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Before you reach for the delete button, I must warn you that there are several birds in this post that have not been mentioned on the listservs.  

After sleeping through three days of scouting for the Zellwood CBC, I picked up my friend Phil Chaon for an epic trip around the state.  Despite missing a well documented Orchard Oriole on the day of the count, we found Nashville Warbler and Lincoln's Sparrow inside the Duda territory.  After lunch I took Phil to see his life Florida Scrub-Jay on Ranch Road.  About an hour after leaving, Wes Biggs called me up asking about the big year and then saying that we drove right past a Say's Phoebe on Ranch Rd.  We turned around for an intense forty-five minute drive where we were met by a large group of birders and I added my 365th bird of the year to tie the record.  Old news, now here is the new stuff:

We slept in the next morning before departing for a Broad-tailed Hummingbird at a private residence in the panhandle.  For over an hour and a half the bird periodically came to the feeders allowing excellent views.  Clay-colored and Field Sparrow were also seen in the area.  On the drive back to Travis and Karen MacClendon's a quick stop by Ponce de Leon Springs State Park gave us Red-breasted Nuthatch, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Dark-eyed Junco, and a flooded bridge that destroyed my tape player.

The Jackson Count was fairly exciting with a large number of White-throated Sparrows, Bay-winged Buntings, Red-winged Blackbirds, and American Pipits.  Some of the rarities found on the count were Brown Creeper and Dark-eyed Junco at several locations and 5 Horned Larks in a field north of Two Egg.  From Two Egg take Wintergreen Road north until it starts to turn west.  At this turn, make a right on to Tower Road.  Once you pass Bullfrog Drive, there will be a large dirt field on the right that had the larks as well as a large group of American Pipits.  

The day after the Jackson County CBC was spent looking at basically nothing in the western panhandle.  The Ft. Walton Spray Fields and dump produced nothing of interest.  The same could be said about our quest for hawks up near the Escambia-Escambia border.  We did not even find any meadowlarks in area there the Western Meadowlarks were seen last winter.  The only bird that came in to save the day were some Muscovy Ducks (listen up county listers) on Lake Stone (Escambia) and the circle in De Funiak Springs (Walton).  The Ruddy Ducks in Walton were not enough to pull us away from fun filled games of Muscovy soccer.

Christmas Day gave us our first, much needed coastal birding of the trip.  The old KOA did not have many birds, but we spotted a large group of ducks in Mud Cove.  A short walk down the beach gave us good looks at two Red-throated Loons, numerous Surf and Black Scoters, as well as a female Oldsquaw.  The State Park had American Oystercatcher, Western Kingbird, and a large flock of White Pelicans.  On the way back we sat in the rain looking for RCW's without any success.  

Luckily without rain on the 26th, we were able to find several Red-cockaded Woodpeckers on Forest Rd. 123 in Liberty County.  Feeling optimistic, we headed for Tallahassee rather than Lake Seminole.  In town I managed to find the house with the Calliope last year off Killarney Way.  When we pulled up a White-breasted Nuthatch sounded off and a probable Calliope Hummingbird perched on the feeder for several minutes.  The green back, overall size and shape, and lack of rufous in the tail lead us to believe that our bird was a Calliope.  At the next stop in Fran's yard, I poured some jelly in the feeder we watched Western and Summer Tanagers as well as Baltimore and Bullock's Orioles come in to feed.  The town of Sneads had the biggest surprise when Phil spotted a large flock of geese consisting of 35 Canada, 7 Greater White-fronted, and 2 Ross's on Legion Road just north of the baseball fields.  Ross's Goose was year tick number 367.  

St. Marks was rather slow on the 27th, but Bottoms Road came through with three lifers (Clapper Rail, Nelson's Sharp-tailed Sparrow, and Seaside Sparrow) for Phil.  After leaving we tried for Pacific Loon at the St. George Island bridge without any luck.  The only ducks present were Bufflehead, Common Goldeneye, and Red-breasted Merganser.  After eating an early dinner we found a female Painted Bunting, which we could not find on the CBC the next day.  

In the quest for the Painted Bunting we turned up Yellow-throated Warbler, Swamp Sparrow, and Black-and-white Warbler.  To help the count out we birded the Airport and located two Sprague's Pipits.  The rest of the day was well wasted.

On our final day in the panhandle we tackled Tall Timbers in hopes for anything unusual.  White-breasted Nuthatches, Chipping Sparrows, and House Finches called their hearts out, but a Purple Finch never felt like calling or flying over.  We packed up our bags and headed south for the last remaining days of the year. 

I added bird number 368 yesterday, but I can't say anything about it for a few days.  On our way home we saw the Long-billed Curlew at Bunche Beach and found a potential first Sarasota County Greater Scaup.  Neither clicking quarters nor blasting Zeppelin worked for Yellow Rail at the Celery Fields.  

On the final day of the year we set out for the Pacific Loon.  We had great success, if great success means searching for six hours with out anything but Common Loon, Red-breasted Merganser, Horned Grebe, and some more Zeppelin.  We did take a two hour break to enjoy some Rock Shrimp, Roseate Spoonbills, and a Eurasian Wigeon between stops 3 and 4 on Black Point.  We figure the loon may have absquatulated the area.  

The official Big Year total is 357 native birds with 368 ABA or 369 FOS depending on which exotics are included.  This was a great year, and I will be out birding hard next year.  

Andy Bankert
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Melbourne Beach, FL 

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