Saturday, March 2, 2013

Much Love for the Gulf

Some of my favorite birding is birding along the ocean. The epic massiveness of the oceans prove intriguing to me. This is why I love pelagic birding trips; you never know what you are going to see! Today Matt Gould, Marge who is doing Bobwhite work at Tall Timbers, and I took a day trip to explore some of the northern gulf coast of Florida, an area I had yet to explore. We found some of the birds we were looking for, but even better yet, we found some we weren't looking for! Those are always the best.

We started at St. George Island where Snowy Plovers are known to roam. If you recall, this is a plover my dad and I looked for in many locations in late Jan/early Feb with no luck. We parked at the end of the road and walked up the peninsula finding few birds, although a few distant Northern Gannets entertained us for a minute. We switched courses and quickly saw some distant shorebirds feasting on the wind blown sea-foam riddled with who-knows-what. At first scan they all appeared to be Sanderling with a few Black-bellied Plover tossed in. On second scan though, two Snowy Plovers popped into view from behind the Sanderling. Bingo!

Snowy Plover (banded)
We moved on to a few more spots west along the coast looking unsuccessfully for Godwits or Curlews. We did find a few American Oystercatchers along the way.

American Oystercatcher
It was getting time to start heading east where I wanted to stop at Alligator Point for a last-ditch effort at Godwits or Long-billed Curlew. We didn't have any luck with these. However, we started seeing some big rafts of Scaup along Alligator Drive, immediately after the last house on the left. We parked and started scanning them. Out a little further than the scaup was a massive feeding frenzy of Bonaparte's Gulls, Northern Gannets, Common Loons, Forster's Terns ect. This is when I picked up a big Shearwater, just far enough away that the wind and heat haze made slapping an identification on the beast impossible. Luckily, it came in closer... and closer... and closer and eventually joined the feeding flock! We all got great looks at the now identifiable Great Shearwater as it flew and sat on the water for as long as we could have wanted to watch. Easily noticed was the white neck contrasting with a clean dark cap. The dark patterning was visible on the underwings while in flight, unlike Cory's clean white underwings. Shortly after this excitement, 3 Razorbills flew in and joined the feeding flock. You can't make this stuff up!I ran to get my digiscoping camera. The birds started moving further out and I knew there was no chance of getting an identifiable photo as the bird bobbed up and down in the waves, hidden at times by the Loons and Gulls. I shot a video hoping to get a few frames with the bird in it. Well, its in there but its a bad video, and every time I try to upload it or take a screenshot, it is too small and blurry. Oh well. <br><br>

Now, I'll leave you with the worlds worst picture of a Northern Gannet. I admit, this is a bit of a stretch, but it can be identified from any other sulid. Red-footed Booby would have dark secondaries (this bird clearly does not), as would adult Masked Booby. The black wingtips of this bird, limited only to the primaries, identify this as a Northern Gannet. <br><Br>

Northern Gannet

I don't know if I'll get a better picture before the end of the year or not, so for now, this will have to do. Tomorrow I'm visiting a "very birdy" yard in Tallahassee. I won't give away what I'm after, you'll have to check back later for that!

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