had gotten up in plenty of time to catch a sunrise and early light.  We should have set the alarm for about 30 minutes earlier, but did manage a post sunrise view along the road to the lighthouse.

By the time we got to the lighthouse and got our gear ready, there was enough light for birding, but not as many birds at the Lighthouse Pool as we had seen on previous trips.  We hoped this wasn't a sign of things to come.  The lighthouse overlooks Apalachee Bay and when the tide is out, you can walk the shoreline towards Cedar Point.  There's also a shrub lined trail if the tide is in, but you miss out on seeing what's in the bay.  There wasn't too much in the bay today - a few pelicans and terns sitting on the posts of an old pier and some birds too far out to ID.  I did bring along my landscape camera and got these shots before we got to the point.

When we got to the point there were a very few birds on the rocks, but 2 of them happen to be American Oystercatchers - a new bird for me and number 197!

American Oystercatcher

Maybe our luck was about to change.  We took the Lighthouse Pool Trail back to the vehicle and chased some smaller birds in the bushes along the way.  Most were either sparrows that we already had or Yellow-rumped Warblers which we see waaaaay to many of while in Florida.  Our next stop was Headquarters Pond not too far back up the road from the lighthouse.  We drove slowly along the road - as do other birders - hoping to spot something in the other ponds and canals along the way, but no luck.  Headquarters Pond is right next to the road, but there's also a small parking area and short path that leads to an observation deck overlooking the pond.
Headquarters Pond from the observation deck
The pond is a good place for ducks and some of the wading birds, but a Purple Gallinule had recently been spotted and posted on  That would be a new bird for me and it wasn't long until eagle-eye Cindy spotted it.  It was out kind of far, but close enough to be ID'd.  My photo isn't great, but it's good enough for now - and #198!

Purple Gallinule

It wasn't long after that that the observation deck was overrun with a student group from UF.  They were loud, so we gave them our dirtiest looks and left.  Turns out they actually did us a favor.  We headed up the road a bit more any pulled in to a small peninsula used as an observation area.  Here we met 2 guys who we would have missed if we stayed at Headquarters Pond.  They mentioned that they had spotted a Vermilion Flycatcher up the road at the double dikes.  Really? Wow - thanks!  We left but forgot to ask where exactly the double dikes were - dammit!  We pulled off at one possibility, but nothing.  Then we pulled off at another area and there it was just flitting around catching bugs.  We were able to get some good shots of it as it hung around and didn't seem to mind having it's picture taken - #199 on my list.

Vermilion Flycatcher

There should have been some other birds in this same area, but there weren't many at all.  Now we didn't seem to mind the lack of quantity.  Both of us wanted the flycatcher and weren't really counting on getting it.  By now it was way past lunch time, so we headed to one of the picnic areas and cooked our big meal of the day.  We spent the rest of the day flitting around the refuge looking for birds, but didn't come across anything exciting.  The last light of the day was spent at the East River Pool which has a dock area facing west over the pool.  A spectacular sunset would have been a bonus, but it wasn't to be.  It was a lot better than some we have stayed out for and a good way to end the day.

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