Had a great time at the annual Clearwater Bird Festival this year. For those that missed it, well you missed it. For those who made it, it was good to see you there and re-associate names with faces! Even without a front and a general lack of migrants, I still saw 124 species and had remarkable views of some! I know others on the trips enjoyed some of these marvelous views of birds we don't get to se every day. I can't remember the last time I saw over 100 Turkeys in a day, or the last time a pair of Barred Owls were "Hoo-aawing!" at each other in plain daylight while overly brave Gnatcatchers tried to chase them away. Nor can I remember ever seeing a little House Wren transform itself into a male Bobwhite..... There was a House Wren and we all saw it well perched on that log, yet when we looked away and back, here sat the Bobwhite! David Copperfield couldn't have done it better.
On Sunday morning I waited 2 hours as tours came and went. I offered to be on standby as a leader and one after another they didn't need (or perhaps didn't want, "Please don't put that crazy guy on our bus!") me, so I headed out sans group near 8:00 Sunday morning. Accompanying me was, Clay Taylor, my one time mentor who now works for Swarovski. He had never seen Budgie in the wild, and the ones I've seen here have been in questionable locations so we decided to head north and see if we could scare some up. 

Without my trusty Pranty guide (that's the book not the birder!) we set out "a la Simpson" trusting our instincts and my faint recollections of where the birds had been seen in the past. The first stop was at the Perkins on 19, where we could only find tiny green feathers as a promise of things to come. After criss-crossing a few roads we worked our way up to Hudson Beach a few miles north of our lingering feathers. We pulled a loop around the lot, scanning the water from here and finding our first of many Shovelers for the day mixed in with the far more numerous Blue-winged Teal. We then pulled out and were ready to begin our criss-crossing again when a familiar scratchy chatter fell upon my ears from the air above. We quickly stopped the car to see our quarry land on the lines overhead, then three birds swung off in unison toward the outlet here. We parked and found as many as five Budgies flitting about and foraging in palms and exploring cavities throughout the area. Clay used his optics and documented our finds marvelously with his digiscoping rig! (uh,.... Clay please insert URL here!) Also here, was a unique looking juvenile Reddish Egret that Clay was able to grab some stills of. The whole time we were there and as we were criss-crossing we were seeing many flocks of Teal averaging between 20 to 30 birds. Most had a Shoveler or two mixed in and a group of 10 Avocets fly by close to shore while at Hudson Beach.

Flush with our success we made our way to nearby Green Key, to search in vain with many others for the Sabine's Gull. There were a dozen birders or more here including Kurt Radamaker, and David Simpson, and many more I didn't know. I usually would have made the rounds and met folks to again put faces with names, but alas, a long stressful week at work, and lack of sleep were starting to take their toll. I wasn't my usual friendly self I guess. Clay gave an impromptu seminar on digiscoping while I sat toward the sides scanning. The winds picked up and clouds began to roll in and it finally rained chasing most everyone away. Clay and I stayed on a bit with Ken Allen, and we heard a calling Clapper Rail for our day list. Then we decided to hit the CAuseway at Honeymoon to see what we could see. I was beginning to move into daze state, and probably should have stopped for a coffee since sleep was not an option while there were birds to see. 

There were birds along the Causeway, but nothing struck me as real odd (although I have to admit I may not have been far from unconscious here as I really don't remember a whole lot of particulars). The one thing I do remember was an angler very carefully trying to remove what looked like a Remora from his line. The critter was long and almost eel-like, mostly black with a bold white median stripe going the length of the body. It had a round lobed tail and some sort of long low fin on the dorsal surface. Any ideas?... Like I say it reminded me of the little remoras I'd seen in the past, but there was no sucker visible on the head that we could see, and I've never seen one sans shark so the habitat was really wrong! Upon reaching the park, we wound up at the entrance to Osprey trail and we got out and I began to wake up a bit. 

There was a little burst of migrant activity following the rains and Clay pointed out the Rose-breasted Grosbeak calls that went through one ear and out the other (sleepwalking?!?....). At any rate, a whistle or two and we were in the presence of 4 to 5 Grosbeaks, then a couple Prairie Warblers, Gnatcatchers, and some Wood-Pewees. House Wrens, Yellowthroats, Downy Woodpeckers, Red-eyed and White-eyed Vireos, Scarlet Tanager, and others rounded out the list, but again my butt was dragging here and I'm a bit foggy. Out at the end were many of the expected species: Wilson's and Piping Plovers, all of the expected terns and gulls, and a few others including an American Coot, and a Caspian Tern. The fly fisherman in me was drawn to some larger fish tailing slowly through the shallow weed beds here. I could see only a dull greenish-brown tail that was rather sharply hooked and I would have guessed that they were near 2 feet long. All in all there were 8-10 in this school and they were just slowly cruising along. I looked but did not see the tell tale "eye spot" on the tail of Redfish, and in fact except for our lattitude, the behavior reminded amazingly of Bonefish on the grassflats. Anyone know if this could be possible, albeit unlikely. 

Shortly thereafter Clay was digiscoping some Wilson's scoffing up little crabs, taking them like lions on the Savannah; heads almost on the ground, with a slow crouched approach, accelerating to a full boar sprint at the end, scooping up their prey with those oversized plover beaks. Great fun to watch! Just then, a flock of waterfowl passed low overhead with a whoosh. I instinctively looked up and saw the lead teal of near 35 birds had a solid brick red body!!! In less than full control of all of my facilities, all my tired neurons were able to produce was an excited, "Oh SH*T!", until the adrenaline took over. "Lead bird is an adult male Cinamon Teal!!" Clay was able to get on it and we watched as it continued straight away and out of site over the other side of the inlet here. It didn't appear it was going to stop, but who knows. We mentioned the bird to the other couple we saw here. 

On the way out the adrenaline had worn off completely and I remember little more than the tops of my shoes. Back near the intersection with the main trail, Clay had a cuckoo sail out ahead of us in the vicinity of some low bushy cedars. I saw a large shape sail around the corner in my peripheral and land behind some leaved branches. Clay said, "Hey a just landed!" My now mostly shut down neurons interpreted this as "Coop ... landed." So in great birder fashion, I shrugged and continued on flushing the bird, barely giving it a glance. Clay then said, "that looked like a Black-billed ....." It was another 6 feet or so before I finally made the correlation ..... "Duuhh! Cooper's, black-bill.... usually...." Of course we'll never really know for sure now, because some idiot scared it away, but given David's experience I thought I'd mention it. I apologize about not posting these last two birds before now, but I've been working each day (was in at 5:00 AM today am working a split and will be back until near midnight), and had an internet server problem for the first day and a half when I returned home and couldn't connect.

I had another male Yellowthroat in the building today and saw how it got in (probably the same deal with the male Hooded and Yellowthroat I had working the iron racks last month too.) This bird was drawn to moths attracted to the big lights we have near our loading zone and snatched one up and continued in near first light as the large doors were open to bring in the lumber. I think that makes 5 warblers for my in Home Depot list! I look forward to meeting/seeing some of you again at either FOS, the Spacecoast Festival, or the ABA Regional Convention, and again it was a pleasure meeting those I met for the first time, and good to see others again. I had fun!

Good birding all,

Jeff Bouton
Port Charlotte, FL
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