Sunday, May 5, 2013

West Coast of Florida, Jay Gets His Jay, Friday, May 3

My first target species for the west coast of Florida are Bachman's Sparrow and Red-cockaded Woodpecker at Fred C. Babcock and Cecil M. Webb Wildlife Management area and Florida Scrub jay at Oscar Scherer State Park.  I left my motel in Fort Lauderdale at 4:45 am.  It is about 162 mile and a 2.5 hour drive to Punta Gorda, which is slightly north of Babcock-Webb WMA.  My goal was to arrive early in the morning while the Red-cockaded Woodpeckers are still near the The roads in this area are called grades.  I should have been there at just after sunrise or between 6:30 and 7:00 am.  I should have left Ft. Lauderdale at 4:00 am.  My mind was strong but my body was weak.  I stayed in the area of the nearest RCWO cluster for about an hour.   There were a number of trees marked with a painted white ring circling their trunks and there are at least two trees with the man-made hole protectors that had red-ribbons tied around the trunks.  I found no RCWO.  I drove north toward the second RCWO cluster along Tram Grade after the turn off of Oilwell Grade with the windows down listening for Bachman's Sparrows singing.  I found four different Bachman's Sparrows singing their beautiful song in an area with grass growing below widely separated pines and in an area which had recently been burned.  I did not hear any Bachman's Sparrows singing in areas with dense palmetto under the pines.  The song of Bachman's Sparrow is distinctive usually starting with two slower introductory notes and ending with a sweet trill, and is quite variable.  The same bird seems to change the song every time it sings.  Bachman's Sparrows are often difficult to see.  They may be singing from a low perch or up in the trees;  therefore, one needs to look everywhere.  I looked for a while but could not find the singing birds.  I have seen and photographed a Bachman's Sparrow singing from a perch on a branch up in a tree on a previous visit to Babcock-Webb WM  There was no doubt that these were Bachman's Sparrows, a new bird for the year.  I compared the song to the song on the internet.  I tried playing the recording briefly but it did not help attract the birds from their territory.  I did not find RCWO at the second RCWO cluster.  I will need to try for RCWO this evening before leaving the area. 

I left Babcock-Webb WMA and drove north to Oscar Scherer State park to look for Florida Scrub Jay, arriving at Oscar Scherer SP just after 2:00 pm, not the optimum time to be birding.  The attendant at the gate told me that I should head toward the Nature Center and the Green Trail.  I headed out the Green Trail, on which I have previously seen Florida Scrub Jay on a previous visit,  and walked the two mile loop, but found no Florida Scrub Jays.  When I returned to the Nature Center, I discovered that it was already closed.  I should have checked there first to find out the best current place to find the jays.  I met a lady with a camera, who said that she had seen and photographed one earlier in the afternoon, but admitted it was a poor photograph.  It was indeed a Florida Scrub jay sitting on a power line.  I walked to the area where she saw it, but found no jay.  I met a park ranger and asked him if he knew where the best place was to find the jays.  He gave me several locations, and I checked out several.  But he thought the best location was on the Green Trail near the picnic tables where the birds were accustomed to people who were viewing the eagle's nest in the winter.  I was getting close to 4:00 pm and birding should improve from now on.  I walked the Green Trail toward the picnic table.  On the trail, I saw a Gopher Tortoise, one of the specialties of this park.  See photo.  
As I got closer to the picnic bench,  I saw a long- tailed bird sitting up on a dead snag.   It looked like a Florida Scrub Jay from a distance, but I needed to eliminate Northern Mockingbird, another long-tailed bird that will also sit up on a snag.  The bird flew down and then returned to a different perch.   There were no large white wing patches and no white in the tail.  It was a

Florida Scrub Jay.  I got close for a better look and managed a few distant photos, which show the field marks.  It was about 5:00 pm when I finally saw the Florida Scrub Jay, a new bird for the year.  I returned to my car and had a snack.  There was enough time left to return to Babcock-Webb WMA to wait for the RCWO to return to the nesting cluster.  I arrived at the nearest cluster on Oilwell Grade at about 6:00 pm and waited.  At about 6:30 pm, I started hearing the distinctive calls of Red-cockaded
Woodpecker.  They sound a little like the call notes of European Starlings.  As the sun set, the Red-cockaded Woodpeckers got more active.  There were at least two pairs present, but perhaps more.  When they were not flying around and calling, they often sat quietly on the trunk of a tree.  Sometimes, I could hear them tapping as the pecked the bark looking for food and could locate them by the tapping.  I managed a few poor photos.  See photos.  The RCWO insisted on being on the west side of the road, so viewing and photography was into the setting sun, a poor condition for photography and viewing.  Sometime between 7:00 and &:30 pm a car drove up with a man and woman who were obviously birders.  They were from Cincinnati,  
OH, having retired from AK Steel in Middletown, OH and moved to Coral Gables.  They had not become birders until they moved to Florida.  They knew Matt Stenger from the Cincinnati area,  who had done a Big Year a few years ago.  Small world again!  They were looking for nightjars, but stayed and enjoyed the Red-cockaded Woodpeckers.   As we talked about birds, the lady mentioned that there may be King Rails in the WMA.  She gave me directions to the spot.  We said our farewells and I drove east along Tuckers Grade to a road that could not be driven, walked about 0.25 miles to an open marshy area and tried for King Rail using a tape recorder, but got no response. 
My sister Cynthia's solar powered flashlight came in handy again on the walk back to my car.  Chuck-wills-widows were calling all over the area.  When I walked into the area, one was very close to me right along the road.

Bachman's Sparrow, Florida Scrub Jay and Red-cockaded Woodpecker make the total 387.

At Oscar Scherer SP after seeing the Florida Scrub Jay, I had checked the Tropical Audubon Society Bird Board and discovered that the Black-faced Grassquit is still present at Bill Baggs!  It was seen several times and quite cooperative.  My apologies to the man who reported having seen the bird on Thursday and whose report I doubted.   He apparently did see the bird.  I had concluded after Thursday that the Black-faced Grassquit had quit the area (pun intended).  I need to try for this bird one more time.  It is a lifer for me and too good a bird to leave behind.  I am losing time but may gain a great new species. I was too tired to drive back to the east coast on Friday night.  I found a nearby motel in Port Charlotte.  The plan is to get up very early and drive to Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park.      

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