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Hi Folks,

The July Big Day attempt is rapidly approaching and I am in the midst of
planning and scouting again.  I spent Sunday checking out possible sights
for the route and thinking of how to use the remaining time most
effectively.  The route is going to begin in Tallahassee and end in Miami
and the keys.  The question is, where do I go in between?  The options are
east coast or west coast.  The east coast route would involve Huguenot Park,
Merritt Island NWR, and Viera.  The west coast route would involve Fort
DeSoto, Celery Fields, possibly Babcock-Webb, and the Palm Beach County muck
fields.  I spent last weekend exploring Naples and Lee county and concluded
that Naples would be best in the winter or perhaps fall.  There are a number
of species that can be found on both routes.  Some can be found on one, but
not the other.  The question is, which route will provide the most species
next Sunday.  The numbers were running dead even before this weekend.  I
have a few more data to work with after this weekend, but I have not run the
new numbers yet.  The timing of the west coast route has not been worked out
yet, but I suspect it will work.

So here is what I did yesterday.  I started in Delray Beach after visiting
family on Saturday.  I had planned on working the weekend and having the
entire week off for scouting.  It occurred to me that I had not visited
family in Delray Beach for two years and that this would provide the
opportunity to scout Fort DeSoto on a Sunday.  That would be important for
timing the route for next Sunday.  So, I headed across the state on US 98 /
SR 80.  I wanted to check the viability of the flooded fields along US 27
and Miami Canal for purposes of a Big Day route.  I needed to time the route
from South Bay to I-75 and see what was happening in the fields.  Last week
I had scoped out several fields along both US 27 and Miami Canal.  This week
I checked again.  There were three fields on US27 that looked promising.
They were about nine miles south of South Bay, two on the east side of the
road, one on the west.  There were stilts and killdeer as well as both
yellowlegs.  By next week, hopefully a few more species.  White pelicans
were a welcome addition from last week, but the pair of Fulvous whistling
ducks were not to be found this week.  I have had little success in finding
these this year.  The fields along Miami Canal had a greater abundance of
pelicans, but no more shorebirds or ducks.  I did not comb the impoundments
for shorebirds due to lack of time or, in some cases, bad lighting.  Caspian
terns flew over in a few spots, but no Black terns yet.  SR 80 produced
several caracara, and Swallow-tailed kites.  Red-tailed hawk, a species that
would delay its addition to the list until very late, was present as well.

The next stop was Celery Fields where I hoped to pick up some of Bouton's
birds from last week.  I did not have much success in this area.  No
Limpkin, no coot, no eagles.  I did manage a pair of Black-bellied whistling
ducks, but not much else.  Limpkin was a miss last month and I was hoping to
pick it up this time.  If I don't do US 41 across from Naples, I may not
have much chance other than Royal Palm after dark.

I skipped over Babcock-Webb, having done that last week with Boutons big and
small, and Oscar Scherer State Park.  The state park could prove to be a
good spot to pick up Scrub jay, a species I had figured as a loss with the
west coast route.  I have not been there in 20 years, so I am hesitant to
put it on the route without checking it out first.

Fort DeSoto was next on the agenda.  I checked the Skyway Bridge on the way
for gulls and terns.  There were no gulls other than Laughing, but I did
find several Common terns among the loafing Royal and Sandwich on the south
end.  At the fort, I found an abundance of shorebirds, primarily at North
Beach.  All of the expected plovers except Snowy and Black-bellied were
present.  Western and Least sandpipers were in evidence.  There were many
Marbled godwits and Willets.  Oystercatchers, a miss last month, were here
as always.  Some of these shorebirds were present on Blackpoint last week.
Still others may be at St. Mark's or Huguenot; scouting will tell.  For now,
I know one place I can get them.  I had hoped for Herman, but he was a no
show.  Interestingly, so were all the other gulls.  I know I can get
Ring-billed, Herring and Great black-backed at Huguenot, but I had hoped for
at least some at Fort D.  Not even a Ring-billed.  Maybe I just missed them
while looking for shorebirds, but it occurred to me as I was leaving that
this could be of concern for a west coast route.  I checked the Tierra Verde
Ponds on the way out and found a coot, not much else.  That would be good
since they were not in evidence at St. Mark's the last two Big Days.

So, west coast or east coast?  It's still up in the air.  I'll need to check
our Jacksonville before making a decision.  Viera is less productive than it
was last month.  The whistling ducks are still there as are the Ring-necked
ducks.  Shorebirds, weird gulls and terns are long gone.  Even the caracara
has proven unreliable lately.  Sandhill cranes are here.  These may prove
difficult on the west coast route.  Merritt Island NWR has some shorebird
habitat; there were even some shorebirds using it last Thursday.  Scrub jays
and Painted buntings are here as well.  I haven't run the numbers yet and I
don't have all the pieces of the puzzle yet, but I will figure it out in the
coming week.  I'll be off Tuesday through Friday mid-day and Saturday and
Sunday (the Big Day.)  Hopefully I can steal The Punk during the week and we
can piece together the route.  It is likely that the exact route will be
decided Saturday night, or even during the day Sunday.  For now, I can't
seem to sleep for thinking about it.  I got home last night around 1900 and
immediately went out to kill Cogon grass until dark.  After dark, it
occurred to me that I needed to check out frog sites for next Friday's
Sierra Club frog outing.  I didn't get back until after 2200.  Now I'm up
writing at 0300.  I hope I get some sleep before next Sunday.

David Simpson
[log in to unmask]
Fellmsere, FL

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