Monday, April 15, 2013

The Big Day!

Written by Andy Bankert:

"On Saturday, April 13th, David Pavlik, Matt Gould, Craig Bateman, and myself ran a big day attempting to reach the 200 bird mark.  David and Matt have been working up at Tall Timbers Research Station, so we had several birds scouted out that normally aren’t expected on an April big day.  Craig is a student at UF and I was itching to travel and see some colorful migrants before I start working on the Great Plains this summer.   Scouting and planning are probably the most important parts of running a successful big day, but I won’t bore you with those details.  Dave Gagne in Pasco County and Dick Cissel at www.pinellasbirds.com gave us lots of good information on some key species that we did not have time to scout out.  Tall Timbers sponsored the event and really helped promote this endeavor. They were extremely helpful and supportive and reaching our goal wouldn’t have been possible without them.


Around 5 PM on Friday we decided that attempts to sleep any longer were useless.  We waited around for a few hours at our base up at Tall Timbers before heading south towards nowhere around 8:30.  We arrived at the end of the Road to Nowhere around 11 PM then searched for the best spot to try for our target Black Rail in the relatively quite marsh for the next 45 minutes.  Once we got into position the fifteen minutes seemed to take an eternity.  Swainson’s Thrushes and a Veery called as they migrated north, reminding us to keep our ears open for migrants as well.  Once midnight struck we played a few Black Rail calls, but nothing responded.  A Barred Owl and a Chuck-will’s-widow sang off in the distance, and Clapper Rails and Seaside Sparrows made their presence known in the surrounding marsh, but our target bird remained silent.  Over the next twenty minutes we picked up Swainson’s Thrush and Yellow-billed Cuckoo by flight call, then another car drove down the road.  This road is sketchy enough as it is, but the sight of someone else out there at midnight sent us running back to our car.  Once we got back to our car the other one turned around, so we decided to play a few more Black Rail calls from the road.  Eventually we were rewarded with a growl call of a Black Rail in the marsh in the direction we had just come from.  With high spirits and almost ten species under our belts we sped off towards Trenton. 

Birding unfamiliar areas can be dangerous on big days, but we figured wasting an hour at night wouldn’t hurt us at all.  There had been several reports of Burrowing Owls in Gilchrist County, so around 2 AM we found ourselves parked and listening along the road for our second big target of the day.  After forty minutes we hadn’t heard anything so we decided to leave, but on our way out a Burrowing Owl jumped up off the side of the road.  This was a huge pick up, and even though our list had just cracked double digits we knew this would be a good day.  This was followed by a long and uneventful drive up to Tall Timbers.

Most birders know Tall Timbers for the easily found White-breasted Nuthatches and Red-headed Woodpeckers, but there is a lot of land that the public cannot access where David and Matt have been birding for the past two months while studying Brown-headed Nuthatches.   This was a fitting place to start the day given the number of lingering winter birds, the few rare and local breeding species present, as well as the fact that Tall Timbers sponsored our big day run.  Great Horned Owls and an Eastern Screech Owl were added before the dawn chorus started.  Cardinals and towhees woke up shortly after 6 AM.  Around 6:30 we placed ourselves in a wet hammock for our first daytime target.  As the parulas, vireos, and other songbirds began to wake up we eagerly waited for the Louisiana Waterthrush to do the same.  David heard him start up at 7:10 on Friday, but Saturday was not cloudy so we were expecting him to start singing earlier.  Right around 6:55 the waterthrush sang and we jumped on our ATVs and raced down to the end of the road to add Prothonotary Warbler.  Then it was back to the beginning of the road to try for a Wood Thrush.  The thrush made us wait several minutes before singing, then we were off to tick White-crowned and Swamp Sparrows eating some seed that Matt had thrown on the ground.  Next we saw Red-cockaded Woodpeckers and heard Brown-headed Nuthatches as they were waking up.  A Grasshopper Sparrow cooperated by staying in the same field for the past few weeks, but we could not find the Red-breasted Nuthatch or Orange-crowned Warbler that Matt saw on Friday.  All throughout our whirlwind ATV tour of the property we were adding some of the more common breeders like Eastern Wood-Pewee, Summer Tanager, and Blue Grosbeak and lingering winter species like White-throated Sparrow and American Goldfinch.  An unexpected Pine Siskin flew over and a bonus Hermit Thrush popped up from a bush.  On our way out we stopped by a lake to pick up Wilson’s Snipe and Sedge Wren before running back to our house to see one of the four Lincoln’s Sparrows that has been visiting the feeders.  We missed a few species like Chipping Sparrow, Green Heron, and Gray Catbird that we figured we would run into later.  Craig spotted an unknown accipiter which would later come back to haunt us since it was probably a Cooper’s Hawk.  A singing Field Sparrow was our last new bird before the drive down to Tallahassee about thirty minutes behind schedule.

The first stop in town was at Claudia’s house.  We had already picked up our target siskin and hummingbird, but we still needed Baltimore Oriole, Cedar Waxwing, and Rufous Hummingbird.  We missed the orioles by fifteen minutes, and did not find the hummingbird which had been very inconsistent recently.   Waxwings, Chipping Sparrow, and Yellow-rumped Warbler were all new for the list, which now stood at 85 species.  On Wednesday, David and I had an American Robin in front of a house on Carolina St, but it was not there on Saturday so we drove around the block listening for this key target species.  Luckily for us it took a while to finally see and hear one, because we added Sharp-shinned Hawk and Greater Scaup during our quest.  A quick stop at Church’s Chicken yielded Spotted and Solitary Sandpipers, Blue-winged Teal as well as our only Canada Goose of the day.  Horned Grebe was new there, but they are currently all over St. Marks so it wasn’t as exciting as finding one in April would normally be.  We skipped Lake Henrietta because Limpkin would be quicker down in Pinellas County, then made a quick stop at Springhill Sewage Plant to try for a Stilt Sandpiper I had on Friday but it wasn’t there.  Neither was Killdeer, which we were surprisingly still missing.  Leaving Tallahassee we sped down towards St. Marks shortly before 10 AM with over 100 species.  Unfortunately we were still thirty minutes behind schedule.

Originally, we had planned to hit Wakulla Springs State Park for some breeding warblers, but luckily we had our three targets staked out on Old Plank Road which is much closer to St. Marks.  We tried quickly but unsuccessfully for a Swainson’s Warbler on US 98, but we were rewarded with a Broad-winged Hawk.  Driving down Old Plank Road we heard a Swainson’s Warbler which saved us an extra mile of driving later.  Then we quickly added Hooded Warbler and had to wait about a minute for the Kentucky Warbler to sing.  Three key species in less than five minutes!   On to St. Marks!

Another key aspect to big days is timing.  The choice to do the big day on the 13th gave us a greater chance at the large diversity of lingering winter birds we had staked out, but we knew hitting St. Marks at low tide could give us some trouble.  If we had waited a week we could have hit St. Marks at high tide as well as had breeding Yellow-breasted Chats and Acadian Flycatchers return.  I have to be at work on the 21st and the weather was absolutely beautiful on Saturday, so I have no complaints about the date selection for our big day.  Now back to the story!  It was around 10:20 when we entered St. Marks NWR with just over 110 species.  If we wanted to reach 200 I figured we would have to be somewhere near 165 when we left.  Since we were behind schedule we tried to rush through as quickly as possible so we skipped the twin bridges.  Our first spot was the twin dikes where a Least Bittern flew in front of us as we ran down a short ways to add Purple Gallinule.  We also spotted a Northern Harrier and some American White Pelicans in the distance.  The next stop was Mounds Pool 3 where I had found American Wigeon the previous day.  There were no wigeon but we added a few ducks like Redhead and Lesser Scaup and our only Tree Swallows of the day.  We made a quick scan of Headquarters pond for the Green Heron we were still missing with no luck.  Buffleheads were a new addition though.  Then we hit Tower Pond hoping for some shorebirds despite the low tide working against us.  On the walk in we didn’t see much until I thought I spotted a Black-and-white Warbler.  It turned out to be a Red-breasted Nuthatch!  Then David and Craig found a Cerulean Warbler, I got on a Worm-eating Warbler, and Matt found a Tennessee Warbler.  We had migrants!  Tower Pond was a lot more disappointing than low tide on Friday (I think the north wind on Saturday blew even more water out).  We managed our Black-necked Stilts and American Avocets, a single Willet, and the Green Heron we had been searching for.  The migrants gave us a confidence booster as we raced down to the lighthouse.  There we picked up Red-breasted Merganser, our first ibis of the day (a White-faced), and not much else.  Luckily we didn’t have to worry about Clapper Rail or Seaside Sparrow because we didn’t see or hear any there.  We were able to leave almost back on schedule, but with only 150 species on our list.  The magical number 200, and even the record at 185, seemed like a long ways off.  Ft. DeSoto also seemed like a long ways away but that is where we found ourselves headed shortly after noon.  A Swallow-tailed Kite greeted us as we headed east. 

There are two good ways to get to Ft. DeSoto from St. Marks.  One is to take US 19 down to the Suncoast Parkway and the other is to run all the way over to I-75 then head south.  Unfortunately, we did not know where exactly to find Sandhill Crane, Eastern Meadowlark, and American Kestrel on the US 19 route, so we decided to head all the way to I-75 to pick up a few of our targets.  Our first stop was to add Black-bellied Whistling-Duck in Gainesville.  We also picked up Muscovy and saw a Mallard and got attacked by some Swan Geese.  The rules aren’t too clear on the countability of Mallards in Florida since most of them are not native and they do hybridize with other ducks.  On the other hand they are included on CBC lists and they are on the official state list.  The record of 185 didn’t include the Mallards we saw that day, so we just made a special note.  The next stop off the highway was to pick up American Kestrel and gas, then it was south to Pasco County to add Sandhill Crane and Eastern Meadowlark to the list.  We also saw Mottled Duck and our second ibis species for the day (Glossy).  We didn’t have time to look for the lingering flycatchers or Killdeer in the area.  There are Killdeer at Ft. DeSoto right?  We had planned to see White-winged Doves near Crescent Lake, but a traffic jam on I-275 derailed those plans.  We did pick up our final ibis for the day (White) and our only Wood Stork from the highway.  We debated over whether to stop for Limpkins, but in the end the extra 5 minutes was worth it because we quickly spotted a Limpkin and added Monk and Nanday Parakeets plus Roseate Spoonbill on the drive. 

At 5:20 we were almost at Ft. DeSoto, but our list was only a little over 160.  We were nervous about setting a new record and seriously doubting our chances of hitting 200.  When the record was set in 2009 we only had 2 new species after 6 PM, but with the long distance route this year we still had many birds to add to our list.  A stop at the old Whimbrel spot failed to produce the target, but we added Sandwich Tern and Common Loon.  A stop at the duck pond gave us both Night-Herons and a bonus Surf Scoter.  While paying the entrance fee a Magnificent Frigatebird flew overhead.  After much debate we went to East Beach Turnaround first to rack up some shorebirds.  We added easy birds such as Sanderling, Semipalmated Plover and Dunlin plus some more difficult species like Piping Plover and Semipalmated Sandpiper.  A Prairie Warbler sang from the mangroves giving us another tick on our list.  Next was another shorebird stop at North Beach.  The roped off area had very few birds and we added Black Skimmer and Common Tern and maybe some other common species.  We were still missing a few shorebird species so we went to the northern lagoon and saw Long-billed Curlew and Marbled Godwit.   David spotted a Northern Gannet out over the Gulf.  Red Knot and Western Sandpiper still eluded us.  We were frustrated with the missing shorebirds, but we decided to check on migrants for the remaining hour and a half of daylight.  At north beach we saw some photographers looking at a beautiful male Scarlet Tanager and David and Craig found an Acadian Flycatcher.  It was nice to pick up this missed breeder!  East Beach Woods gave us our Black-and-white Warbler but not much else until a Merlin decided to fly over while we were leaving.  The mulberry area was nice to us producing Rose-breasted Grosbeak and Common Nighthawk.   Unfortunately we could not find the Eastern Phoebe that has been sticking around.  With the light fading we tried the concession area and were rewarded with a flock of Red Knots.  This would be our last new bird in the daylight, and we headed north to try for a Barn Owl.  We had broken the record, and our list was at 192 species at this point. 

Within a few minutes of arriving at the owl spot, a Barn Owl flew by.  Then came the most important quest of the day: finally catching up with a Killdeer.  We tried a few ponds along 28th St. playing calls every now and then.  Finally at what looked like a landfill in the dark a Killdeer decided to make its presence known to us.  At this point we only had one target left.  Another dangerous thing on big days is leaving birds for the second night, but since we did not have a good spot for King Rail up north we decided to save time earlier and make our last bird be the rails in Pasco County.  We arrived around 10 PM and some of us heard one of the two King Rails that has been present along Tyndall Road.  After a quick dinner in Ocala it was a long drive back to Tall Timbers but we arrived safely around 3 AM with a new record of 195/6 species (depending on the whole Mallard thing).

We were extremely happy with the new record, but some birds like Northern Flicker and Western Sandpiper were surprising misses that made 200 seem like it was within reach.  The Veery that called around 11:50 PM on Friday and the unidentified accipiter were also annoying.  It seems like 200 is possible, but it would take a lot of work and a decent amount of luck.  Surprises like Sharp-shinned Hawk, Surf Scoter, Cerulean Warbler and Red-breasted Nuthatch were needed to help us get into a position to even think about 200.  All four of us had a blast, and maybe sometime next week we will realize what happened.   Hopefully I can get out of bed tomorrow morning and see what migrants have dropped into St. George Island. 

Bird List
1
Black-bellied Whistling-Duck
2
Canada Goose
3
Muscovy Duck
4
Wood Duck
5
Mottled Duck
6
Mallard (feral...countable?)
7
Blue-winged Teal
8
Redhead
9
Greater Scaup
10
Lesser Scaup
11
Surf Scoter
12
Bufflehead
13
Red-breasted Merganser
14
Northern Bobwhite
15
Wild Turkey
16
Common Loon
17
Pied-billed Grebe
18
Horned Grebe
19
Magnificent Frigatebird
20
Wood Stork
21
Northern Gannet
22
Double-crested Cormorant
23
Anhinga
24
American White Pelican
25
Brown Pelican
26
Least Bittern
27
Great Blue Heron
28
Great Egret
29
Snowy Egret
30
Little Blue Heron
31
Tricolored Heron
32
Reddish Egret
33
Cattle Egret
34
Green Heron
35
Black-crowned Night-Heron
36
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron
37
White Ibis
38
Glossy Ibis
39
White-faced Ibis
40
Roseate Spoonbill
41
Black Vulture
42
Turkey Vulture
43
Osprey
44
Swallow-tailed Kite
45
Bald Eagle
46
Northern Harrier
47
Sharp-shinned Hawk
48
Red-shouldered Hawk
49
Broad-winged Hawk
50
Red-tailed Hawk
51
American Kestrel
52
Merlin
53
Black Rail
54
Clapper Rail
55
King Rail
56
Sora
57
Purple Gallinule
58
Common Gallinule
59
American Coot
60
Sandhill Crane
61
Limpkin
62
Black-bellied Plover
63
Wilson's Plover
64
Semipalmated Plover
65
Piping Plover
66
Killdeer
67
American Oystercatcher
68
Black-necked Stilt
69
American Avocet
70
Spotted Sandpiper
71
Solitary Sandpiper
72
Greater Yellowlegs
73
Willet
74
Lesser Yellowlegs
75
Long-billed Curlew
76
Marbled Godwit
77
Ruddy Turnstone
78
Red Knot
79
Sanderling
80
Semipalmated Sandpiper
81
Least Sandpiper
82
Dunlin
83
Short-billed Dowitcher
84
Wilson's Snipe
85
Laughing Gull
86
Ring-billed Gull
87
Herring Gull
88
Least Tern
89
Common Tern
90
Forster's Tern
91
Royal Tern
92
Sandwich Tern
93
Black Skimmer
94
Rock Pigeon
95
Eurasian Collared-Dove
96
Mourning Dove
97
Common Ground-Dove
98
Nanday Parakeet
99
Monk Parakeet
100
Yellow-billed Cuckoo
101
Barn Owl
102
Eastern Screech-Owl
103
Great Horned Owl
104
Barred Owl
105
Burrowing Owl
106
Common Nighthawk
107
Chuck-will's-widow
108
Chimney Swift
109
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
110
Belted Kingfisher
111
Red-headed Woodpecker
112
Red-bellied Woodpecker
113
Downy Woodpecker
114
Red-cockaded Woodpecker
115
Pileated Woodpecker
116
Eastern Wood-Pewee
117
Acadian Flycatcher
118
Great Crested Flycatcher
119
Eastern Kingbird
120
Loggerhead Shrike
121
White-eyed Vireo
122
Yellow-throated Vireo
123
Red-eyed Vireo
124
Blue Jay
125
American Crow
126
Fish Crow
127
Purple Martin
128
Tree Swallow
129
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
130
Barn Swallow
131
Carolina Chickadee
132
Tufted Titmouse
133
White-breasted Nuthatch
134
Brown-headed Nuthatch
135
Red-breasted Nuthatch
136
Carolina Wren
137
House Wren
138
Sedge Wren
139
Marsh Wren
140
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
141
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
142
Eastern Bluebird
143
Swainson's Thrush
144
Hermit Thrush
145
Wood Thrush
146
American Robin
147
Gray Catbird
148
Northern Mockingbird
149
Brown Thrasher
150
European Starling
151
Cedar Waxwing
152
Worm-eating Warbler
153
Louisiana Waterthrush
154
Northern Waterthrush
155
Black-and-white Warbler
156
Prothonotary Warbler
157
Swainson's Warbler
158
Tennessee Warbler
159
Kentucky Warbler
160
Common Yellowthroat
161
Hooded Warbler
162
Cape May Warbler
163
Cerulean Warbler
164
Northern Parula
165
Palm Warbler
166
Pine Warbler
167
Yellow-rumped Warbler
168
Yellow-throated Warbler
169
Prairie Warbler
170
Eastern Towhee
171
Bachman's Sparrow
172
Chipping Sparrow
173
Savannah Sparrow
174
Field Sparrow
175
Grasshopper Sparrow
176
Seaside Sparrow
177
Lincoln's Sparrow
178
Swamp Sparrow
179
White-throated Sparrow
180
White-crowned Sparrow
181
Summer Tanager
182
Scarlet Tanager
183
Northern Cardinal
184
Rose-breasted Grosbeak
185
Blue Grosbeak
186
Indigo Bunting
187
Red-winged Blackbird
188
Eastern Meadowlark
189
Common Grackle
190
Boat-tailed Grackle
191
Brown-headed Cowbird
192
Orchard Oriole
193
House Finch
194
Pine Siskin
195
American Goldfinch
196
House Sparrow"


While I didn't add too many to my photographic big year on this day, see the post below for a photo of White-faced Ibis. Also, if you feel like donating for the American Bird Conservancy's conservation in Hawaii, see this page. The donation is tax deductible! 

Awesome birding!!!

1 comment:

  1. Really enjoyed reading about the Big Day! Sounds like a blast.

    ReplyDelete