(Disclaimer - Longish report - it may not be for all readers).

        "Records are made to be broken."  I'm not exactly sure who is credited with saying that first, but I've been thinking it for the past few years ever since a team featuring top-notch, hall-of-fame type birders Rowan & Clark set the all-time Florida July Big Day record of 130 species.  A record I've tried to break with near success since 1996.  So again this morning, with team members Ahern, Gardler, & Gaetzi at the ready, we met at 3 AM and began the trek.
        The birding Gods were looking over us as Ahern & Gardler picked out a Barn Owl from the parking lot before we had even gotten in the car.  3 AM, not such a bad idea, I thought to myself.  And then we were off, summer sweat already beading on our foreheads and we thought of the record.  We knew that for a central Florida team the task at hand would be difficult.  A re-vamped route was planned and plenty of pre-Big Day scouting took place.  The birds were in place and so were our attitudes.
        In central Florida one cannot expect the numerous breeding birds a northern team might expect.  Birds like; Mississippi Kite, Broad-winged Hawk, Hooded Warbler, Prothonotary Warbler, Yellow-breasted Chat, Acadian Flycatcher, and Painted & Indigo Buntings.  And if that wasn't enough, I was already depressed by a recent Clark post from the Jacksonville area listing difficult summer species like Whimbrel, Gull-billed Tern, and Ring-billed, Herring & Great Black-backed Gulls.  The feeling was, was that the birds were there for us to break the record but that we were going to need some luck.  Would they cooperate?
        After we got over the "whose idea was this to start so early?" debate, the race was on.  The pre-dawn birding went well.  Clapper & King Rails, several Barred Owls, Eastern Screech-Owl, Chuck-will's-widow, but no Great Horned.  Just past first light we were at Starkey Wilderness Park in Pasco County.  This park is exceptional because there are many species there, all in one park, that are difficult to find in our central Florida area.   It's a must on Big Days.
        Yellow-throated, Red-eyed, & White-eyed Vireo made the list.  Yellow-throated & Pine Warbler, Northern Parula, Summer Tanager, Carolina Chickadee & Brown-headed Nuthatch also were found.  So was a fly by female Ruby-throated Hummingbird, and a very unexpected bonus Black-and-white Warbler found by the youngster, Ahern.  We were rolling.  And so even though we didn't see a Brown Thrasher or Northern Flicker we moved on - to Hudson Beach and a flock of Budgerigars.  And then down to Green Key where we scored with Gray Kingbird & Marsh Wren.  Another stop got us Least Bittern & Caspian Tern.
        Then we moved back down to Pinellas and Gardler found us one, apparently lonely, Wild Turkey.  But no kestrel.  Where were the nesting kestrels?  We moved on again.  Swallow-tailed Kite overhead, Black Vultures flying by and then a quick stop for stilt & a perched Red-tailed Hawk.  Our next to last stop in Pinellas was at Weedon Island where we managed two Mangrove Cuckoos, but out luck went sour when we couldn't find either of the two Ring-billed Gulls that were in attendance at Gandy Beach just yesterday.
        Down to the Lake Placid area we went, picking up a species here and there; seven Crested Caracara's were nice.  We found Florida Scrub Jay, Red-headed Woodpecker, and Hairy Woodpecker, but no White-winged Dove.  Ouch!!  However, driving east across SR 70 Gaetzi ticked a summering(?) Belted Kingfisher that we turned around to check out.  Another unexpected bonus!
        With Myakka State Park flooded due to the recent rains, we bypassed it.  Nearby we found Bachman's Sparrow and our first Northern Bobwhite of the day.  Things were looking good as we rolled into the Sarasota Celery Fields.  We found Black-bellied Whistling-Duck, Limpkin, five Forster's Terns, and a Purple Gallinule.  But where were the American White Pelicans that were here yesterday?  Another ouch!!
        At 5:30 we began crossing the Skyway enroute to Fort DeSoto with 99 species.  We didn't do Fort D in the late morning as we knew the tide would be high. We figured we'd wait until the crowds had thinned out.  Several of us had pre-scouted the park the last couple of days and were expecting a somewhat low tide.  We hadn't any shorebirds to speak of and still hadn't found a Killdeer yet. There were still some waders we needed, and we had a staked out American Coot and Lesser Scaup.  It was going to be close. 
        When we arrived we noticed the tide was low, real low, like a winter-time, winds from the NE low.  Unbelievably low.  Never have I seen it so low in summer low.  The birds were spread out low.  Our spirits were now low.  We couldn't find the birds we needed.
        Oh, we found the Heermann's Gull, and a Reddish Egret, and a Roseate Spoonbill and a few shorebirds (incluidng seven Snowy Plovers off North Beach!), but where had the little peeps gone?  And the dowitchers?  There were 40 just yesterday.
        So we packed it up.  Just 117 species. And had to be satisfied with seeing a Mangrove Cuckoo, a Hairy Woodpecker, and a Heermann's Gull all on the same day.  Not bad.  There's always next year.

good evening,

Ron Smith
St. Pete, FL
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