Global Big Day 2018: Two-county day

May 13, 2018

I thought you all might enjoy some photos from Global Big Day 2018. If you don’t know, the goal of any “big day” is to see as many species of birds in a single day as you can. With that in mind, as well as a few rare targets species to find, Camille and I visited several locations on Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge (Brevard County) and then made our way to Joe Overstreet Road and Landing (Osceola County), totaling about 80 species for the day.

We were hoping for Whimbrels and a reported American Golden Plover, but came up empty on both counts. There were still plendy of good birds to see, though! Here are the Brevard area eBird lists:

East Gator Creek:
MINWR Visitor Center:
Pumphouse Road (cut short by rain shower):
Black Point Wildlife Drive:
Incidental list in Titusville:
River Lakes Conservation Area:
Another incidental list:
A final list before ending the day:

After lunch, we made our way into Osceola County and Joe Overstreet Road and Landing. The sod fields seemed mostly empty of shorebirds, but both sides of the road were ringing with Eastern Meadowlark songs. Down at the lake, we had a surprise Pectoral Sandpiper, a good look at a snail kite, and a Yellow-billed Cuckoo that gave us a bit of a chase around the picnic area. On the way out, we stopped to see a Pygmy Rattlesnake that had to be coaxed off the road by another wildlife watcher. Pygmy Rattlesnakes are the smallest species of rattlesnake, as their name suggests. This adult was barely 30cm (1 foot) long!

Osceola Count eBird lists:

Incidental list:
Another incidental (after a wrong turn!):
And another incidental list:
Joe Overstreet Road & Landing:
More incidentals:

That was the extent of our Big Day, which was tiring but rewarding. Even “missing” the hoped for birds at the start of the day, there wasn’t much to complain about, with great weather and good birds for all.

SCBWF 2017 Day 2: Central Florida Specialties

My second (and longest) field trip this year was the Central Florida Specialties trip, led by my friend Dave Goodwin. I’ve done this trip several times, though I skipped it last year. The trip includes stops in many different habitats in Osceola County.

It was one of the coldest mornings of the season as we began, before dawn, to find Red-cockaded Woodpeckers at Three Lakes WMA [map].

Sunrise over the pine flatwoods.

Although we arrived at our target area before sunrise, the woodpeckers were already active, flying low among the trees making their squeak-toy calls to one another. Red-cockaded Woodpeckers are cooperative, family nesters. Previous years’ offspring help parents raise the current brood in a territory, helping with things like feeding and defense.

The white cheek-patch on this species is a “diagnostic” field-mark. No other small woodpecker in North America has this feature. The tiny red “cockade” feathers on the side of the head are nearly impossible to see in the field.
As the sun came up, it got easier to see the birds, and they were fairly unconcerned with our proximity.

As the sun climbed higher and the temperature (slowly) with it, other birds of the pine flatwoods began to stir. We got a few Brown-headed Nuthatches, Eastern Bluebirds, and perhaps an Eastern Towhee call or two.

Our other target species for the day in the flatwoods was the Bachman’s Sparrow. Late January is still a little early for this species to begin singing for mates and territory, but we tried calling them out a few times, with no success. I did hear one very distant song as we were beginning to move out and back to our group’s bus, but that was all.

Our next stop was at Lake Jackson [map]. We did not stay long. The wind was blowing from the north across the lake, creating a natural air conditioner. It was cold enough to start with, and that just made it almost impossible to stand and scope out the lake for birds. After just a few minutes, Dave got us back in the bus for the next stop, out of the wind!

Lake Jackson.

After a brief stop on Prairie Lake Road to call for Bachman’s Sparrows again (to no avail), we headed to a couple of stops on Lake Marian

At the marina [map] there were hundreds of Tree Swallows swarming around, providing a backdrop for some of the more dramatic species, like Limpkins, American White Pelicans, Bald Eagles, and even a pair of Bonaparte’s Gulls.

Limpkins were relatively abundant, not just at this stop, but throughout the festival.


The proportions of the American White Pelican, when swimming or on the ground, can seen quite awkward.
Once airborne, pelicans are surprisingly graceful birds.

At the boat ramp [map] on the lake, we had a pair of Baltimore Orioles feeding among Yellow-rumped Warblers and American Robins. The vegetation that provided both food and concealment for these smaller birds was also the day roost for at least one Black-crowned Night Heron.

A Black-crowned Night Heron hiding out.

After wrapping up at Lake Marian, we headed down Joe Overstreet Road to the Landing, on the shore of Lake Kissimmee [map]. As you head along the road, toward the lake, the habitat changes from upland and ranch agriculture to wetlands and lacustrine (that means “lake related”) landscapes.

Adult Red-headed Woodpeckers really stand out, even from a distance!

There is usually a family of Red-headed Woodpeckers near the start of the road, associated with some dead trees and farm buildings. We did not see them at first, but at least one adult came out to investigate some woodpecker calls we played.

Further along, we had a few raptors, including a Bald Eagle harassing an American Kestrel on some irrigation equipment. The lands on either side of the road are still owned by the Overstreet family and include cattle and sod farms.

Down by the water, the wind wasn’t as bad as earlier at Lake Jackson, but it was still a bit breezy. Some Wilson’s Snipes were slinking along nearby in the grass while Boat-tailed Grackles made a racket at the boat dock.

One of the nearby Wilson’s Snipes, probing the wet ground for insects. Note the large, invasive Apple Snail in the foreground. These are much larger than our native snails, but the Limpkins and Snail Kites seem to enjoy them.

A single distant Snail Kite was seen in one of the spotting scopes, and one Bald Eagle, too. There were a few wading and diving birds out on the water, but nothing in very large numbers except for a flock of Cattle Egrets that made its way through.

An Anhinga drying its wings among the lily pads.

From Joe Overstreet we briefly stopped by the Double C Bar ranch [map], where the last known non-migratory Florida Whooping Crane sometimes hangs out. It was not seen, and Dave Goodwin talked a bit about how the non-migratory flock was a failed experiment, with most of the birds succumbing to bobcats and other predators. The focus now is on the migratory flock that winters in the panhandle and flies to Wisconsin in the spring.

Our last stop of the day, at Lakefront Park on East Lake Tohopekaliga [map]. This place is known to have Snail Kites that pass close to the park and restaurant, and we hoped to get some good views. Unfortunately the weather got windier and colder, and a few of us got only one extremely distant view of a Snail Kite in one scope.


Boat-tailed Grackles defying the wind.
Not a Snail Kite.

That was about it for the trip. We headed back to Festival HQ after a long but fun day around central Florida. We didn’t get all our “hoped for” birds, but honestly, that’s only a small disappointment for me. We have to remember the birds are not there for us; we have the privilege to go and seek them out, but it has to be on their terms as much as possible. Conservation and education should take precedence over consumption and exploitation.

Joe Overstreet Road and Landing

This weekend’s adventure was to Joe Overstreet Road and Landing. I haven’t been to the area since three winters ago during the Central Florida Specialties field trip. Some Whooping Cranes are somewhat regularly seen from the road on the Double C Bar Ranch on Canoe Creek Road, just before Joe Overstreet Road. I did not see any Whoopers on this trip, though.

From Canoe Creek Road and for most of Joe Overstreet Road the landscape is dominated by upland fields and scattered trees. As one gets closer to Joe Overstreet Landing at Lake Kissimmee of course the landscape changes to marshes and open water, with some wet meadows (much of the land along the road is a cattle ranch). The transition from upland to wetland/lake was best illustrated by the change of crows, with American Crows along most of the road and Fish Crows closer to the lake. Not only were the voices a clear indication of species change, but the American Crows I saw seemed perceptually larger and more robust than the Fish Crows. Usually I have a much harder time telling the difference by sight, as the two species have a significant overlap in their sizes. For whatever reason the American Crows in this part of the state are quite large.

There were small bands of Savannah Sparrows along the barbed-wire fences. For the most part they seemed content to watch me, only fleeing if I stepped a little too close, but never really flying too far.

The Savannah Sparrow equivalent of sitting on the front porch. Someone fetch this bird some lemonade!

Even the birds of prey were relatively approachable. A juvenile Red-shouldered Hawk sat just outside my car’s window, paying me little mind. It didn’t fly off the post it was on until I got out of the car, and even then it just swooped up to the top of the nearest utility pole.


The nearby power lines and widely spaced trees make good perches for the raptors to hunt from. I saw both “regular” and “Florida form” Red-shouldered Hawks, including some that flew into a copse of pine trees and harassed a Great Horned Owl (from the sounds of it). The American Kestrels hung around nearby too, making the sparrows a little nervous, but the heavy hitters in the intimidation department were the Bald Eagles. Any time their shadows fell nearby, the sparrows and meadowlarks would dive for cover.

Down at the boat ramp by the lake there were American Coots, Common Gallinules, a Pied-billed Grebe and some Cattle Egrets. I scanned the lake and its more distant far shore for Snail Kites, but I did not see any. There were some gulls, terns, and a couple of Bald Eagles. I saw one Osprey and very few herons (I think I saw one Great Egret and a small group of Little Blue Herons). I could hear at least one Limpkin calling, but aside from some Boat-tailed Grackles and Red-winged Blackbirds, it was fairly quiet at the lake.

Crows are opportunistic scavengers and omnivorous, and are not above raiding the nests of songbirds (for eggs or young), and will eat lizards and small mammals if given the chance. They also will eat carrion. During nesting and fledging season, this does not endear them to smaller birds, and they will sometimes be chased or mobbed like hawks, eagles, or owls.

This is what an American Crow looks like after being repeatedly dive-bombed and defecated on by 2 very angry Northern Mockingbirds. The small white specks are remnants of the altercation.

It was a final treat of the morning to see several Northern Bobwhites. I’ve heard them in various places in my adventures, but I haven’t had a solid visual identification. I saw one step out of some dead palm fronds for a moment, before a Red-shouldered Hawk caused it to take cover. I also managed to flush some females out, where they had been hiding in plain sight. They blended into the brown grasses and small shrubs so well that I didn’t know they were there until they quickly spang up in a burry flight to another concealed spot.

A Northern Bobwhite quail moments before dashing back under cover.

Besides birds attacking the American Crows, the Eastern Meadowlarks were courting and having territorial disputes. A pair of Loggerhead Shrikes were chasing each other around, too. I almost got one of my hope-for photographs, but the moment was so brief, I didn’t even have time to lift my camera. There was a Northern Mockingbird on a dead limb of a small tree, and the shrikes flew up in to the same tree. For an instant both a Northern Mockingbird and a Loggerhead Shrike were in the same tree, in the same field of view! I would really like to get such a photograph, showing the similarities and differences between these two birds.

Moments after a Northern Mockingbird was chased off the limb on the right side of this dead tree-top. The bird at the bottom seems to be eating something as its companion watches.

Before turning onto Canoe Creek Road again, I stopped to watch a few Eastern Bluebirds fly and catch insects. I actually thought they were flycatchers at first, but the orange breast threw me off. When I finally got a good binocular view in full sunlight I saw they were actually bluebirds. Nearby, a Tufted Titmouse was calling and hopping through some branches while Northern Cardinals sang nearby.

I drove up to the Double C Bar Ranch for one final search for Whooping Cranes but coming up empty, I headed for home. I took a quick detour to the Wild Florida wildlife park and passed some Sandhill Cranes on the road leading to the parking lot. I didn’t really have time to look around, so I just circled the lot and headed back to the main road.

Here’s the trip’s species list in approximate order of positive identification:

  • White Ibis
  • Cattle Egret
  • Savannah Sparrow
  • Mourning Dove
  • Eastern Meadowlark
  • American Crow
  • Red-shouldered Hawk
  • American Kestrel
  • Blue Jay
  • Black Vulture
  • Bald Eagle
  • Northern Mockingbird
  • Boat-tailed Grackle
  • European Starling
  • Osprey
  • Fish Crow
  • American Coot
  • Cattle Egret
  • Glossy Ibis
  • Limpkin (♫)
  • Palm Warbler
  • Red-winged Blackbird
  • Common Gallinule
  • Ring-billed Gull
  • Pied-billed Grebe
  • Turkey Vulture
  • Killdeer
  • Eurasian Collared Dove
  • Loggerhead Shrike
  • Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (♫)
  • Red-bellied Woodpecker
  • Great Horned Owl (♫)
  • Northern Bobwhite
  • Eastern Bluebird
  • Tufted Titmouse
  • Northern Cardinal
  • Sandhill Crane

I’m hoping to check eBird and the e-mail lists to see if the Whooping Cranes are still being seen there, and to get some better tips for getting a good look. I’ll likely head back to Joe Overstreet Road soon, before the weather gets too hot.