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Subject: Adventures in birding, what a weekend!

Date: Wed, 16 Aug 2000
From: David Simpson (depdave)

Hi all,

Just a little story about a great weekend of birding. It started out slow. Doug Stuckey and I tromped around on Buck Lake Conservation Area for several hours. We saw a Pine warbler, lately an inexplicably rare bird out there, and not a whole lot else exciting.

We finished our territory (this was the monthly bird survey) early and decided to trespass on the neighboring territory to fritter away the time until the noon compilation meeting. We had a few Pectoral sandpipers and a spoonbill as well as seven Limpkins. I had six Limpkins in the scope at one time.

After the uneventful survey some of us met at Doug's house for some birding in the Mims area. We tooled around the groves east of US1 looking for buntings and grosbeaks. We checked a few spots for shorebirds. Stuckey used his secret handshake to get us inside the FIND site. Actually, the gate was wide open. It was as uneventful as the morning. The spoil area had grassed over leaving no habitat for shorebirds. There were some Bank and N. rough-winged swallows amongst the myriad Barn Swallows flying over.

After lunch, I went over to Merit Island NWR to check on some likely shorebird spots. Blackpoint played host to eight Am. white pelicans as well as a small assortment of shorebirds and terns, mostly on the left between stops 3 and 6. The Bio Lab Dike had a few more interesting things.

I stopped on the beach road at Vista IV just east of where Bio Lab Dike comes out. I usually see Gray kingbirds here. I began perusing the grassy flats for shorebirds. There were 22 Blue-winged teal very well camouflaged. There were also several species of shorebirds. You had to really look to see them. There were 18 Pectoral sandpipers in the area. I mostly heard them and then managed a glimpse at them as they landed out of sight. As I was looking through the scope, a juvenile Short-billed dowitcher landed in my view. They are so cool in their juvenile plumage. They look as if they are dressed up for a party. That was the first juvenile I have seen this year. One Gray kingbird did call, but I did not see it.

At Vista II, there were 24 more Blue-winged teal. Interestingly, all were females. I have noticed this before, the males seem to arrive much later than the females. I checked the NASA Causeway at the Little Gull site for whatever surprises may await today. Surprise! Ruddy turnstones. Not quite what I had hoped, but you pay your dollar, you take your chances. Actually, it's free to look there.

I skipped over the Port, I didn't need eider for my month list. I arrived at the Our Savior catholic church in Cocoa Beach just in time to meet about 147 people leaving. I decided that I would head on down to Lori Wilson Park and let the crowds thin at the church before trying to bird it. It seemed fate was watching over me.

I arrived at Lori Wilson Park and set out to find more than cardinals and woodpeckers. Fortunately it was fairly quiet in the hammock and I was able to hear the chip of some type of warbler. I whipped around in time to catch a glimpse of a warbler on a vine high in the tree. I saw a darkish wing with prominent wing bars and white undersides with streaking on the side. I immediately thought, "Cerulean," a life bird for me. I thought to myself, "Yeah right, you just want it to be a Cerulean'" But I could not shake that impression.

For several frustrating hours, well, probably seconds, I sat and wondered if I should jump the railing and set out in pursuit, or be patient and look. I looked and soon saw movement from several birds in the treetops. One of the birds proved to be a redstart, the bird I heard at first. There were two redstarts, male and female, and another bird. The other bird finally revealed itself to be a female Cerulean warbler. I also found a waterthrush, I think Louisiana in the low area behind the dunes.

Cerulean warbler was a target bird for the weekend. I thought wow, that was great, I guess it is all downhill from here.

Boy, was I wrong!

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Sunday found me back at MINWR, I was checking out songbird areas in the morning. I birded the hammock trails first. There were approximately 1724 mosquitoes out there. I did see a few warblers. Nothing worth 10000 mosquito bites.

My first bird was a Chuck-will's-widow that sat atop a tree branch in front of me in the predawn light. I went up to Dummitt Grove to see if I could put the mosquito count over 3000. I was disappointed, I finished the day with just over 2500. There was an Eastern pewee at the grove and some Yellow warblers. There was a small flock of Eastern kingbirds near the road. I got a strange feeling when I saw them. For some reason, I was drawn to look at their tails. Does that make me weird?

I birded the Bio Lab Dike again, this time looking more carefully for camouflaged shorebirds. There were several of the common species and species seen yesterday. I saw five Stilt sandpipers in the area north of Vista IV. The Gray kingbirds, two of them, made an appearance.

I checked the beach, but with a west wind blowing, I did not expect much. There were four Black terns way way out and a Royal tern. I hit the pumphouse area and Blackpoint to end up with 88 species as I left the refuge.

All the while, I could not shake the feeling that I was wanted to see a Fork-tailed flycatcher. Strange, I usually go around wanting to see a California condor. This would probably explain why I wanted to look at the kingbirds' tails. That or I am truly weird. Shall we take a vote?

Anyway, I got out of the refuge without seeing a FTFL, and quickly forgot my premonition. I picked up some important day birds in Titusville, Rock dove, Eurasian collared dove, and House sparrow. After a stop at the Mom and Dad Hilton for a bowl of free ice cream, I headed to Viera to look for Buff-breasted sandpipers, Ruff, and Little stint. Fate again was watching over me.

I decided to exit at Fiske and go down Stadium Parkway to Wickham road instead of heading down I-95. There were lots of plowed fields on the west side of the road, but no Upland sandpipers. I did get to see a Bank and a Cliff swallow on either side of a Barn swallow as they sat on a fence in a light rain. I continued on toward Wickham road checking the fenceposts for anything interesting.

I stopped the truck and sat there in stunned disbelief when I saw the bird I had been thinking about earlier. There on a fencepost was a Fork tailed flycatcher! I got out and looked at it with the binoculars, then the scope, still not believing what I saw.

After a few minutes, I headed for a payphone to alert the local birders and get it on the internet. I learned that Ken Laborde was out at the Click Ponds, just three miles away, so when I got off the phone, I went and got him and we both found the bird again. We managed to round up eight more people to see the bird before it flew off to the west never to be seen again. Or so we thought.

When the bird flew off, I watched it until it was out of sight. I thought it was rather curious that it flew west instead of north. Do you really expect a FTFL in Florida to know how to migrate? It was not until the next morning that I learned that while this species likes to perch and feed low, they like to roost high in the trees. It turns out, he was probably just looking for a place to stay the night. This was species number 97 for the day.

I got an eagle on the way out to the ponds to get Ken. I was now faced with the dilemma of searching out number 99 and 100 for the day or looking at the flycatcher. Tough choice. As it turned out, I got the two species without having to go anywhere. A Gull-billed tern was feeding in the pond behind us and near dark, I saw a Caracara on a building to the south.

Not a bad day or weekend.

David Simpson

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