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Hi Folks,

I suppose some of you are wondering what happened on the latest record Big
Day attempt.  This time I had Andy "The Punk" Bankert at my side and this is
what we did.

Saturday we headed to Tallahassee for some last minute scouting and year
birding for Andy.  The main objective was to familiarize my juvenile partner
in crime with the songs of the local breeders for quick identification
during the Big Day.  We were able to find four year birds for Andy before
settling for the night in a motel on the south side of town.  That night we
watched the weather channel with some anxiety.  What would happen if we got
caught in the feeder bands of the passing hurricane?  It didn't look very
promising.  We went over some contingency plans in the event that we
encountered foul weather on the lower west coast.  Eventually, we concluded
that we were married to the west coast, for better or worse.  The east coast
just didn't have the birds this month.  I concluded that if I am going to be
driving up to 1000 miles tomorrow, I had better get some rest.  So, around
2200 we finally hit the sack.  I had too much Dr. Pepper at supper and I was
just a little wound up, but at least Andy got some sleep.  He would need it
since he would probably only get about five hours of sleep in the truck
tomorrow.

0200 came too early and we were up and at 'em.  Well, I was up at least.  We
(I) ate some breakfast, packed up the truck, and made one last check of the
weather channel.  At 0245 we set out to write the next chapter in the year
of Big Days.  Owling had always been the Achilles' Heel of our Big Day
attempts.  Great horned owl is a particular problem.  We decided to visit
that place of Big Day birding karma known as Forest Road 322 in Apalachicola
National Forest.  Those of you who waded through last month's adventure will
remember that I found a number of key birds in the bluebird spot.  Would the
good karma work in the dark.  We would find out.  In this, our first stop,
we were greeted by the sounds of frogs in the nearby pond.  Many Pig frogs
called, punctuated by the groans of Bullfrogs.  Bronze frogs plucked their
banjo strings around the edge.  A strange call, not frog, not sure what,
emanated from across the pond.  After hearing it a few more times, I
realized that it was the feeding call of a young Great horned owl.  Could
this be a good omen?  It's nice not to have to worry about that one.  Our
next bird was a Barred owl somewhere on Tiger Hammock Road.  Common
nighthawk was added somewhere.  We had our key owls and plenty of time to
try for Black rails at Wakulla Beach.  We hoped for some early rising
Clapper rails or even Seaside sparrow.  The only bird added was a
Yellow-crowned night-heron somewhere out over the water.  We headed on to
the refuge, stopping for gas at St. Mark's along the way.  Screech owl
awaited us at the gate.  Hopefully Chucks will still be singing as they were
three days ago.  Add to that, Black-crowned night-heron, and all we will
have to worry about is Barn owl for the evening.

We rolled up to the gate at 0529 with four species and 68.8 miles.  Frogs
were leading birds 6-4 at this point, but we were confident in our ability
to find more birds before the day was out.   Soon we would add an angry
screech owl to the procession of ticks.  A sleepy cardinal, usually the
first of the songbirds to awaken, sang from the woods.  Where were the
Chucks?  At about 0546, the first of many Chuck-will's-widows began to sing.
I woke Andy up to add another shared tick to the list.  By the time the gate
creaked open at 0604, the frogs and birds were in a dead heat at 7-7.  Once
inside, we headed on down to our dawn spot.  We had considered a dawn spot
at the south end of East River Pool.  This would allow us the potential for
King and Clapper rails, Seaside sparrow, Least bittern, Purple gallinule,
Marsh wren, and maybe even a late singing (or calling) Yellow-throated
warbler.  If we missed any of the salt marsh birds, we would have to make
the long trek to near the lighthouse to pick them up later.  We needed to
hit Headquarters Pond anyway, and we didn't want to do any backtracking
during the valuable daylight.  We headed out to the salt marshes north of
the lighthouse.  A brief pause at Headquarters Pond yielded three
Black-crowned night herons flying over.  Those would have been tough to pick
up in the keys later.  We had not scouted any shorebirds at the lighthouse
so we decided to cut that out of the route.  I saw in Tom's later post that
a few birds managed to trickle in that day.  Spotted sandpiper would have
been nice.  We got the Marsh wren and Clapper rail in the marsh, but no
Seaside sparrow yet.  Another stop at Headquarters Pond showed that the
Purple gallinules were still sleeping.  King rail was picked up somewhere
along the way.  Our alternate dawn spot revealed an unshared Least bittern
but no Seaside sparrow.  We backtracked a little bit to another spot for
sparrow and finally added it for our 28th species of the day (leaving the
frogs in the dust.)  We stopped at the twin dikes hoping for weird cowbirds
and hoping still for Purple gallinule.  No and No.  Stoney Bayou produced
Eastern wood-pewee, Acadian flycatcher and the elusive Prothonotary warbler.
We stopped at the twin bridges even though we had scooped our primary target
species, Prothonotary warbler.  It paid off with secondary Wood duck.  I had
also found hummingbird here, but not today.  We stopped at the VIC for
Yellow-throated vireo and a last desperate attempt at gallinule.  The
gallinule would come through, but we would leave without the vireo, our only
miss so far.  0653, three minutes behind schedule, 82.5 miles, and 42
species.

Tiger Hammock Road was next on the agenda.  We arrived at 0658, two minutes
ahead of schedule, with 92.8 miles (? I can't read my secretary's writing)
and 46 species.  We picked up Mississippi kite in the same tree that I had
found it on the June Big Day.  No need to check at the bottom of Tiger
Hammock for them now.  We headed on to some likely spots for our target
birds.  Hooded and Swainson's warbler as well as Indigo bunting, Blue
grosbeak, Summer tanager, Common ground dove, and a host of other species
were ticked.  Further up the road, I had hoped for the Broad-winged hawk
that I had found (and John had told me about) last Thursday.  We arrived at
the spot on the paved road just north of the corner of chain link fence and
found not one but two Broad-wings ch-peeeeeeeing at each other in the woods.
Finally I get these on a Big Day.  The last two Big Days I got them multiple
times and locations while scouting but not when it counts.  We blew out of
Tiger Hammock with 62 species and 94.9 miles at 0711, four minutes ahead of
schedule.  Our only miss was Kentucky warbler.

Springhill WTP was the next order of business.  We (I) made the decision to
skip Apalachicola National Forest and hit Babcock-Webb for our pine woods
species in order to get to Fort DeSoto earlier.  My notes have us arriving
at Springhill 13 minutes ahead of time.  That would make it 0712, just one
minute after leaving Tiger Hammock Road.  I'm going to have to fire that
secretary.  At any rate, we added the expected Canada goose but could not
find a rough-winged swallow.  There had been six the week before.  There
weren't even very many Barn swallows around.  We left at 0717 with 69
species and 111.5 miles.  Would species catch up to miles?  Not likely in
July.

0729 and we were at the Wood thrush neighborhood.  No thrush to greet us.
We went to the end of the street and headed into the woods.  As we turned
off, I spotted a robin on the ground.  That's one less bird to look for
later.  We stopped in the woods and listened to the patch of woods from
whence the flute-like songs of our targeted songster had emanated in the
rain a few short days ago.  No songs today.  Our other target, catbird, flew
across in front of us.  Then another flew by for good measure.  Andy first,
and then I heard our flutey little buddy further back in the woods.
Apparently he is wandering as the breeding season reaches its latter stages.
No more to gain here, so we head off to our next destination.  76 species
and 119.4 miles.

Meyers Park was next since we already had robin.  Here we had targeted
Red-headed woodpecker and White-breasted nuthatch.  We would not be
disappointed.  I heard the strange dry rattle of the woodpecker first.  As
if to make sure, the bird flew in front of us and landed on a light pole.
Cool birds, I wish we had more of them around here.  The nuthatch yanked to
us from the trees overhead.  We left at 0810, right on schedule, with 79
species and 123.4 miles.

A key to the Big Day was the link between Tallahassee and Fort DeSoto.  I-10
to I-75?  US27 to I-75?  US98 to Sun Coast Parkway?  What would it be?  I'll
tell you in the next installment.

David Simpson
[log in to unmask]
Fellsmere, FL

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