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Hi Folks,

How long can I last without a Big Day?  Apparently 3 1/2 months.  
Spurred on by Capt. Ron's recent efforts to retake his previous Big Day 
crowns and a three day span with no commitments, I decided to get back 
on the Big Day horse and ride to another record.  Last year, I managed 
to find 163 species in late March on a Tallahassee to Brevard route.  I 
had virtually no time to scout the route since I had been down and out 
from the accident for the previous month.  I scouted the route on a 
Brevard to Tallahassee Big Day the previous day.  Clearly, March has 
more potential.  This time, I decided to spend some time (1 1/2 days) 
scouting things out before running one Big Day from Tallahassee to 
Brevard.  A Tallahassee to Sarasota route would likely work better, but 
I opted for familiarity.  Knowing the nooks and crannies of an area 
gives one an advantage when it comes to the end and you want to fill 
specific holes.  So, off I went to scout and run another March Big Day.

Scouting began on Tuesday the 29th.  I got off work at 1300 and headed 
home to pack for the trip.  I had checked out Viera the evening before 
and didn't find much that compelled me to include it in the route.  I 
still had it in the plan at this point, but that could change.  The 
main target for this day was Jetty Park.  I hadn't been there for 
awhile and I wanted to see what was still around.  I purchased a new 
annual pass and set out to the beach.  There were considerable numbers 
of people and few gulls to be seen.  There were a few G. black-backed 
gulls around, mostly immatures.  Way offshore, there were about six 
Northern gannets flying north.  There are usually a few around until 01 
Apr, but they are not a sure thing in spring.  The question I wanted to 
resolve was whether Jetty Park or Playalinda Beach (or neither) would 
be my beach spot.  Jetty is more reliable for Great black-backed gull 
(always there) and Lesser black-backed gull (mostly from Oct-Dec.)  
Sandwich and Common terns are most often found here as well as 
frigatebirds.  Cutting Jetty Park out of the picture would save a good 
deal of time and alleviate several traffic issues.  This is a Big 
Weekday which means a whole new set of traffic patterns.  That kind of 
thinking is for night time.  In daylight, I must scout.  I heard a few 
warblers in the parking lot and decided to tour the nature trail before 
birding the rest of the port.  There were two Cape May warblers and a 
Prairie at the start, but nothing on the trail.  The rest of the port 
produced very little:  a few more G. black-backs and a Yellow-crowned 
night-heron.

Next up was the refuge (MINWR.)  My main concern was Playalinda Beach.  
I was basically familiar with the Gator Creek loops, Pumphouse, and 
Blackpoint areas.  Ideally I would scout these areas as well, but I was 
very limited on time.  I headed out to the beach, checking the vistas 
along the way.  I neither heard nor saw Gray kingbird at the usual spot 
(Vista IV).  It is a bit early for this species.  I found a few wigeon 
between IV and V on the right.  These could be significant on the Big 
Day.  I found only one gannet at my usual Pelandgic birding spot (Eddy 
Creek.)  There was the usual variety of shorebirds on the beach with 
the addition of Red knots.  I don't seem to see these on the beach too 
often.  Mostly they are in the impoundments or on the causeway.  I did 
find a G. black-backed gull, the one staple species of Jetty Park.  So, 
wigeon, gannet, and G. Black-backed gull were the key species.  Gannet 
has about the same probability in either spot (maybe slightly higher at 
Jetty), black-backed gull is a definite at Jetty Park, and wigeon 
should be found at Wakulla Springs SP.  I would probably go to Wakulla 
Springs SP for Wood duck if I don't get them at St. Mark's NWR.  These 
are a few of the variables running through my head as I ran through 
possible routes.

As the route evolved, I came across the idea of including Orlando 
Wetlands Park.  If I left out Viera, the favored plan of the moment, I 
could pick up a few species there.  Purple gallinule and Wood duck 
could be found in the north.  Limpkin could be found on Lake Drive en 
route to Providence Rd. or maybe at Providence Rd.  Ring-necked duck 
can be found on the E-W Expressway on the way to Brevard.  After 
further review, it was probably not worthwhile to include OWP in the 
scouting.  Sometimes, without The Punk to bounce ideas off of and with 
limited time to review, I make some pretty dumb decisions.  At any 
rate, I checked the area and didn't find much out of the ordinary.  
I'll have to wait for a time when I am not running a Big Day to visit 
one of my favorite places again.

After checking the wetlands park, I headed on toward Tallahassee.  I 
made it as far as Gainesville before hitting the hay.  I checked with 
Andy Wraithall (where I'd be staying on Big Day Eve) to see if anything 
was new and exciting in Tallahassee and laid down to six hours' sleep 
before heading on to SMNWR the next morning.

David Simpson
[log in to unmask]
 http://homepage.mac.com/simpsondavid/

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