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Pinellas County, Florida Trip Report - 5-19th April 2018 (1 Viewer)


Well-known member
Preamble about the report

Previously, in March 2017, I visited the Clearwater area and with my Father once again being a snowbird (avoiding the cold winters of Pittsburgh for Florida), I used the opportunity to spend a couple of weeks during migration season for bird watching. Whilst the migration was a slow start for the year (as mentioned by a few people), there was some storm fronts that allowed for some migrant fall outs.

I am an opportunistic bird watcher, and if I like a place I will often go back to it. It may simply be for common birds (for Florida), even just to see if a bird is in the same area of a park. I did not have a specific target list, although I wanted to improve on some photographs of certain species from last year. In the end though, I always say, “I do not try to take good pictures and feel bad, I take bad pictures but feel good”

My Father is not a birder, although does like being outside. He spent most of the days with me, and ending up being a champion spotter. As such, we did wander more and would walk to sites in parks, rather than drive (mainly Fort De Soto). So we did miss some things, although as I mentioned to him “Although we missed X, we would not have seen Y”.

Okay, so on with the report (Rambling warning as I often mention what I was thinking about at the time). Sunrise varied approximately from 0715 at the start of the trip to 0705 at the end. I will also not mention every species (especially common seen multiple times) but more notable mentions. I have used the naming of the sites according to eBird. I used this with filters for looking quickly at what were good sites for the time of year. Also, by putting the list of what was seen on ebird, it allowed me to find out how many species I observed over the last two weeks. In total, it was 125 species seen (although did see a couple more but did not add them for various reasons mentioned in the report) and 39 new species (for me) photographed.

If you prefer not to read the ramblings (a post a day), click on the ebird link for each day to see the species observed at each place. Day 0 was Wednesday the 4th April and was a travel day.
Day 1 – Brooker Creek Preserve & Surrounding Areas

Duration – 8 hours (0730), Distance – 6 miles (walking) (2 miles (estimate) driving between sites)

Brooker Creek Preserve is split over different areas. The areas visited were the park trails next to the educational center, the Keystone Rd Bike Trail and Old Keystone Rd East Lake Sports Complex. I chose this as the first trip, with a BF member mentioning about the possibility of the Scissor-Tailed Flycatcher, and we had done Brooker last year so it was known to us.

We started with the park trails and the first bird of the day was Wild Turkey on the drive up to the parking area, followed by Mallard/Mottled Duck. Being one of the first cars in the parking lot, as often was the case at most parks, White-Tailed Deer greeted us as they went around the edges. Starting on the boardwalk, seeing Red-Bellied Woodpecker quickly refreshed my memory of the call that is constantly heard. A groundskeeper was using a leaf blower on the boardwalk, spooking a Red-Shouldered Hawk from the ground to a perch, staying there for some good looks at close quarters.

It is at the end of the boardwalk that the small warblers start to come into play, often high up in the trees. You really need to strain your neck in Florida to look at the canopy. Northern Parula, Blue-Headed Vireo, Tufted Titmouse and Black-and-White Warbler were observed before this little section was rounded off by the distinctive tap from a Pileated Woodpecker (probably one of the easier woodpeckers to locate by sound).

Travelling on the Wilderness Trail, the first flyover was an Anhinga, with plenty Black Vultures, White Ibis and a couple of Short Tailed Hawks. For the smaller birds, Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher, Downy Woodpecker and Mourning Dove. The trail does get quiet, and some areas can seem empty, although that could equally be my lack of knowledge of habitats and bird calls. Carolina Chickadee was found on the Pine Needle Path and a perching Black Vulture on a ridiculously thin branch on the Blackwater Cutoff.

We headed to the Bird Path to check if the Bald Eagle was nesting in the same pylon as last year. The nest was empty (which we later found out that most had fledged from nests). There were 6 Black Vultures perched on another pylon though, and another that perched on a branch above our head (so close, I had to angle the camera to get the whole bird in). The walk back to the car gave me some time with Blue-Headed Vireos, A Yellow-Rumped Warbler and a perching Anhinga.

We headed to the Bike Trail. This is just outside the Preserve entrance (turning right) and then driving about ¼ mile, parking on grass next to a gate (on the left hand side) with the Department of Agriculture on the opposite side of the road. A Scissor-Tailed Flycatcher had been found in this area in December, and had been observed all the way up to March. We took a short walk east on the bike trail along the road, looking through heat haze on wires and in fields but no luck. The luck did come with the Eastern Kingbird, when we returned to the car, at the top of the tree. Good views in the scope, terrible photograph through the heat haze, but a real pleasure to see. We had a quick look at the ponds on the West of the bike trail, and there was a Great Egret, but very little else.

We moved on to Old Keystone Road, parking up at a treatment pond, then taking a walk around the corner to the East Sports Complex. The Red-Shouldered Hawks were on the telegraph poles like last year, as was a Northern Mockingbird on the same wire, I had snapped it on before. Another first for me was a Roseate Spoonbill flyover, produced more of a tail end shot. A county grounds worker stopped and told us that if we go on a bit further, there were normally Sandhill Cranes with Colts. The intelligence proved sound, as two Sandhill Cranes with 2 Colts were almost exactly where he said they would be. In this area we also observed; Palm Warbler, Blue Jay, and Savannah Sparrows. Vesper’s had been mentioned to be in with Savannah in this area, although all seemed to be Savannah when reviewing the photographs later.

At 1530 we called it a day with 36 species seen, and 3 new species photographed. There was a lot of low activity areas on the main walking trails of BCP, and I am sure regulars to the BCP would miss out certain sections of the trails for that. Old Keystone Rd area might be even better if visited earlier, when it is cooler (as opposed to in the afternoon in the full heat of the day).
Day 2 – Honeymoon Island SP

Duration – 5 hours (0800), Distance – 3.2 miles (walking)

Most parks are open for sunrise, Honeymoon Island opens slightly later. In addition, it costs 8 USD to drive into the park. With a very high abundance of Osprey nests, it was unsurprising that it was the first bird seen in the day. Last year, Great Horned Owls had recently hatched, and with it being a month later, and reading a recent news article, I had heard that the Owlets were branchers. I knew roughly the location from last year, of course providing that they used the same nests.

As mentioned, Ospreys were everywhere, allowing for photographs of them eating fish, needing to take a step back in order to get the full bird in shot, and forcing yourself to still look up as a shadow flew over on the off chance that it was not ‘just another Osprey’. Following the Osprey Trail on the right, allows for the sun being against you for a few osprey nests, but benefits in allowing to observe anything in the middle trees.

Downy and Red-Bellied Woodpeckers, European Starlings, Mourning Doves and Tufted Titmouse and Fish Crow were the main birds seen in the middle trees, until we got to the area of the Great Horned Owls. The Owlets were on the branches whilst one of the parents was spotted sleeping a few trees along the trail. One of the Owlets (Owlet A) munched on a suspected Osprey chicks leg (going by the talons protruding from the mouth), whilst the sibling (Owlet B) watched on from another branch. Owlet A eventually popped down to the same branch as B, and I managed to get pictures of a rather mundane and yet entertaining tug o’ war for the chick leg. This ended with Owlet A dropping the leg to the forest floor in almost an “I don’t want it, but you can not have it” move.

We continued up towards the Bald Eagle nest, stopping briefly for another Osprey with a fish, and a quick stop off at a small side path which had proved profitable last year. A Common Ground Dove perched next to a Mourning Dove, showing off the size difference very nicely. At the nesting site, a single adult Bald Eagle sat at the nest. We would later find out that it was likely the female from last year, as a younger male had challenged the returning male, and winning (the older male skeleton found later). The younger male may have won the fight, but did not winover the female, so no nesting occurred. A juvenile had returned this year, photographed later.

We took the side Pelican Trail, with a single Willet at the Pelican Cove. Before continuing back down, and crossing over to the Osprey Trail loop. The sun was high enough now that allowed us to have views both east and west. A couple of Eastern Towhee flew across the path, but did not give photographic opportunities, although a Prairie Warbler did oblige. Notable flyovers were 60+ Brown Pelicans, Turkey Vulture and Black Vultures.

Total Species for the day was 24 and 1 new species photographed. Honeymoon Island is worth a visit purely to experience the amount of Osprey in close proximity, as well as the GHO if you are at the right time of year. Even with less species seen than the previous day, it did not have the ‘empty’ feel. There is the Sand Spit, but is a 5 mile hike (2.5 miles each way). Also, there is a causeway to Honeymoon Island, although best to visit beforehand as later in the day, so many people are there, I doubt it would show too much up.
Honeymoon Island Map
Day 3 – Sawgrass Lake Park, Possum Branch Preserve

Sawgrass Lake Park Duration – 4 hours (0730), Distance – 2.1 miles (walking)

Sawgrass Lake Park was the first new park of this trip that we visited. It mentioned that Alligators could be seen at various sizes. It delivered on this, with each alligator observed being progressively bigger, with the first being a couple of hatchlings (about 8 inches) going after insects, to more common 2 feet long, and the largest there being about 6 feet on the bank of a waterway.

The first bird of the day was White Ibis, which is very common in most places. We followed the Boardwalk, which was rather quiet, and the main activity of the first part was when it opened out to the Watchtower. The Watchtower gave views of Anhinga nests, and a Common Gallinule nest. In the distance was Tri-colored Heron and Boat-Tailed Grackle (both of which give closer views elsewhere). Both Northern Rough-winged and Cliff Swallows were also feeding on the lake.

The second part of the boardwalk gave some common birds infrequently of BlueJay, Northern Cardinal and Mourning Dove. The Oak Hammock delivered an Eastern Kingbird, and although it was back lit, the lack of heat haze made viewing it much easier, even without a scope. A Bald Eagle flew over.

Not marked on the map, is that there is a bridge over the Maple Trail to Arrow Lake side. The bridge was nice to stand on and watch Little Blue Heron (including a juvenile) and Tri-Colored Heron (Belly deep at one point) fishing around. When we moved to Arrow Lake, there was a family of Limpkins (2 adults 4 chicks), with the adults digging out the snails before feeding it to the chicks. One of the best parts was two chicks squabbling, as with no wings, the ‘stubs’ made it look like some sort of ‘Dance-off’.

Outside of breeding time, Sawgrass may have not delivered anything special. That said, I heard it can get some good migrants showing up too. It was the only park that we had a problem with insect bites (although very minor), so may be an idea for insect repellent on at least this one.

Species seen 24, 2 new species photographed.

Sawgrass Map

Possum Branch Preserve Duration – 1 hour (1245), Distance – 1 miles (walking)

A personal little favourite of mine from last year. It is a very small preserve, and due to construction work, it has one field (that was not part of the reserve but showed some good woodland birds) blocked off. It seems to be one that many locals drop by for quick looks before or after work, as it is quick, easy and has things dropping in and out.

Red-Bellied Woodpecker was the first bird here at the Mulberry Tree (halfway up RHS of pond). It was here I met another birder, who had giving me some tips last year. This year, he gave me another good tip of Hammock Park (mentioning that there was bird banding the next day). He also mentioned that there had been less nesting this year at the preserve, mentioning Sora not being typically around this year. Red-Winged Blackbirds were out in force, and delivered my first Green Heron of the Trip, and surprisingly my only American Coot (I think) of the trip.

As we wandered around the pond, we noticed another Alligator that was bigger than the one seen at Sawgrass. A small rail-like species distracted me from the Alligator and I headed back to the reed bed. I had not seen a Sora before so marked it down to some small rail species. Checking out the reeds did not show up anything. As we continued down, I met Big Al! It could be seen to be slightly bigger than the previous Alligator, and would estimate it to be about 10 feet. I would have an interesting encounter with Big Al, on another trip here.

Species 16, 0 new species photographed.
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Day 4 – Dunedin Hammock City Park

Duration – 6 hours (0730), Distance – 2.5 miles (walking)

Hammock Park was a little hidden gem and proved to be a great site every time I visited it during this trip. I never went here the previous year, but with quite a lot of activity, I kept going back. Hammock Bird Banding was there, and I spent some time with them, often going for a little walk and returning throughout the day.

I was dropped off at the Harris Woods Entrance using the Grant Trail leading to the Gopher Trail. Northern Cardinals and Gray Catbirds were the first birds seen, until I got to between the East Kettles and Fern Trail trees on the Palm trail. This was where I got my first White-Eyed Vireo, followed quickly by a Downy Woodpecker and Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher. Another birder had spotted a suspected Orchard Oriole, which was confirmed. They went along to the banding, whilst I continued on the trail, adding Blue-headed Vireo and Northern Parula. On the way back, in roughly the same area of the previous active tree, a Yellow-Billed Cuckoo flew in.

I mentioned this to the previous birder, and the Yellow-Billed Cuckoo conveniently came into view again, plucked a caterpillar from the branch and disappeared. 2 more Orchard Orioles were then pointed out to me. I then joined the banding and chatted to the other birders. Key birds banded can be found at the link below (April 9th entry). The only bird I photographed was a Wood Thrush, which escaped banding but stuck around.

During the little walks between the banding, Hooded Warbler, Worm-eating Warbler and Yellow-Throated Warbler were seen. A Short-Tailed Hawk flew over, as did a Roseate Spoonbill. I decided to check out the other trails, adding some Herons (Great Blue, Little Blue and Great Egret), as well as an Indigo Bunting. I had a quick talk with the banders as they were leaving, and started heading back to the pick up point. I heard two Barred Owl calling, and realising one was very close, I decided to take a detour. I located it with my bins, and it took off as I was bringing my camera up. A nice bird to end the day, knowing that I would return to this again.

Hammock park is good for woodland species, although the view of Lake Suemar is very restricted. I went to this park three times in total and will be high on the list when I go back. There was a fair number of walkers, both with and without dogs, and cyclists. There was never any issue with them, and even those with children were generally quieter than observed at other places.

32 Species seen, 5 new species photographed.
Hammock Park Trail Map
Day 5 – John Chesnut Sr Park

Duration – 5.5 hours (0730), Distance – 4.2 miles (walking)

My Father was back with me on this trip as we returned to this park from last year. It is a series of boardwalks that edge on Lake Tarpon. Last time, it was noted how obvious that people would give food to the Cardinals and Squirrels, with them coming so close. This time, it seemed to include the Boat-Tailed Grackles.

White-Tailed Deer greeted us, followed by the first bird of the day of a Red-Shouldered Hawk perched on a Disabled Parking bay sign. Before entering the south boardwalk, we talked briefly to another birder who we had met photographing Great Horned Owls last year.

As we entered the board walk, the Carolina Wrens were out in force. This was followed by a Yellow-Rumped Warbler (far less abundant than last year), and then some Swamp Sparrows. Moving to manual focus, due to so many reeds in the way, I managed to get some ID shots. Then my Father spotted a ‘little bird’ skipping about closer. My suspicion of a Common Yellowthroat was confirmed, one bird that I wanted to improve shots on from the brief view of one from last year. Manual Focus was used again and patience paid off, as well as luck on the path it took through the bushes. A Swallow-Tailed Kite was seen through the gaps in the trees. Part of me kicked myself for starting with the South Boardwalk as I wanted to improve on my Kite photos, but then I would not have got the Common Yellowthroat or the Swamp Sparrow.

As we came out at the boat ramp, we spotted a Limpkin, before we headed to the East Boardwalk. Checking the picnic table areas that branch off from the main walkway, we headed towards the Watchtower. Caspian Tern and Osprey flew over the lake, with Boat-Tailed Grackle and Red-Winged Blackbirds on the surrounding trees. Then a Swallow-Tailed Kite showed up, circling overhead and allowing plenty of photographs.

On the reeds was a Tri-Colored Heron as we continued on the boardwalk, as well as Common Gallinule and American Coot (Okay, I did see another one). On leaving the boardwalk, and on the way to the North Boardwalk, we stopped to watch a couple of Red-Shouldered Hawks at the Dog Park. One hawk came down and wedged itself between a log and the fence, after a bit of hopping, it dislodged itself and it took off with a squealing mouse.

The North boardwalk had more activity than the year before, with Great Egret and White Ibis in the mud, and a Gray Catbird scrutinising us. Red-Bellied, Downy and Pileated were seen, before my Champion spotter noticed another little bird. This time, it was a rather low down Worm-Eating Warbler, which allowed for a record shot that I missed last time. Many Deer were lying in the Hammock shade due to the heat and humidity. Palm Warblers were the last birds seen, as the wind started to pick up. A storm front would be coming in tomorrow.

John Chesnut Park is worth a visit, and although not very active, it has good variety. It may even be a possible migrant trap area if the conditions were right.

36 Species seen, 3 new Species Photographed.

John Chesnut Map
Day 6 – Moccasin Lake Nature Park, Cliff Stephens Park, Kapok Park

Moccasin Lake Park
Duration – 100 minutes (0720), Distance – 1.3 miles (walking)

I had visited this park in the past and was surprised to find when we entered that construction was going on. Many Indian Peafowl were around. We parked and as we saw the usual Nature center entrance was under construction, it was noticed that a gate at the top was open, so assumed this was an alternative entrance. Once inside, we walked to the start of the trail via the bird cages.

The Black Vulture were up in the air very early, and the boardwalk was very quiet. Last time it was mainly Yellow-Rumped Warblers, this time it was only the odd Blue Jay. Things picked up after we crossed the bridge at the new Bat Roost and bridge, that goes over to the Alligator Creek/pond. Anhinga, Blue-Headed Vireo, Northern Parula and Tufted Titmouse were all around, as well as Fish crows squabbling with Blue Jays.

Once at the Lake, again it was quiet with only Anhinga, Great Egret and a single Alligator. The remaining walk back was equally uneventful with White Ibis flyover and a couple of Mourning Doves. Once back in the carpark the Indian Peacock was on full display. As I captured a video of this, a member of staff came over and asked how we got in. We indicated the gate we walked through at the top, but he was meaning how we got the car in. Apparently it was closed to the public for renovations until the end of August. The staff member was very friendly, and told us how to get out when we were ready. When we exited, we did notice the sign on the gate saying it was closed (which you could not see when it was open for the construction crew that we had accidentally had followed in.

17 Species seen, 1 new species photographed.

Cliff Stephens Park
Duration – 50 minutes (0915), Distance – 1 miles (walking)

This is a park around a couple of joined ponds, with a Disc Golf field surrounding it. It is only a couple of minutes from Moccasin Lake and we parked on the Kapok Park side.

The wind was picking up, and yet Black Vulture were still in the air. An Osprey flew into a nearby tree giving its distinctive call. In the pond itself, were Common Gallinule, with Cattle Egret, Boat Tailed Grackle, Red-Winged Blackbirds and 2 Limpkin with 3 chicks. An American Barn Swallow was quite low down over the lake and a Muscovy Duck also flew over. The walk around was short as the weather started to close in. Seeing the Limpkin and Chicks heading for the cover of the bridge should have been taken as a warning sign. Instead we ignored it and headed for Kapok Park.

19 Species seen, 0 new species photographed.

Kapok Park
Duration – 55 minutes (1005), Distance – 1 miles (walking)

Kapok park is right next to Cliff Stephens and so most species were similar. We also got Short-Tailed Hawk flying over and a Black Crowned Night Heron (the only one of the trip). We crossed the bridge to walk the loop, as the clouds got darker, and I remember mentioning that it probably would not start raining until we got to the point of no return. Common Grackle and Blue Jay were on the grass of the loop, and despite the lack of sun, the colours came out well. As we crossed the bridge walkway, aka the point of no return, the rain started and the wind sped up.

As we increased our pace, it was not too fast to notice a couple of Solitary Sandpipers in the mud. A few quick shots, and then it started to pour. Hugging the treeline for the little cover it provided, we made our way back to the car, with thunder and lightning overhead.

15 Species seen, 1 new species photographed.
Day 7 – Fort De Soto Park

Duration – 6 hours 15 minutes (0800), Distance – 5 miles (walking), 8 miles (Driving)

The first year I visited Fort De Soto, I did not know any of the locations, and so there was nothing special about this park. Note that it is large but manageable, especially with the map linked below. Print out 4,5 and 11 which has the area descriptions and the map. There are two tolls on the causeway (1 USD and 0.75 USD) and 5 USD for parking, payable at park entrance. Disabled parking is free with badge.

On entering the park, we parked at the Administration building with the big flag (Area 7 on map), and went around the RHS of the building, following the first track on the left. We quickly backtracked after we realised that we would be staring into the sun most of the way. So instead, we walked the beach, looking into the back of the Admin building. A couple of Blue Grosbeak were on top of a tree, with Black-Bellied Plover and Least Sandpiper on the beach. The Barn Swallows were out, flying low over the beach and also the parkland.

We decided to carry on the East Beach Woods (site 6), and return via the admin building later. Before entering, a Northern Rough-Winged Swallow perched on a tree above some Nanday Parakeets. Gray Catbird, Hooded Warbler and White-Eyed Vireo were seen, as we took the North track. The track was muddy with the rain the day before, and eventually decided to turn back after about 30 minutes.

Back on the track behind the Admin Building, we got good views of a Blue Grosbeak, some okay views of an Indigo Bunting, and an Osprey flying over with a fish. We decided to head to the Mulberry Tree area (Site 8), walking along a track at the back as opposed to the road. It was about a 40 minute walk, and very quiet. Gray Catbird, flyover of some Brown Pelicans, and that was pretty much it. I would suggest driving between the Admin Building and the Ranger Residence (next to the Mulberry Trees) to save time. We were including walking though.

At The Mulberry Trees, there was a couple of Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds and a lot more birders. There was a little burst of activity with White-eyed Vireo, Prairie Warbler and Indigo Bunting at the fountain area. Local birders did say it was relatively quiet though (Migration had been off to a slow start so far this year, so not as much birds had been brought down with the rain).

There are some trees next to the Warden’s Residence that a couple of birders in the know had sat with deck chairs waiting to see what would come along. We, however, walked back to pick up the car at the Admin building before heading to the Arrowhead Picnic Area (site 15). It was a small little woodland walk, with an Ovenbird around the toilet area (helped identified by one of the people who put the pdf together that I happened across). On the walk, there was a female Hooded Warbler, Yellow Billed Cuckoo and a couple of Juvenile Bald Eagles on a nest.

After a short Lunch break, we had a look around North Beach (site 16 and 17). With mainly Common Grackle, Indigo bunting at the grove, and Reddish Egret (known as Big Red by the locals) at the north Beach. Big Red took off and flew across the water, flying past and landing close to a couple of children. I did not realise on how close until I looked at one of the photos later, and one of the children was seen screaming! There was some distant shorebirds were seen behind.

We headed to the East Beach Turnaround (Site 5), for a quick look before heading back. Another birder had mentioned Wilson’s Plover there, and being one of the good sites for them. Reviewing the photographs later (as I have to do for most shorebirds), I missed the Wilson’s with the only plover being Semipalmated. There was also Willet, Dowitchers, Least Sandpiper, Sanderling and Laughing Gull.

Fort De Soto is a must visit, although as mentioned we were combining some walking with the birding. If returning, I would have skipped the East Beach Woods and included the open fields (Sites 9 and 12) and possibly try spending more time at the Warden’s residence. Looking at checklists for that day, there was a number of species missed that day. However, by missing some, I got to see some others (such as Ovenbird, which I may not have seen and was one of the best looks I got of one this trip or Reddish Egret).

39 Species seen, 6 new Species Photographed.
Fort De Soto Bird sites
Day 8 – Brooker Creek Preserve & Surrounding Areas, Fred Howard County Park

Brooker Creek
Duration – 3 hours 45 minutes (0730), Distance – 2 miles (walking).

I decided that I wanted to spend some more time at the Bike Trail at Brooker Creek Preserve earlier in the day before the heat haze started. I was still hoping for the Scissor-tailed flycatcher and being to scope without the heat haze would have made things more comfortable. Birding this area, there are fields belonging to the Brooker Creek Preserve which are fenced off and not accessible. Armed with a scope though and the fact most of the area was flat, meant that there is no need to go into the fields, and the Bike Trail gave a good vantage point.

Wood stork on top of the tree, with cattle egret roosting below were on the far side of the fields. On one of the far pylons, there was a Bald Eagle Adult and a Juvenile. Walking east on the Bike trail, we periodically stopped to check the distant wires and fence posts, but we were drawing a blank on the scissor tailed. We had the sun behind us when facing the open field as we followed the bike trail to the left. Eastern Kingbirds and Northern Mockingbird were on the wire, with Sandhill Crane in the field. A distant shot of our first Belted Kingfisher of the trip, and when we checked out the wires that we had past, a couple of Eastern Meadowlark were seen.

On the right hand side of the Bike Trail, there was a small lake, and a Green Heron very close to us. The customary Red-Winged Blackbirds and Boat-Tailed Grackles were also around. A Wood Stork came into an adjacent tree, and more birds on the wires, this time Eastern Bluebirds and Loggerhead Shrike. In a small pond in the field, was a Great Egret, with an Alligator (6-7 feet) lay with the head on the bank. We carried on to a house for sale, seeing a Killdeer flying into the field, and a Red-Shouldered Hawk being mobbed by a Northern Mockingbird. We turned around at a set of trees, after a brief glimpse of the underparts of a Great Crested Flycatcher, to return to the car.

On the way back, Sandhill Cranes called to more Cranes in the distance, by throwing their heads back. Loggerhead shrikes passed food to each other and a Juvenile Little Blue Heron transitioning was seen. No Scissor-tailed but a really enjoyable little walk. I had initially only planned to spend an hour or so, it ended up being almost 4 hours.

33 Species Seen, 2 New Species Photographed


Fred Howard Park
Duration – 3 hours (1150), Distance – 3 miles (walking).

The Mangrove loop at Fred Howard is only accessible by canoe. There is, however, a little walk around the small pond at the picnic areas 7 and 8. The Mangrove is fenced off at picnic area 7, where we parked, and following that fence line, it leads to the start of the loop around the pond.

Downy Woodpecker was the first bird to come into view on this track. Red-Bellied Woodpecker, Blue Jay were also seen and a Turkey Vulture flew overhead. Other than that, the walk was uneventful, until we completed the loop and got to the trees behind Picnic area 8. This was when the small birds came in, with Nothern Parula, Palm Warbler, Tufted Titmouse and a feeding White-eyed Vireo. The key bird experience though was when watching a Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher, another flew in on a branch underneath. It puffed the body out, doubling body size and started singing away. Lovely little experience there as typically just seen them chirp and feed.

After a brief lunch, we headed to walk the causeway. As this was not the weekend, less cars were parked on the causeway and it was quite easy to cross the road, so you could check for shorebirds on either side. There was a large number of Double-Crested Cormorants, all grouped on a set of rocks next to one of the bridged areas. Shore birds included, Ruddy Turnstone, Black-Bellied Plover, Sanderling, Least Sandpipers and Semipalmated Plover. A Pied Grebe was seen in the water (the only grebe of this trip) as well as a couple of diving DC Cormorants.

On the far side of the Causeway, The Black Skimmers nested on the beach with Laughing Gulls. Considering the amount of people and Dogs, it was interesting that they did not choose a less accessible part. A Loggerhead Shrike hunted from a sign. Boat-Tailed Grackle and Fish Crow were at the beach at the end, although so were beach-goers, so we turned around and walked back. On the way back we say a Ray underneath the water, Some red-breasted Merganser with a Scaup handing around with them, and a Great Blue Heron.

Fred Howard is good for the Causeway, although most of the activity is on the beach side. Egrets and Herons do seem to like to hang out with the fishermen, so I assume they leave scraps at the end of the day.

35 Species Seen, 0 New Species Photographed
Fred Howard Park
Second half will follow in a day or so.

I will add some photos to the post too. For now, you can click on the Ebird links for some select ones or see a full set at this link.
Fort De Soto Park

Your reports make good reading.

Regarding Fort De Soto Park, I was there last week and had some very good birding following a storm. The most productive areas for me, were the scattered live oak trees by the historical fort and the Arrowhead Trail (great for Warblers), which is on the opposite side of the road by North Beech.

Hi Neil,

Apologies for the delay at replying, as I was travelling.

Yes, the Arrowhead Trail is really good. It would have been nice to get there another time, especially when there was a storm passing. Definitely a visit I will make next time, and as mentioned, far more productive from my very first visit without the map.

I will now do the next part finally.
Day 9 – Philippe County Park, Kapok Park, Possum Branch Preserve

Philippe County Park
Duration – 2 hours 50 minutes (0720), Distance – 2.9 miles (walking).

Philippe County park is known for a good number of Brown Booby on the pylons. I missed them last year as I did not have the scope with me. So this time bringing one with me, I hoped to see them. I think someone mentioned it was Hurricane Matthew in 2016 that brought them to that pylon and they have stuck around. (I may be remembering this wrong though).

The White Ibis was the first bird of the day as I set up the scope, and spotted about 20 birds on the Pylon. They were still quite far away, so we moved along to the Historical mound, hoping that we would get clearer views. With sunrise in that direction causing a fair amount of glare, every metre seemed to count, so we moved down to the small beach. A Green Heron was there, and through the Scope with a slightly clearer view, it looked like they were all DC Cormorants.

Trying to get a little closer, we headed to the most Easterly point, seeing a juvenile/female Black-and-White Warbler on the way. Setting up at this point, We saw the three Pylons. The first pylon had two Juvenile Bald Eagles. The Second had 2 adult Bald eagles, with Brown Pelicans at the base and the third pylon had what looked to be all DC Cormorants. Again, as it was still early, The sun seemed to be limiting what we could see, and so we planned to come back one evening to hopefully see the Brown Booby come into roost.

Other than Blue Jays, and the odd Fish Crow and Northern Cardinal as we crossed the road taking a walk around the East field and checking out the trees, with only a Tufted Titmouse moving through the trees. We came out to picnic area 3, and as we were heading to the car there was a flurry of activity between the trees and the car. It was Palm Warblers that made us stop and we also saw Northern Parula, There was flyovers of an adult Bald Eagle and Roseate Spoonbill, followed by Muscovy Duck and Pileated Woodpeckers flying through.

There seemed to be parks with more activity than Philippe, and I know Muscovy were here last year. So mainly a site to look at the Brown Booby, although apparently you can get closer views from the Mobbly Beach side. We never got a chance to get back for them coming in for an evening roost.

23 Species Seen, 0 New Species Photographed
Philippe Park


Kapok Park
Duration – 1.5 hours (1030), Distance – 1.3 miles (walking).

With being rained off last time, I had wanted to check this little park out one more time. Most of the species seen were the same as before, with a couple of exceptions. The Solitary Sandpipers were not there, although had stuck around as someone else saw them after the storm. The water was up though, and so it was possible they come back and forth depending on the water level. There was seen Limpkin calling up at the East entrance, as well as a Juvenile Red-Shouldered Hawk being mobbed in flight by a Common Grackle. On the way back to the car, there was an Osprey with a fish in a tree.

I would probably stick my head into this park again for a brief look, although it would not be the end of the world if I missed it out. The Blue Jays and Common Grackles seemed tolerant of humans meaning that they stayed around long enough for photographs, without coming over expecting to be fed.

20 Species Seen, 0 New Species Photographed


Possum Branch Preserve
Duration –1.5 hours (1330), Distance – 0.5 miles (walking).

We headed back to Possum Branch Preserve as when we passed it the other day heading to another site, I had seen a flock of small birds fly in and later saw that eBird had listed about 50 Cedar Waxwing had came in. With that in mind, and wondering if I could get another chance at whatever Rail that I saw.

Patience paid off at the reed beds that I had seen it fly in to, as after only 10-15 minutes, a Sora came and started feeding in the mud in front of me. After some photographs, I called my Father over so he could have a look. We spoke in low voices, but even with the low whispers, it was enough for the Sora to move back to the hide in the reed bed.

As we moved on, a Cooper’s Hawk flew over the waterway, a Brown Pelican flew along the waterway and a Green Heron flew in. we walked around the outside of the right hand pond to a little grass alcove, seeing Common Ground Dove. On return, there was another birder there, and mentioned where I saw the Sora. They had also come to see the Waxwings, and said that looking at the Mulberry Tree, it looked like they would be back as there was still fruit remaining.

We stayed a little longer as the other birder moved on. It was at this point that we heard a barking/cough noise. I must have spent 15 minutes trying to locate what was making that noise, thinking again it must be some sort of bird that hid in the reed. I did eventually find out on my last day.

As we were heading back to the car, we heard what sounded like a very heavy engine throttle of a motorbike. The weird part was that it sounded like it was coming from inside the park. As we came from behind the trees that was obscuring our view of the middle pond, we heard it again and saw the very large Alligator, Big Al, we saw the other day, with most of the body out of the water. Big Al, also saw us, and reversed back into the water by the time I could take a photograph.

Once again, Possum Branch delivers and it would again for my final trip there too.

19 Species Seen, 1 New Species Photographed

Day 10 – Boyd Hill Nature Park & Lake Maggiore

Duration –5.5 hours (0745), Distance – 4.1 miles (walking).

This had been my first trip last year, and went as part of an Audubon walk. It had been windy that day, which had been mentioned that it had kept a lot of the smaller birds away. With that in mind, and no wind forecasted, I wanted to see what it would be like without the wind. It cost 3 USD for entrance and we found out there was a 5K run on that morning.

We started with the boardwalks with nothing other than a Gray Catbird on the Swamp Woodland part. At the Willow Marsh boardwalk, that was when we met a couple of runners thumping along the boardwalk and exclaiming loudly at a bird, which I later saw was a Great Blue Heron. The nice part of this boardwalk is the little view point (marked as red block). The Boat Tailed Grackle were flying in to the bushes to the right of us. Far too close for the camera, but allowing us to watch as one male tilted up the head calling as it shimmied along the branch to another male. Not sure if it was defence behaviour (if we were too close to a nest) or behaviour was between one grackle to the other, we moved to the other side of the viewpoint.

I checked along the reed bed with the scope to see another Green Heron, some Anhinga, and the usual Red-Winged Blackbird. A Belted Kingfisher came in and gave a brief appearance. As we crossed the bridge, we saw a small 2 foot alligator moving closer to a BT Grackle feeding from a branch just out the water. I got the camera ready, with the BT Grackle seeming to not notice the little hunter getting closer. It was obviously waiting though, as it flew off and like a delayed reaction, the alligator lunged and snapped at empty air, about 0.5-1 second later.

We carried on up the Main Trail, and stood aside as the 5K runners started to come through. Luckily, they only passed us once, as it was about 150-200 runners. Apparently, it seems to be a semi-regular thing. Nanday Parakeets perched on a tree, and moving to the Live Oak trail, there was Red-Bellied and Downy Woodpeckers. A couple of Adult Bald Eagles burst from a tree further up. One of the Bald Eagles would later be seen flying with a fish, far less graceful than an Osprey.

Last year a Great Horned Owl had nested at the start of the center loop and so we headed there. An Osprey seemed to have taken over the nest, which if I remember correctly they told me it belonged to Bald Eagles initially. The center loop was very quiet, with large sections being apparently devoid. A little activity at the sports field, with Northern Mockingbird, Osprey and a flyover of a Turkey Vulture. On the loop back, there was a little movement in some bushes and a Common Yellowthroat was seen.

We took the Flat Pinewoods loop back after a brief stop at the Wax Myrtle pond. After outside the nature center, we had a quick lunch, before taking a walk to check out the bushes around the picnic area. I had remembered last year that there was mention of Hummingbirds at one of the bushes. Nothing was seen though.

Despite 31 species being seen, the park never really did anything for me. I may have got unlucky and got this on another bad day, and it was possible that the 5K runners caused a mass exodus of birds. It may also be the center loop that killed it for me, with nothing much being around for a fair portion of the walk. I may go back as part of an Audubon walk, however it would not be on my list of places or recommendations when I am next in Florida.

31 Species Seen, 0 New Species Photographed
Boyd Hill Map
Day 11 – Dunedin Hammock City Park

Duration –5 hours (0720), Distance – 3 miles (walking).

It was another Sunday, and unrelated to the day, I saw my first possum in the morning, so I was dropped off at Hammock Park. It was close by and I really enjoyed wandering around the park. The Banding was cancelled though due to high winds as there was a thunderstorm coming. The humidity was very high causing everything to feel sticky.

I was greeted by a "family" of 5 Carolina Wren at the Harris trail entrance, Northern Cardinal and a Palm Warbler. I then spotted a Great Crested Flycatcher singing away, and with a much better angle than the other day, as I moved down the Grant Trail. Common Grackle was at Lake Suemar, and a Green Heron in the creek. I met the other birder from last week (the Oriole spotter) on one of the trails, and another birder who I took along to show where the wrens were located. On return, I got better views of another Great Crested Flycatcher and went down to mention it to the Oriole spotter, who was checking some suspected pure Mottled Ducks and an Eastern Bluebird. They also pointed out where Monk Parakeet's nest.

We headed back up to where I saw the GC Flycatcher, spotting a Marsh Rabbit, and a little further on 3 Otters coming down the creek. A Pileated Woodpecker was on the ground, with another in a nesting hole. A Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher came in, as well as Downy and Red-Bellied Woodpecker. We parted ways at the Palmetto trail, as I headed back down to the Kettles Trail to check the “Magic” trees from last week. There was not the same activity though, as a Bald Eagle flew overhead. There was some underneath the trees at the East Kettles entrance but did not manage to catch it.

The little birds seemed to be away this time, other than Palm Warblers and Northern Parulas, who were now feeding fledglings. I did a couple of loops and was back on the Grant Trail coming down again to Lake Suemar, when the winds caught the trees breaking off a couple of feet of Branch that thumped to the trail floor. Moving it to the side, I felt the weight and was glad I was not under it. I was back at Lake Suemar watching a female Red-Winged Blackbird, talking to a couple out for a walk, when a couple of Sheriff cars came in.

I headed to the Sugarberry trail, but with the way the wind was increasing, I decided walking under tree cover may not be the best idea, so headed back along the Skinner trail, seeing two Red-Breasted Mergansers in the creek and a Great Egret in the corner. I stepped aside as the Sheriffs came back down the Grant Trail, hoping that I might get a little hoot from the barred owls from last week, but suspect the moving trees would be a rather untantalising perch. As I waited for pickup at the Harris Trail Entrance, an unmarked police car rolled up to me. We ended up talking for about 5 minutes about Camera and lenses before my Father showed up.

Even with less species seen than at Boyd Hill, there was enough activity around that made it a far more enjoyable walk. It is probably with being surrounded by movement a lot of the time or different areas to check out in a small space, with no long trails. I would visit Hammock Park one last time before the end of the trip, and it showed how a park can change with species seen.

27 Species Seen, 0 New Species Photographed
You can get the map on Day 4
Day 12 – Brooker Creek Preserve & Surrounding Areas

Duration –6 hours 20 minutes (0720), Distance – 4 miles (walking).

I had been tempted to return to Hammock Park as it was a dropping off day again (my Father needing to get some organisational stuff done). The winds were quite high still, and the temperature had dropped 20F, so I wanted less trees around me to avoid being 'brained' by a falling branch. This being my first migration in the US, and not knowing that high winds would mean that any migrants that dropped out with the storm would be staying put in a migrant trap (which I found out later on a facebook group. I was also tempted also to go for Possum Branch, but was not sure if I could spend 5 hours there. So instead I went for the other walk I enjoyed, the Bike Trail at Brooker Creek.

I had given up on the Scissor-Tailed Flycatcher, as I had looked quite extensively and this bird had been there since at least the Christmas Bird Count in December. It could equally have chosen this point to migrate from, and it had not been seen in April at all. I wanted to spend more time looking at the fields, after the Eastern Meadowlark had shown up last time.

I was dropped off at the gate that we had been parking next to, the past couple of times. The day started with flyovers of Roseate Spoonbill, Great Egret and a flock of White Ibis. Checking the ponds to the west to find only a Blue-Winged Teal. After scanning the fields, I headed back East on the Bike Trail, catching a Swallow-Tailed Kite with prey (frog) on the other side of the road. As I went past the trees, I saw some movement on the far side of the field. Putting the scope on it, there was no mistaking that it was the Scissor-Tailed Flycatcher!

For the next 30 minutes, I watched the Scissor-Tailed Flycatcher from one dung pile to the next, gradually getting closer and closer to me as it moved fields Eastwards. I alternated from watching and taking photographs. It was with a pair of Eastern Kingbirds, and seemed to go with them. It did not seem to be just tolerating them but interacting too. Sometimes they would perch on a little twiggy bush together, other times they would squabble. It was a real pleasure to watch, but eventually they started to move further away again and head back West, and so decided to leave them to it. A couple of Eastern Meadowlark then caught my eye in the field, and three Killdeer.

The little lake had the usual suspects of Red-Winged Blackbird and Boat-Tailed Grackle. The interesting one that showed up in the back Paddock of the “house for sale” was the Glossy Ibis all on its own. Carrying on up the trail, there was Eastern Bluebird with a bug, and flyovers of a Wood Stork and Black Vulture (on the way to Brooker Creek, there had been a dozen or more Black Vultures on the poles in the central reservation waiting for the temperature to increase).

Towards the end of the trail, a Bald Eagle flew in dragging a fish, and went to deliver it to a juvenile in a nest on the Pylon. In this field, there was a couple more Meadowlark, Killdeer and Eastern Kingbird. Heat Haze had started to pick up, despite the strong wind. The trail comes to a dead end (a golf course) with no through path, so the only option is to back track. In the trees at the top, a couple of Palm Warbler came in and a female Indigo Bunting and non-breeding Male (Like the female but with indigo speckling).

The other adult Bald Eagle came in and I watched for a little while before heading back down the Bike Trail watching a couple of Loggerhead Shrike on the way. As mentioned, all of these fields are fenced off. There was some workers on the preserve, with pickups and cherrypickers. They did close the gates behind them, but it was obvious when it was a preserve gate, and when it was the bike trail, so no danger in trespassing.

On the way back, there was some Barn Swallows (American), and the Glossy Ibis had been joined by five Cattle Egret. I did have another look at the Blue-Winged Teal once back at the pick-up point, but the heat haze made more distortion than the low light, despite being closer. I could not see the Scissor-Tailed or Kingbirds in the first field whilst I waited to get picked up.

34 Species Seen, 1 New Species Photographed
Day 13 – Celery Fields, Pinecraft Park

Celery Fields
Duration –4 hours (0800), Distance – 2.3 miles (walking).

Celery Fields in Sarasota was mentioned on another Florida thread last year on BF, so was one that I had flagged as to visit. Another Birder, when in Fort De Soto, also had mentioned Celery Fields and to make sure to check out the Raymond Gazebo boardwalk. Celery Fields consists of water treatment ponds with a big hill, and a couple of boardwalk viewing points over a reed bed.

The first bird of the day was Purple Martin, which the Audubon society had put nesting boxes for in the car park. They already had chicks and some had even fledged. There was also a little stone garden with a feeder and three Cowbirds, which I could not tell the flavour of and my photo was from behind, came in quickly and then promptly left.

As we moved up to the start of the hill (The map in the link, is the best one I could find), a Northern Mockingbird mobbed a Red-Shouldered Hawk. At the top of the hill, there was Common Ground Dove in the grass patch at the top, and a couple more of Northern Mockingbird. We took a walk around the top and my Father asked about a bird down at the bottom of the hill (at the corner of the path next to the central cell), asking if it was another Mockingbird. From the posture I said it was more likely a Loggerhead Shrike just seeing the white breast. When putting the bins on it, I realised my error as it was a Scissor-Tailed Flycatcher.

I put my scope on it, so my Father could have a better look and started mentioning to him to look at the tail. He said “Oh yeah, but it just flew” as I watched it head around the side of the hill. After spending time with the Scissor-Tailed yesterday, which I noticed had a tendency to back track, I scanned the area. I had not taken a photo, as did not expect it to move. We headed promptly down the hill to try and track it down. I thought that I had found an area where it would be when I spotted an Eastern Kingbird (due to them interacting yesterday, although it could be just the Brooker Creek bird doing it).

We moved fairly fast around the base of the hill, and spotted a couple of other birders at the corner of the Sedimentation ponds. I asked if there was any cow dung areas, mentioning the Scissor-Tailed or where Eastern Kingbirds were generally found. They did not know any areas and the Eastern Kingbirds were around where we had first past. We decided that we would head back that way. A Bald Eagle flew over, a Savannah and Swamp sparrows moved in the reedbed in front. Green Heron, Red-Winged Blackbird were also present.

As we moved back around, checking every white breasted bird (typically ended up being Northern Mockinbirds or Loggerhead Shrikes), I kicked myself for not taking a quick shot (Them’s the breaks). A Blue Grosbeak did put in an appearance though, as well as Indigo buntings. No Eastern Kingbirds were seen on the way back, and I also was keeping an eye out for Bobolinks which people had seen earlier, but had no luck.

We moved to the Palmer Gazebo over the road (there is a pedestrian crossing), getting good views of Stilt Sandpiper feeding with Long-Billed Dowitchers and a Lesser Yellowlegs. We enjoyed flyovers of Woodstork, Bald Eagle and Swallow-Tailed Kite. American Purple Gallinule and a couple of squabbling Sora put in an appearance. A Barn Swallow (American) also flew by and a Roseate Spoonbill was seen in the reeds at a distance. A couple of Glossy Ibis were also seen, although more common down here.

After some directions to the Raymond Gazebo (marked as boardwalk on Raymond road on the map), we drove around and parked on the grass next to the boardwalk. The Roseate Spoonbill was still there and much closer, with a couple of American Purple Gallinule. Another Birder called a Great Blue Heron with a snake. My camera would not take a photo (memory full – forgot to clear memory card), so I fumbled a card change (Card protected), take out card, move little switch, reinsert card. In the end, I got one shot of the back of the GBH with the snake, before the Heron moved behind some reeds.

A flyover of Roseate Spoonbills, pointed out by my Father, who was surprised when other birders thanked him for pointing them out (He will get used to how helpful and nice birders are… eventually). The Roseate Spoonbill from earlier, flew across and landed next to the Great Blue Heron and a Glossy Ibis, for better views. This area was also mentioned to be good for Least Bittern, none were seen, but that was likely because I was looking in the wrong area (more on that later).

I would recommend Celery Fields, although with so much water around, it would be best to visit early as the heat haze rose very quickly. The birds were quite abundant, in number and species. I would definitely take a little more time at the bushes of the Central Cell, if I had not been so distracted from trying to relocate the Scissor-Tailed. It was my first ever rarity spotted, and even then it was my Father, the champion spotter, who pointed it out. They also have Bird Naturalists on the boardwalk Gazebos (not sure if every day, but worth keeping in mind).

41 Species Seen, 4 New Species Photographed

Basic Celery Fields Map

Pinecraft Park
Duration –75 minutes (1245), Distance – 1 miles (walking).

Pinecraft Park was also recommended by the Birder at Fort De Soto, and only 15 minutes drive away from Celery Fields. It had also been mentioned to be hopping the day before with the fallout of migrants from the thunderstorm a couple of days ago on a Facebook post. It is a small little woodland walk along the river. The path is uneven, although fairly easy to walk.

We had lunch next to the river before starting and a birder came over as they had heard about the Scissor-tailed. After a rough description where it was, we talked about other things that were around in Pinecraft Park. Apparently there had been more earlier that eventually had moved on, however it was still active.

We entered the Park, seeing first a Worm-Eating Warbler and an Ovenbird. A Hooded Warbler (Male) came in keeping a watchful eye. I then got to see my first Tanager in the form of a Male Scarlet Tanager. Red-Eyed Vireo were overhead as was a Black-and-White Warbler. My second Tanager swiftly followed as a Summer Tanager and then a female Scarlet Tanager munching on a Mulberry. A Barred Owl also was heard calling but not seen.

Other than more Tanagers, there was Tufted Titmouse, Northern Parula and a Cape May Warbler, another first. I checked the river on exiting the woodland, as Louisiana Waterthrush was seen earlier. There was a Green Heron and a Little Blue Heron.

Pinecraft Park is a very short walk, so it can be done as a quick look. I am not sure what it would be like outside of Migration time, but I would definitely pop my head in especially with the close proximity to Celery Fields. It probably is worth visiting after Celery Fields, as it would not have the issue with heat haze.

24 Species Seen, 4 New Species Photographed
Day 14 – Dunedin Hammock City Park

Duration –5 hours (0715), Distance – 3.3 miles (walking).

With two days left, I decided that it would be nice to visit Hammock Park with my Father as it would be good for him to see the park that I talked about so positively. This was the first time entering the park at the main entrance. If you do enter from here, turn right at the “Traffic Circle” as opposed to going across. Both will get you to a parking place, but the main entrance puts you at the start of the trails.

We followed the Skinner Trail, as with the sun rising, the Grant Trail would be getting the best light and anything in the small creek should still be around before all the walkers (both Human and Dog) started to increase in numbers. Great Blue Heron was the first bird of the day, quickly followed by a Tri-colored Heron. There was also two Monk Parakeets out at the power pole nest, allowing for a record shot.

There was nothing else in the creek, and now on the Grant Trail, we headed towards the Harris Entrance. About two thirds up, where I had seen the Great Crested Flycatcher, there was Four Rose-Breasted Grosbeak. A species that I had missed at other parks. The Grosbeaks seemed to be going in pairs. This was followed by a rather damp Prairie Warbler, and Indigo Buntings(not damp). A Cape May Warbler made an appearance, followed by a male and female Scarlet Tanager.

A Wood Stork then came in and landed in the creek, with me needing to take a step back so that the bird would fit in the photograph. A Pileated Woodpecker flew by and so I indicated towards the tree where the nesting hole was, only to notice a pair of Wood Duck perched on the branch of another tree. They watched me as I moved under them so that they did not have the sun behind them.

We went along the East Kettles trail, with Northern Parula, and also a Red-eyed Vireo as we entered onto the Palm Trail. Going along the Cline Trail, Carolina Wren called from a small palm, a glimpse of another Scarlet Tanager through the gap in the trees, and a flyover of four Roseate Spoonbill. A couple more Rose-Breasted Grosbeak flew in, likely one of the pairs from earlier, and some Blue-Gray Gnatcatchers.

At Sugarberry Trail East, I was surprised by a Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker in the middle trees. About two thirds of the way down, a Northern Waterthrush was spotted. Every bit of water I have passed this trip, I have checked the edges for one, and now this was not at the creek edge but instead on the path by the creek. Very flighty, as only managed a couple of shots before it was gone. When we looped onto the west trail, it was almost at the end when another pair of Thrushes showed up, Swainson’s Thrush. Still flightly, but did not disappear and instead just kept changing their vantage point to watch us.

We headed along the Osprey Trail, followed by the Cedar, finding a brief view of a Summer Tanager and more Northern Parula. We joined the Skinner Trail, heading into the Live Oak Trail, looped West Kettles Trail before exiting out on Grant Trail via Gopher Trail. Nothing new was seen, other than Downy Woodpecker.

We passed someone assessing the water, and they mentioned that a Roseate Spoonbill was on the corner when they had driven past. It was still there and allowed by best pictures of the Roseate. Heading along, a Great Blue Heron walked in front us. My Father went back to the car, whereas I was tempted to do Sugarberry again, but two sets of walkers stopped me from doing that.

A fantastic last visit to this trail heavy park. Every trail is short, so can be looped many times. Getting early is clearly an advantage, and would recommend the Grant Trail area to check first thing. On Map, it is the trees marked Bayhead at around about the “il” of Grant Trail.

41 Species Seen, 3 New Species Photographed

Hammock Park Trail map again

Day 15 – Possum Branch Preserve

Duration –2 hours 45 minutes (0715), Distance – 1.2 miles (walking).

My final trip and wanted to keep it very local as I was flying out that evening. I would have been tempted to return to Hammock, or even the Bike Trail, but Possum Branch complained that I had not seen it in morning light this trip. So, Possum Branch was decided on. There was still the mystery bird that made the “barking/coughing” noise, to resolve. And resolve it would be, and revealed in a couple of paragraphs time.

Despite being a small preserve, I brought the scope, which ended up proving to be invaluable. The intention was to head up the RHS of the pond, to see what was in the Mulberry Tree without spooking any small bird. Nothing was at the Mulberries, but the “barking/coughing” was back in the reeds. We must have spent 20-30 minutes at the one spot, with no sign of the mystery bird and only Common Gallinule and Little Blue Heron (As well as the Red-Winged Blackbirds and Boat-Tailed Grackles).

A suspected Least Bittern took off from the reeds (top left corner) before settling back in a little 1-2 second flight. Least Bittern were known to be around. Marsh Rabbits were out in force today as four were seen, whereas before we had never seen any. A Swamp Sparrow was also seen in the mud of the bed, which made the chomping rabbits annoying as they twitched the reeds. We moved around the pond to where we had seen the Sora, and I used to scope to check out the reeds. I managed to get the Least Bittern in the scope, realising my error from the other day at Celery Fields. I did not just have to check the base of the reeds, but higher up too. There was no chance to take a photo, although attempted, as it popped back down.

The Mystery of the “Back/Cough” was solved when another birder showed up and told us to watch out for the Alligators as they are quite vocal this time of year. As soon as they said it was an alligator making the noise, it became obvious and also why we did not see anything as we looked around. Some insects were bothering my Father so he headed back to the car to lather up in repellent and I set myself up in the top left corner to relocate the Least Bittern, capturing a picture of the Least Tern fishing in the waterway.

A handful of birds flew into the Mulberry tree and approaching, I could see there was 5 Cedar Waxwing tucking into the mulberries. Unlike the ones that I saw in San Francisco, which posted sentries whilst feeding, these ones seemed undeterred as I approached. I did message my Father to tell him to watch his approach, and as a result they let him pass, not bothered other than moving around the tree slightly. Three ate on their own, whilst two ate together, sometimes sharing a single Mulberry.

We carried on looking for the Least Bittern, and working out what patch of reeds it was in as looking from a different side of the pond. Almost as soon as I worked out the patch, based on the line of sight from a tree trunk, the Least Bittern was on the reeds again. With so many identical reeds, it took several attempts to find the same spot on the Scope and bins, and finally could then use the camera. It stayed for a good few minutes before moving back into the reed bed, without so much as a twitch as it moved.

We removed around the grassy area around from the right hand pond, and made our way around the inside perimeter of the preserve. No small birds around, but after we heard some vocal Blue Jays, a Cooper’s Hawk burst out with the Jays in pursuit. We returned to the car via the woods, with one last look in the middle pond, hoping for another glimpse at Big Al, but alas it was not to be. (I later found out that Big Al did find a mate, which someone managed to capture, so the "Bark/Cough" seems to have paid off)

Once again Possum Branch delivered in bringing something new, and considering the size of it, I can see why so many locals just pop their head in to see what is around. Unlike most parks/preserves in the US, it is very compact. Maybe that is what I like about it. I was happy that I selected this as my final stop on the last day of a very good trip. The Possum Branch group on facebook is also very active and you can see how many interesting things pop up.

29 Species Seen, 2 New Species Photographed

In Summary

As mentioned at the very beginning, I am an opportunistic birdwatcher. The number could have easily increased had I studied the birds before the trip, or understood the weather implications, or revisited the migrant traps. However, I may miss one species with my right eye, but get another with my left. One bird that I had intended to see was the Florida Scrub Jay, as I had planned to go find that after Celery Fields. If I had stuck to that plan, then I would have missed Pinecraft Park, and would not realise what a little gem that was too.

The key bits that I will take away is using the Scope more, study more beforehand (allaboutbirds site was really useful) and learn to recognise a few more bird calls. Whilst having a field guide would be useful, I am happy to capture or watch even common birds and then identify later on.

All About Birds site if you do not know it

125 species seen, and 39 new species photographed

I will post some pictures at some point, in the meantime, they can be found at this link.
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