Thursday, March 31, 2016

Last and most certainly Least

I arrived in Florida for Spring Training on February 25 and have been Spring Birding ever since.  The month of March in Florida seems to be different every year.  I've seen many birds this past month in Floirda I have never seen before in the spring.  Migration has been a little hit and miss, with mostly miss.  But I was lucky to be in John Chestnut Park for a small fallout of Yelllow-throated Warblers, got to listen at dusk to a Chuck-will's Widow at Dunedin Hammock Park, and made two trips to Long Key State Park, first on February 25 for the Zenaida Dove and returned on March 21 for the Black-faced Grassquit.

With my spring trip to Florida winding down, there were a couple of birds I wanted to see before heading north.  A Least Tern and perhaps a Red Knot.  Had I not been doing this Big Year, where I am birding mostly where I am sent, not where I'd like to be, I am missing my planned trip to Delaware for the annual Red Knot migration, where tens of thousand of these birds stop on their long trip from the southern tip of South America, flying over 9,000 miles to their breeding grounds in the Arctic.  That will have to wait for another year, but here in Florida a few do set down to rest before continuing their journey north.

There are a few good places to search for both the above birds, including Fred Howard Park, Fort De Soto, Honeymoon Island and the Courtney Campbell Causway, all in the Tampa Bay Area.  Because of early morning reports by another Robert who had been checking out the beach on the Clearwater side of the causeway, I had been going as many mornings, or afternoons as I could looking for a Least Tern for the Year List.  And I kept coming up short. Tuesday morning he reported, not only Least Terns, but also a Red knot.  It had been raining since early afternoon but by about 5 in the late afternoon the rain had slowed to just few drops.  I had a feeling the beach would be clear of sun bathers, and it was perfect weather for shorebirds.

And shorebirds there were.  Hundreds of them, from Willets and Dowitchers to Dunlins, Plovers and Sanderlings coming into breeding plumage.  And as I crept along the beach, two Least Terns were sitting in little sand bunkers ahead of me on the beach.  I only got to see them long enough to take a photograph, before they headed off to wherever Least Terns spend their days.  Also, notable were at least a dozen American Oystercatchers, which made an interesting comparison to the Black Skimmers.  I love when a skimmer looks right on to the camera.  Seen side on, their beaks look big and thick.  But head on they look like a needle sharp enough to give you an injection.

Knowing that a Red Knot had been seen that morning, it was quite the job to scan each and every shore bird looking for the tell-tail reddish belly coming in.  For a nice comparison there were also a few Sanderlings coming into breeding plumage.  Also of note was a while-morph Tricolored Heron, along with a few regular Tricolored Herons.

So, I leave Florida, briefly, for a trip to Montreal, with 175 species for the year, and I leave you with some final photos from the month of March.

Yup, I got photo-bombed by a Bonaparte's Gull

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