Friday, February 12, 2016

North Florida Winter Trip: Part II

Day two of this year's annual North Florida birding trip with Tom Obrock began with a leisurely breakfast at 6:00am before we hit the road again.


The Palm Warbler above (image 1) was photographed at Biltmore Avenue Ponds in February 2016.

In previous years Tom obliged by meeting up at the car far earlier to allow arrival at our first destination of the day closer to sunrise. There was significant fog when we arrived at Biltmore Avenue Ponds in Tallahassee about 90 minutes after sunrise. The Whooping Crane reported earlier was missed on this visit. Perhaps to be seen next year.


The Savannah Sparrow above (image 2) was photographed at Biltmore Avenue Ponds in February 2016.


The Savannah Sparrow above (image 3) was photographed at Biltmore Avenue Ponds in February 2016.


The Cedar Waxwing above (image 4) was photographed at Biltmore Avenue Ponds in February 2016.


The Chipping Sparrow above (image 5) was photographed at Biltmore Avenue Ponds in February 2016.


The Carolina Chickadee above (image 6) was photographed at Biltmore Avenue Ponds in February 2016.

So without the Whooping Crane no new life birds were seen at Biltmore Avenue. However, there was a significant amount of bird activity which entertained us for over an hour walking between the North and South Ponds. For such a relatively confined area, 24 species were noted. There were about that many ant mounds that needed to be dodged as well.


The Chipping Sparrow above (image 7) was photographed at Biltmore Avenue Ponds in February 2016.


The Palm Warbler above (image 8) was photographed at Biltmore Avenue Ponds in February 2016.


The Palm Warbler above (image 9) was photographed at Biltmore Avenue Ponds in February 2016.


The American Goldfinch above (image 10) was photographed at the Tallahassee Elliott residence in February 2016.


The Pine Siskin above (image 11) was photographed at the Tallahassee Elliott residence in February 2016.

Our next stop was the residence of Jody Elliott who has been hosting not just four species of hummingbirds this winter (two of which would become life birds for me), but also many dozens of other birds. Among those, I was also fortunate to add Baltimore Oriole, House Finch, Orange-crowned Warbler, and Pine Siskin as life birds photographed.


The Northern Cardinal above (image 12) was photographed at the Tallahassee Elliott residence in February 2016.


The Downy Woodpecker above (image 13) was photographed at the Tallahassee Elliott residence in February 2016.


The White-breasted Nuthatch above (image 14) was photographed at the Tallahassee Elliott residence in February 2016.


The Eastern Bluebird above (image 15) was photographed at the Tallahassee Elliott residence in February 2016.


The camellia above (image 16) was photographed at the Tallahassee Elliott residence in February 2016.

Jody was extremely gracious in allowing freedom to observe the birds on her property. There were numerous bird feeders attracting the wildlife with hummingbird feeders in both the front and back yard. The experience was reminiscent of being in a park actually.


The camellia above (image 17) was photographed at the Tallahassee Elliott residence in February 2016.


The camellia above (image 18) was photographed at the Tallahassee Elliott residence in February 2016.


The pansy above (image 19) was photographed at the Tallahassee Elliott residence in February 2016.


The Black-chinned Hummingbird above (image 20) was photographed at the Tallahassee Elliott residence in February 2016.


The Black-chinned Hummingbird above (image 21) was photographed at the Tallahassee Elliott residence in February 2016.

If making a visit to Jody's home at 3825 Leane Drive in Tallahassee, park on the street in front of the house and say hello. You may find Jody observing the birds in the backyard. I encourage you to offer a donation to offset the cost of the bird food and maintenance of the feeders.


The House Finch above (image 22) was photographed at the Tallahassee Elliott residence in February 2016.


The House Finch above (image 23) was photographed at the Tallahassee Elliott residence in February 2016.


The Baltimore Oriole above (image 24) was photographed at the Tallahassee Elliott residence in February 2016.


The Yellow-rumped Warbler above (image 25) was photographed at the Tallahassee Elliott residence in February 2016.


The Baltimore Oriole above (image 26) was photographed at the Tallahassee Elliott residence in February 2016.

While reluctant to leave the "Hummingbird House," Tom and I made our way toward our next destination of the day at one of Florida's "Gateway" venues along the Great Florida Birding Trail. A stupendous highlight of the visit to St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge was an encounter with the stunning Vermilion Flycatcher. This was another life bird for me.


The Orange-crowned Warbler above (image 27) was photographed at the Tallahassee Elliott residence in February 2016.


The Calliope Hummingbird above (image 28) was photographed at the Tallahassee Elliott residence in February 2016.


The Vermilion Flycatcher above (image 29) was photographed at St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge in February 2016.


The Vermilion Flycatcher above (image 30) was photographed at St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge in February 2016.


The Vermilion Flycatcher above (image 31) was photographed at St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge in February 2016.

St. Marks NWR is one of my favorite wildlife venues in Florida. Traveling late in the season on this trip, waterfowl seemed to have diminished to a very small fraction of their earlier numbers. An abundant number of species were observed here nonetheless with two calls of Great Horned Owl a highlight to end the day's observations.


The juvenile Black-crowned Night-Heron above (image 32) was photographed at St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge in February 2016.


The Black-crowned Night-Heron above (image 33) was photographed at St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge in February 2016.


The juvenile Black-crowned Night-Heron above (image 34) was photographed at St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge in February 2016.


The American Alligator above (image 35) was photographed at St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge in February 2016.


The Redhead with American Coot above (image 36) was photographed at St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge in February 2016.

When making arrangements for a long road trip in advance, it is unfortunate that inclement weather may require reading a book in a hotel room or making a radical change in plans. My advice is to never commit to anything related to travel that is prepaid and non-refundable.


The American Alligator above (image 37) was photographed at St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge in February 2016.


The Pied-billed Grebe above (image 38) was photographed at St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge in February 2016.


The juvenile Snowy Egret above (image 39) was photographed at St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge in February 2016.


The Purple Gallinule with Boat-tailed Grackle above (image 40) was photographed at St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge in February 2016.


The Anhinga above (image 41) was photographed at St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge in February 2016.

With Mother Nature disrupting plans, there were many venues that Tom had included in the itinerary for the trip that we didn't have time to investigate this year. We were fortunate to have dry conditions on the east coast that allowed us to thoroughly enjoy the last day of the journey.


The Redhead with American Coot above (image 42) was photographed at St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge in February 2016.


The Belted Kingfisher above (image 43) was photographed at St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge in February 2016.


The Red-shouldered Hawk above (image 44) was photographed at St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge in February 2016.


The Yellow-rumped Warbler above (image 45) was photographed at St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge in February 2016.


The Bufflehead above (image 46) was photographed at St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge in February 2016.

Day three of the trip again began after a modest breakfast with a departure from the area of St. Marks NWR adjoining the Gulf of Mexico. Our first stop was at about 10:30am at Gamble Rogers State Park with a stunning view of the Atlantic Ocean. An effort was being made to stay ahead of an approaching storm front.


The Double-crested Cormorant above (image 47) was photographed at St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge in February 2016.


The Common Yellowthroat above (image 48) was photographed at St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge in February 2016.


The Bufflehead above (image 49) was photographed at St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge in February 2016.


The Bufflehead above (image 50) was photographed at St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge in February 2016.


The Swamp Sparrow above (image 51) was photographed at St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge in February 2016.

The winds at Gamble Rogers SP were not ideal for a close view of Northern Gannet which became yet another life bird for me photographed on this trip. Tom told me that he has had great luck with observation of large numbers of Northern Gannet and other sea birds in this area in the past. Strong northeasterly winds are preferred for observing winter sea birds on Florida's east coast.


The American Robin above (image 52) was photographed at St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge in February 2016.


The Boat-tailed Grackle above (image 53) was photographed at St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge in February 2016.


The Herring Gull above (image 54) was photographed at Gamble Rogers State Park in February 2016.


The 2nd Winter Herring Gull above (image 55) was photographed at Gamble Rogers State Park in February 2016.


The Herring Gull above (image 56) was photographed at Gamble Rogers State Park in February 2016.

Our next stop was with hope of finding yet another life bird for me. The Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse Point Park jetty has been a refuge this winter for a Purple Sandpiper which, according to eBird data, seems to favor this location even offshore and in other years. The Purple Sandpiper was found feeding diligently on the rocks of the jetty on the north side which protected it from the winds.


The Royal Tern above (image 57) was photographed at Gamble Rogers State Park in February 2016.


The banded Royal Tern above (image 58) was photographed at Gamble Rogers State Park in February 2016.


The Laughing Gull above (image 59) was photographed at Gamble Rogers State Park in February 2016.


The Northern Gannet above (image 60) was photographed at Gamble Rogers State Park in February 2016.


The Forster's Tern above (image 61) was photographed at Gamble Rogers State Park in February 2016.

While I was reluctant to leave this venue as well with so much more to explore, and wondering what may have caused a huge flock of primarily Herring Gull and Ring-billed Gull to take flight darkening the horizon to the west, Tom and I would soon continue to our last stop.


The Ruddy Turnstone above (image 62) was photographed at Lighthouse Point Park in February 2016.


The Purple Sandpiper above (image 63) was photographed at Lighthouse Point Park in February 2016.


The Purple Sandpiper above (image 64) was photographed at Lighthouse Point Park in February 2016.


The Purple Sandpiper above (image 65) was photographed at Lighthouse Point Park in February 2016.


The Purple Sandpiper above (image 66) was photographed at Lighthouse Point Park in February 2016.

With good fortune there will be a comparable comfortable climate next winter which regrettably may coincide with precipitation and potentially gloomy conditions. The conditions north of Ponce Inlet were almost surreal with what appeared a very fine mist that hugged the beach for miles. A surfer at the Ponce Inlet Lighthouse jetty told us that the water was chilly as she removed her wet suit.


The Purple Sandpiper above (image 67) was photographed at Lighthouse Point Park in February 2016.


The scene above (image 68) was photographed at Lighthouse Point Park in February 2016.


The Black Skimmer above (image 69) was photographed at Lighthouse Point Park in February 2016.


The primarily Herring Gull above (image 70) was photographed at Lighthouse Point Park in February 2016.


The Caspian Tern with Ring-billed Gull above (image 71) was photographed at Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge in February 2016.

A mid-afternoon arrival at Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge offered another reminder that the waterfowl for the most part, save about 5000 American Coots at Peacocks Pocket Road, had already made a departure for their breeding grounds. It was good to see Caspian Tern along Black Point Drive. Tom almost got an exceptional photo of a Ribbon Snake here before it was nearly driven over by another patron of the Refuge.


The Ring-billed Gull above (image 72) was photographed at Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge in February 2016.


The Horned Grebe above (image 73) was photographed at Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge in February 2016.

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The Lesser Scaup above (image 74) was photographed at Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge in February 2016.

Please also see North Florida Winter Trip: Part I