SCBWF 2015 : January 25 : Marl Bed Flats and Lake Jesup : MINWR II

Now that my winter break is over, and I am back in sunny Florida, it’s time to pick up where we left off with the Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival.

On Sunday, the 25th, I had my only repeat field trip from last year (besides the pelagic trip). The trip leader this year was Corey Finger (co-owner of the 10,000 Birds blog). I stayed in touch with Corey mostly through Facebook after last year’s field trip, and I had hoped to be able to spend at least a lunch or something with him this year, but as hectic as these festivals are, we weren’t able to make that happen. Corey is, of course, a fine birder and excellent photographer.

Another difference between last year and this year is the amount of rain we had here in east central Florida. This made the Marl Bed Flats very muddy and meant we were situated much further away from the wetlands and thus less able to pick out interesting shorebirds or other action going on closer to the lake. Also, the increased water didn’t allow the thicker ground cover to grow that sparrows prefer, so we had very few sparrows this year compared to last.

Marl Bed Flats are flat.
Marl Bed Flats are flat.

We had some decent spotting scope views of some birds, but most stayed fairly well out of my camera’s effective range. This Red-tailed Hawk was close enough to get a photo, though.

red-tailed
You can tell this is a young bird by the limited banding down the breast and belly.

By far the most numerous bird species that morning were the American Robins. Robins migrate into Florida from adjacent southern states, and set up in woods and scrub in enormous flocks. In winter, these robins are much more gregarious (hanging out together) and out of sight than in spring and summer, when they are a main-stay of many suburban yards. There was a constant stream of them flying overhead all morning. Our best estimate was over 2,000 birds.

We saw a handful of Savannah Sparrrows, but most of the small birds were Palm Warblers. Since most were of the “Western” or gray variety, it was often the tell-tale bobbing tail that gave away the identification of the bird.

The Palm Warblers were happy to skitter around in the thick grasses.
The Palm Warblers were happy to skitter around in the thick grasses. You can see how non-descript the “Western” form is.

We walked along some more wooded areas on our way out of the Flats and encountered some more upland birds, including Blue-headed Vireos, Yellow-rumped Warblers, and a Ruby-crowned Kinglet.

From the Flats, we drove around the lake to Lake Jesup Park to see what birds were hanging around. Last year we flushed a pair of Great Horned Owls from the nearby Live Oaks, and we heard reports that they were present, but we never saw one; however, a woman on the trip and myself both heard a distant day-calling Great Horned Owl, but we were unable to locate it.

lake-jesup
Boat access to Lake Jesup. Just off the end of this little inlet were several Bonaparte’s Gulls, elegantly swimming on the surface.

Beyond the boat access inlet were Bonaparte’s Gulls and some herons. Bonaparte’s Gulls are small, hooded gulls in summer. In winter they have a distinctive “ear” patch. That patch, along with their size and proportions, are diagnostic identifiers. They swim more buoyantly than most gulls and are as graceful in the air as any tern.

After some searching about, we did get some Black-and-white Warblers and other warbler species. Corey and a few others saw a Prairie Warbler, but I was unable to verify the ID for myself.

Species list (eBird order – Thanks, Corey!):

  • Wood Duck
  • Blue-winged Teal
  • Pied-billed Grebe
  • Wood Stork
  • Double-crested Cormorant
  • Anhinga
  • Great Blue Heron
  • Great Egret
  • Snowy Egret
  • Little Blue Heron
  • Tri-colored Heron
  • White Ibis
  • Glossy Ibis
  • Black Vulture
  • Turkey Vulture
  • Bald Eagle
  • Red-shouldered Hawk
  • Common Gallinule
  • American Coot
  • Sandhill Crane
  • Killdeer
  • Greater Yellowlegs
  • Bonaparte’s Gull
  • Ring-billed Gull
  • Forster’s Tern
  • Common Ground Dove
  • Mourning Dove
  • Red-bellied Woodpecker
  • Pileated Woodpecker
  • American Kestrel
  • Eastern Phoebe
  • Loggerhead Shrike
  • Blue Headed Vireo
  • American Crow
  • Tree Swallow
  • Tufted Titmouse
  • Carolina Wren (♫)
  • Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
  • Ruby-crowned Kinglet
  • American Robin
  • Gray Catbird
  • Black-and-white Warbler
  • Common Yellowthroat
  • Palm Warbler
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler
  • Savannah Sparrow
  • Northern Cardinal
  • Red-winged Blackbird
  • Eastern Meadowlark (♫)
  • Boat-tailed Grackle

On the way back to Titusville, I decided to try once again for the Long-tailed Duck near Parrish Park. The wind had died down considerably from previous days, and the sky was clear. I first searched along the north side of the bridge, and saw two birds swimming that looked very grebe-like.

horned-grebes
Super-cute Horned Grebe couple.

My first Horned Grebes were swimming and diving together. Based on the size difference, I assume this is a mated pair. Horned Grebes look much different in summer than in winter, but are quite handsome birds either way.

An older gentleman approached me and asked if I was looking for the Long-tailed Duck. Of course, I was, and he told me a couple had pointed out to him that it was on the south side of the bridge, close in with a small group of scaups. And there it was, a 1st-year winter male Long-tailed Duck. This is a rare bird for Florida (though not exceedingly so), and after two days of looking, it was nice to finally see him. [Edit 2015 Feb 17: Some observers have identified this as a winter female, but based on the information I have, I’m sticking with the first year winter male ID unless someone has something else that’s more definitive.]

long-tailed-duck-7
I’m glad I ducked under the bridge to find this bird. Otherwise I might have gone quackers wondering where it was.

After watching both the grebes and the Long-tailed Duck for a while, I decided to do Blackpoint Wildlife Drive again now that the weather was calm. I was hoping more duck species would be out in numbers, and perhaps a few more shorebirds.

High-stepping Greater-yellowlegs.
High-stepping Greater-yellowlegs.

There were some wading birds a little more accessible than previous days, and there were more Northern Pintails in the open water, too. I heard that some Redheads and Ruddy Ducks were seen by some people, but I couldn’t find them. There were still some distant large mixed rafts of American Coots with Ring-necked Ducks, Blue-winged Teals and other ducks that could have been hiding these birds. The pintails and shovelers were more active and about, with several in flight at any give time.

pintail-flight-MINWR
Northern Pintail cleared for landing.

As the sun began getting low, I stopped at the MINWR Visitors’ Center and did finally see a single female Painted Bunting at their feeder, and then it was time to go home and get some rest for the final adventure of the Festival: the pelagic boat trip.

painted
Female Painted Bunting at the Visitors’ Center.

Birds seen at MINWR:

  • Great Egret
  • Snowy Egret
  • Tri-colred Heron
  • Little Blue Heron
  • Great Blue Heron
  • Reddish Egret
  • Belted Kingfisher
  • Greater Yellowlegs
  • Lesser Yellowlegs
  • Killdeer
  • Dunlin
  • American Coot
  • Double-crested Cormorant
  • Anhinga
  • Caspian Tern
  • Royal Tern
  • White Ibis
  • Glossy Ibis
  • Turkey Vulture
  • Black Vulture
  • Roseate Spoonbill
  • American White Pelican
  • Northern Pintail
  • Blue-winged Teal
  • Northern Shoveler
  • American Wigeon
  • Pied-billed Grebe
  • Wood Stork
  • American Avocet
  • Palm Warbler
  • Common Yellowthroat
  • House Wren
  • Painted Bunting
  • Red-winged Blackbird
  • Boat-tailed Grackle
  • Mourning Dove
Snowy-MINWR
Snowy Egret at sunset.

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