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Hi Folks,

Here is the obligatory narrative.  Not much of a weekend for year birds, but
interesting anyway.  Let's see, I started at St. Mark's NWR.  I left Mom and
Dad's (Cocoa) at 0130 and arrived at the gate at 0610.  The gate opens at
0600 which allows for some night birding, breakfasting, and bird napping.  I
don't take cat naps.  I ate a frugal breakfast and set up on the tower next
to the lighthouse to count year birds flying over.  I did a terrible job of
keeping notes this weekend, so this will be mostly from memory.  There were
dozens of Swainson's thrushes flying over.  After a few minutes, the
composition of thrushes changed to mostly Veeries.  There were a few
Gray-cheekeds (Bicknell's?) mixed in.  A few warblers were calling
(redstart, palm, etc.)  As the sun finally rose, I heard several Clapper
rails in the marsh.  Marsh wrens and a few Seaside sparrows were still
singing.  I heard my first of the season Savannah sparrows and Gray
catbirds.  There were shorebirds and terns of various species in the marsh
behind the tower and at Lighthouse pond.  I checked over all the Bw Teal for
a Cinnamon, none to be found.  I was anxious to move on after awhile, so I
headed to the Tower Pool.  There were a few shorebirds and about a dozen
teal.  All were Blue-winged (the teal, not the shorebirds.)  The woods
around the VIC revealed the usual resident birds.  I birded the historic
site at the town of St. Mark's nearby.  Not much happening.  Getting tired.
Birded too many days after work this month.  Must pace myself.  I decided to
just head on to Ft. Walton as the day got hotter.  I didn't feel like
skirting the coast and enduring the hot sun all afternoon.  Mistake?  Maybe,
maybe not.  I realized that in all the commotion of doing the Big Year, I
had forgotten change the oil in my truck, so I stopped at some kind of lube
place and had some time in the AC.  Afterward I got my pass for Eglin AFB
which would come in handy later that day.  I birded the hotspots in Ft.
Walton starting at the Mama Rosa ponds.  I birded it quickly, seeing several
species of swallows on the wires and in the air.  There were several
juvenile Tree swallows.  The white on the edge of the rumps threw me for
several minutes.  I studied one for quite a while before getting out the
Sibley Guide to refresh my memory on how to separate Violet-green and Tree.
The adults are fairly easy, but the juveniles are a bit trickier.
Apparently the Violet-green has narrower wings and a shorter tail.  The
wings were definitely not narrow on this bird.  After studying several more,
it was obvious that they were all Tree, but it was interesting to study the
minute details and go beyond the simple filed marks.  There were several
shorebirds present, mostly Pectoral, peeps, yellowlegs.  There were a couple
of Stilt sandpipers and two Wilson's phalaropes.  The bird of the weekend
(at least of those that I would see) was the immature male Yellow-headed
blackbird that was feeding along the edge of the water.  I almost passed it
off as the juvenile cowbird that I had seen when I first arrived.  I second
look revealed a small white patch on the wing.  I knew what it was at that
point and when it raised its head showing the yellow throat, it clinched the
ID.  There were several BW teal at the ponds and I gave them all the once
over.  (No teal were hurt in the making of this story.)  I decided if I
could not find a male Cinnamon teal, why not find a female?  Sibley to the
rescue again.  I didn't actually get much chance to do a detailed study this
day, but I did the next day.  There were a couple of richly colored
individuals in the group.  I hurried out because I forgot that I had gained
an hour by heading west.  Duh.  I'll get to the teal later.  I quickly
checked the brush pile next to the ponds and found the usual Yellow
warblers, yellowthroat, Palm warblers, and a possible Clay-colored sparrow.
I flushed the sparrow, and did not get a very good look at it.  I did not
get the impression of Savannah.  Next stop was the Vagrant Trail.  I used
the backdoor entrance now that I am legal.  I used it before and was never
stopped, but I prefer to be legal when dealing with people with guns.  There
were lots of birds at the trail.  Most of them were summer resident Blue
grosbeaks and Indigo buntings.  The juvenile grosbeaks were pretty easy to
pick out.  They look kind of like awkward teenagers with their full-sized
bills on their little heads.  I did manage to spot an immature Dickcissel.
This makes about 12 this year and none last year.

Sunday and I am at Ft. Pickens.  Got to get my money's worth out of that
annual pass.  There were 10 species of warblers at the park.  The best was a
Yellow-breasted chat, my second one here this fall.  The rest were the
usual, Yellow, Magnolia, Tennessee, Parula, etc.  Not much else that I
remember.  I found a Northern waterthrush at the park in Gulf Breeze that I
cannot remember the name of right now.  Near the Duncan's residence I
checked the Olive-sided flycatcher tree.  None to be found.  There was a
juvenile Red-headed woodpecker and a Scarlet tanager as well as the
ubiquitous chickadees and titmice.  I visited the Duncans next.  Bob had
cooked too many hot dogs for his lunch, so I did what I could to help and
ate half of one.  We birded around the yard for a little bit and discussed,
what else, birds.  I hit the state park in the middle of Santa Rosa Island
(can't remember the name) to look for wayward shorebirds.  I found little in
the way of shorebirds wayward or otherwise.  There were four Willets, four
Piping plovers, and three Sanderlings.  A Sedge wren was the first of the
season for me.  Ft. Walton was next.  The usual drill, Okaloosa dump, Mama
Rosa, Vagrant Road, Ft. Walton spray fields.  The dump had been mowed since
I was last there, but there was some area that was still unmolested.  I
concentrated most of my rambling there.  There were 10 Sedge wrens and five
Marsh wrens and a few yellowthroats.  A few Savannah sparrows flushed from
the mowed area.  Mama Rosa had many of the same birds minus the blackbird
and one of the phalaropes.  I continued the study of swallows and teal.  The
teal turned out to be all Blue-winged, as expected.  The one mark that was
consistent through all the variations was the black eyeline with the two
white eye-arcs.  I didn't figure that out on my own, Sibley shows it in his
guide.  There is also a hint of a white crescent on the face even on
females.  The white above and below the bill connects to form this diffuse
crescent.  This mark was a little harder to see.  Again, it was fun to study
the variation in a common "trash" bird.  In the brush pile there was a
sparrow that called and flew.  I was too far away to see it well, but I
would swear that it was a Chipping sparrow.  That is a bit early for this
species, but I am pretty familiar with the call and I did have one at
Sebastian Inlet on Oct 2 last year.  I would not count this as my first of
the year yet, just too early for a heard only.  A (the?) Dickcissel was also
present in the pile.  Later, at the trail, I would find virtually nothing
but the usual resident birds.  I found a Swamp sparrow, first of season for
me, along the trail next to the dump.

I'm too tired to go on for now.  Experiencing difficulties with tractors at
work today.  Finally got to that Air potato that I have been trying to kill
for weeks now.  Got to look bright eyed and bushy-tailed for the filed trip
tomorrow.  Choppy, incomplete sentences.  Must be time for bed.

Until tomorrow,

David Simpson
[log in to unmask]
Sebastian, FL

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