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Hi all,
I'm doing a copy/paste of Ron Smith's Birdbrains version of our big day jaunt yesterday rather than rewrite it. Enjoy!


Good afternoon, I'm not sure who is to be given credit for the infamous line, "Records are made to be broken," but it is the string of thought for every Big Day team.  No matter what the odds. Sir David Simpson and the young prince, Andy Bankert, have teamed together the past couple of years to shatter most all the Florida monthly marks.  And while doing some of them, have driven as many as 700 miles!  The key for them, I think, is that they're good!  Another key are the days prior to the event.  Scouting beforehand is as much a part of the Big Day as the day itself.  Taking that Simpson/Bankert lead serious, I spent the past week scouting Fort DeSoto CP and the Celery Fields, two areas that would be part of my Big Day route.  The January species record of 159 would be tough to beat and I needed some sort of confidence-builder to make me feel like I actually had a chance. Digging deep into my Steinbrenner-like pockets I made serious efforts to sign two top-notch birders; the legendary Dave "soon to be a grand-pa" Goodwin and Brian "Groove-billed" Ahern, a young whippersnapper, to accompany me.  My own son, maintaining his amateur status, had to miss the event because of a prior Keith Urban commitment.  Also missing out was Todd Long, an up and coming Pinellas birder who is sometimes bogged down by three little ones.  I remember those days well, Todd.  Family first. So, anyway, a serious offer was made to Goodwin & Ahern; "I'll drive."  It was that easy.  They met me at 3 AM in Hillsborough County and we drove east to a secret swamp tucked away in a secret locale very few have ever ventured.  We hoped for a birght sunshiney day, but instead got clouds and wind throughout.  From our first bird until our last we were to drive 285 miles. Before arrivng at our hidden swamp, however, we had already scored with two, likely, pre-dawn species; Eastern Screech-Owl & Whip-poor-will.  The latter, dive bombing us in response to a taped call.  The marsh where we started was filled with pre-dawn and dawn choruses.  Unfortunately, most of them were frogs, and hearing birds was a serious challenge.  But we lucked into an American Bittern, saw an unepected Fulvous Whistling-Duck and scored with plenty of the expected marsh birds - even a Purple Gallinule!.  But we noticed as we started to leave that the wind was beginning to pick up and we were worried it might hamper our morning passerine birding. A bit of a drive found us on Lust Road just before 8:30.  We had already mounted a list of 66 species and were feeling very confident.  We stepped out of the Jeep and realized the wind was much stronger than we had expected.  No Groove-billed Ani, or White-crowned Sparrow, or Ash-throated Flycatcher, or Brown-crested Flycatcher.  Several other birders were present and were apparently sharing the same frustration we were.  But Ahern, having a feel for the area after Thursday's success did find the team a Western Kingbird and a couple of Painted Buntings.  Yours truly nearly stepped on a Grasshopper Sparrow.  We were soon off and within 20 minutes were at a county park in hopes of adding titmouse and chickadee, two tough-to-find species on the route we had planned.  With trees swaying in the breeze we were only able to add Black-and-white Warbler and Pileated Woodpecker.  Way too much time spent for so little.  Not a good thing on a Big Day. From there we checked a few areas north of Lake Apopka and recorded Florida Scrub Jay, Brown Thrasher, White-eyed Vireo and a surprising White-throated Sparrow.  We couldn't find an Eastern Bluebird to save our lives and missed a staked-out, Benedetto Scissor-tailed Flycatcher.  As we made our way along the hour and a half route back west we felt we missed a couple we needed (Purple Martin, the 4 at Lust Road, Carolina Chickadee, Yellow-throated and Prairie warblers, and Indigo Bunting).  But at the same time, looking over our list we agreed that if we got what we were yet expecting, and just a bit of luck, we could still reach 160+.  We continued on. We arrived at the Backes Hummingbird Sanctuary in Brandon just past 1 PM.  We were at 102, having just recorded our only Wood Duck of the day at a tiny park nearby.  Within 15 minutes at the Sanctuary we scored with Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Black-chinned Hummingbird, Rufous Hummingbird, Blue-headed Vireo, Tufted Titmouse!!!, and Chipping Sparrow.  Wow!  Thanks Steve. Heading back to the interstate we lucked into an Eastern Bluebird, but we couldn't find a White-winged Dove.  Come on, I've got them in my yard in St. Pete.  We even checked a spot down off Big Bend Road where there were dozens this past fall.  Not today.  Not one. We rolled into Fort DeSoto CP, a familiar area, just past three with 121 species.  There was much to find.  In short order we had Canvasback, Gadwall, Redhead, Horned Grebe, Piping Plover, Long-billed Curlew (2), Wilson's Plover, Short-billed Dowicther, Western Sandpiper, Great Black-backed Gull, Sandwich, Caspian, and Royal terns, and even a first-year Lesser Black-backed Gull thanks to Ahern.  This guy is good, folks! On our way out we found one of the two Broad-winged Hawks wintering at the park and soon added Spotted Sandpiper and Whimbrel.  With the winds blowing from the east we missed Northern Gannet.  Missed, too, wasthe Peregrine Falcon that's been hanging out on the tower by the Gulf Pier and also the Purple Sandpiper, seen on each of the two past afternoons.  Was the tide too high?  Too many people around?  We didn't know, but we were disappointed in its lack of cooperation.  And where were all those Northern Rough-winged Swallows from yesterday? Also not on our list by 5 PM were American White Pelican and Roseate Spoonbill.  Where were those guys?  No matter, we thought, as sometimes both can be found at the Celery Fields, our final destination. We arrived in Sarasota County just before six and found five species as darkness set in; Great Horned Owl, Long-billed Dowitcher, Short-eared Owl, Limpkin, and Barn Owl.  That was it, we hadn't a Barred Owl or Clapper Rail, but we had sure-fire spots for them if we needed them. After recording 17 species of ducks and 22 species of shorebirds (missing Snowy Plover, Purple Sandpiper, and American Woodcock) where did we stand?  Was missing Prairie Warbler, Yellow-throated Warbler, Peregrine Falcon, Merlin, Cooper's Hawk, Northern Gannet, Roseate Spoonbill and American White Pelican too much to overcome?  That's 11 right there.  Were we close enough to the record to chase the owl and rail? Nope.  We finished with 152, still seven short.  The 11 misses and two-to-chase were just too many to overcome.  Sir David and Prince Andrew remain atop the January leaderboard.  Smith, Goodwin, and Ahern remain contenders, not yet champions.  So when the moon is again in the 7th house, and Jupiter aligns with Mars, and should the winds ever die down, and our schedules allow, the west coast team may form again in the future for another run at a coveted Florida Big Day record.  Until then, bird on! Ron SmithSt. Pete, [log in to unmask]
and
David GoodwinBrandon, [log in to unmask]"Quick Hoatzin, the game's afoot!"

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