Wow, what a trip.  How often can you start a trip with a Red-necked grebe
and end it with a White-faced ibis?

There's a reason why I never start my north Florida trips in Tallahassee,
it's always raining when I pass through there.  It almost never fails that
when I go to the panhandle, there will be a cold front coming from the other
direction.  I hope that holds true this spring.

We left Brooksville at midnight in order to get to Gulf breeze by first
light.  It turns out we could have probably slept another hour, but that
would cheapen the whole experience.  The first stop was the Duncans'
residence for Red-necked grebe, pancakes, and pleasant conversation.  We
scored on all three.  Interestingly, the red-necked's red-throated buddy was
not to be seen.  The weather was not promising, but we headed out to see if
we could find a Pacific loon at Ft. Pickens.  We started the first phase of
a three day study of Common loons and Buffleheads.  No Pacific loon, the
only one seen so far was Alan's bird on St. George Island causeway.  We
headed up to the Lucas's for the Murray's state Broad-tailed hummingbird
and, hopefully, my year Purple finch.  I have been here so many times this
winter Patches the dog thinks I am one of the family.  The hummer was it's
usual hammy self showing off for the camera.  The finch was not around.
Even the House finches were less in number, probably already dispersing to
breed.  Down the road at the nursery there was a female Purple finch and
Pine siskin in the same binocular view with a goldfinch.  Two great
stakeouts, now to hit the coast to continue our study of loons and
Buffleheads.  We worked our way over to Ft. Walton Beach.  The only
highlight was a distant view of two Red-throated loons off the west side of
the Destin bridge.

The next day we hit the woods to try for a creepers.  None to be found, but
nice looking woods.  The coast produced more study material but no Pacific
loon or scoters.  The big highlight was a drab little bird with a bunch of
Savannahs at St. Andrew's SRA.  We had checked the ocean  near the inlet and
were heading over to the gulf side when I noticed a strange bird feeding
with the Savannahs.  A strange bird that resembled a House sparrow, but was
not.  Interesting.  It had its back to me at first.  When it turned, it had
a rusty shoulder patch and some light streaking on the sides and breast.
The breast had a lt. yellow wash in the right light.  It appeared to be a
first year bird that was molting into its first adult plumage.  The streaks
were fading out but were still present and the yellow on the breast was only
faintly yellow.  We got a photo of the bird, but Murray was less than
optimistic that it would turn out.  The birds was quite easy to observe but
not to photograph.  Heading east, we saw a Scissor-tailed flycatcher along
US98 west of Port St. Joe.

Later in the day we stopped in on Jack Dozier to see what was happening at
Alligator/Bald Pt.  Not much to report.  We reported our Dickcissel and set
out to find some things.  We had a mere 12 Red-throated loons off the KOA
Campground in Alligator Point.  Nothing compared to Noel's Loon Bonanza.  We
also saw something that I have never seen before.  In a flock of Lesser
scaup were three drake Ring-necked ducks.  I have never seen these two
together in salt water before.  They often associate in fresh or brackish
water, but not in salt.  Tufted ducks would be more expected in this
situation, but unfortunately, no immaculate white side or tufts on the head.
We ended at Bottoms Rd. to search for Short-eared owls in the waning light
of day.  We were serenaded by Seaside sparrows and were treated to a show by
a Clapper rail.  Only one harrier flew by, an imm. male.  Not a good omen
for Short-eared owls.  I guess I'll have to see one at Tortugas.

The next day found us in the Tallahassee area.  We headed to Tall Timbers
for another attempt at creepers, Red-breasted nuthatch, and Long-eared owl.
Strike three, you're out!  We did get several Red-headed woodpeckers and a
white-breasted nuthatch.  Leon Sinks produced many flocks of songbirds.
Lots of GC Kinglets.  One Winter wren, zero Great-gray owls.  St. Mark's
would prove to be the best birding of the day.  We checked the book at the
VIC and saw that Ken Allen had scooped us on the White-faced ibis and Eared
grebe.  All the time I have spent looking at the Plegadis ibises at SMNWR
and someone else finds my White-faced.  Oh well, it was still fun to see.
We got the grebe as well as the Vermillion flycatcher.  A prolonged search
of the gulf at the lighthouse concluded our study of loons and Buffleheads.
No Surf scoters.

Overall I would have to say it was a very successful trip.  I guess I'll
have to wait for next winter for the Hoary redpoll.

David Simpson
Sebastian, FL
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