I had Sunday off, so the peanut (Austin) and I decided we'd make another run to go and see the Eurasian Kestrel and tie up some loose ends on the way home. We left the house here in Port Charlotte promptly at 5:00ish and arrived with a half hour to spare. Unlike the first trip on Friday the 28th when it took me an hour/ten from I-4 to the Lust road gate, the same route took only 35 minutes without commuter traffic. We were early, so Austin and I birded the ditch at the bottom of the hill near the beginning of Lust Road.  Here we had  some common stuff: House Wrens, Tree & Barn Swallows, Yellow-rumped, Palm, and Prairie Warblers, Yellowthroats, and a few surprises too including: a Lincoln's Sparrow in the brush above the ditch, and a nice adult Red-headed Woodpecker that was flycatching from a snag and the telephone pole back by the buildings here. By the time the gates opened, we had a nice start to our list at 48 species. Austin set a ! goal for us at 103 species so we were well on our way.
Then like clock work, the gate opened and our caravan began driving in. There was the usual compliment of Northern Harriers on the drive up to the Kestrel's favorite haunt. We all got out and scanned to no avail, so Harold led us across the field toward the preferred areas. Austin was on Potato bug patrol, carefully moving each off the path with his little shovel. A nice Swallow-tailed Kite swung over low as if to say, "Sure the Kestrel is rare but who's the prettiest?!?...." So naturally we admired this bird for a few moments at least, before continuing our search. A young Bald Eagle sailed off toward Lust Road while we searched ever diligently. The potato bug patrol was bringing up the rear and we were joined by one David Simpson who reported an Ash-throated Flycatcher near the first canal on the right upon entering the gate. Austin and I had been a bit lucky to find one in that exact spot at the end of December on the Zellwood CBC. But then the whole area was blanket! ed in thick 8 foot high dog fennel. With the area mowed short now, the bird should have a few less hiding spots. Maybe we'd get lucky and find it on the way out.
We were exchanging pleasantries with Dave and John Puschock and falling behind the main group even more. We caught up to a trio that had fallen behind as well. One man in the group had a bird that had potential in his scope. I fell in line behind him and lined my binocs up with his scope and agreed that this bird did indeed look good, the profile, size, coloration, all looked right. Then it lifted off to harass a passing harrier and then there was the tail!..... "Oh yeah, that's your bird, al right!"  David commented, at how very different the bird appeared in flight, while John ran up to alert the others who were well ahead of us by now. We were able to watch the bird for o a half hour before it disappeared again. I was happy this time to see the bird fly a lot more than I had in the mid-morning mist on the 28th. I had hoped I would be able to scrutinize the flight characteristics more closely this time. As an added bonus a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher worked th! e field behind us, and then sadly, it was time to go. Harold had a job to do, and we had to let him do it. So we said adieu to our Kestrel once again, and made our way to the gate.
David, John, and I, gabbed outside the gate for some time while Austin ate some, pulled out the cap guns, and found more potato bugs (I found fire ants the hard way, but such are the perils we face when birding in sandals in sunny FL!) We spoke of big day competitions, of NC pelagics, desired trips to TX & CA, and of birding rituals such as celebratory libations (Yes Paul, Life is Good!) before we parted ways, not before John helped us to add White-crowned Sparrows, and David, Western Kingbird to our ever growing list which now stood at 63 and counting.
Austin and I hit the highway with the plan of shooting straight across to see a Brewer's Blackbird and Green-tailed Towhee. Yet when we hit I-4 I immediately realized a flaw in my plan. Bumper to bumper, RV's towing motorcycles and people riding cycles everywhere...... 'Oh crap! Daytona bike week and their all heading back home clogging I-4 west!!' In retrospect that extra hour or more gabbing would probably cost me dearly. The traffic would have undoubtedly been much less near 10 or 11, it was now after noon and it would take us 3 hours from here to Holiday. En route we would add a few birds including Merlin, Sandhill Crane, Eastern Bluebird, Laughing Gull, a nice flock of 7 Wild Turkeys right on the side of the road, among others. By 3:15 I was at the now familiar to many pasture with extremely gusty winds out of the WNW and dark clouds loomed with the threat of storms. Even the Cattle Egrets were staying low and the only "Black" birds I could see were 2 Fish Crows, a! nd a lone Boat-tailed Grackle. Things were not looking too good, the strong winds were prohibitive to producing birds perching up and the vegetation was sufficiently high in parts to even obscure the Boat-tailed. I promised to give it until 3:30 and then I'd head post haste to Honeymoon before  these showers began to fall.
At 3:25 a break in the clouds brightened up my mood and my hopes of seeing the bird. Two small dogs were chasing each other around by the trees off to the right, and they were flushing numerous Killdeer as they did.... Of course, in the sheltered area near the wood edge.... the birds would be able to take shelter in the lee of the treeline here. There were certainly plenty of Killdeer over there. I scanned along the distant edge and before long there was a speck of black bobbing along behind the grass. At first just the top of a rounded head, then a bill and after 5 patient minutes a whole Brewer' Blackbird appeared in an opening. It was 3:32 pretty close to my appointed time.
By 4:00 PM we were at the locale of the famed Green-tailed Towhee. I tried to creep quietly through the brush, but Austin wanted to bang rocks together and was not really in a stealth mode at this point. There were some silent whispered phrases in the brush here, but each time a tracked one down it was the wrong bird. I had Catbirds, a Brown Thrasher, Mockingbirds, and even an Eastern Towhee here, but my target was not in sight. The wind was still horrific and it had blown in a number of Gannets which were working the waters just off the beach here. Rain began to fall when I heard a faint promising call, it came from one bush along the main road between the service road and the parking lot entrance. It was a thick bush and there was no sign of any bird present in there. As the rain picked up I went back to the car and played my cassette to remind myself of what I was listening for. Yes, the promising call was indeed the one I wanted. We went back out in the now full fle! dged rain and in circling the bush slowly and methodically I would get a glimpse of a dark bird in poor light, but I could only see pieces.
We then retreated to the vehicle and played soe Scooby Doo on the Gameboy. When we emerged again the rain was mostly stopped and the sun was trying to peak out. Imagine my relief when the bird went into full song 2x in response to the suns rays. Sure enough the song came from the same bush, but I would never see more than a flash of color. I would have to try again some morning when the bird was more active if I were to get better views (fortuunately this used to breed in my front yard in Colorado, I would have been crazed by the teasing nature of this bird if I'd never seen one well before). Tired and satisfied we decided it was more than late enough. It was past 6:00 in fading light. We made our way home through heavy rains arriving near 9:30 with a grand total of only 96 species. Our bad luck in traffic and afternoon weather had caused us to fall short of Austin's goal, but as always it was still an awesome day of birding! No complaints at all!
Good birding,
Jeff Bouton
Port Charlotte, FL
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