Saturday, June 1, 2013

The Rosy Fingered Dawn

I'm not a morning person. Never have been. All my life I've been more of a night owl. I did an early morning stint when my kids were in middle school and I had to wake up at 5:30 to get them on the bus by 6:30 and it was very painful. I don't remember much about that time except being tired. Given my druthers, I'd prefer to wake up at 7 and have a leisurely breakfast as I read the paper and listen to the news. But now that I'm starting to hang out with birders, I may have to change. At least for the month of June. I'm participating in the 10th Annual "June Challenge" with members of the Alachua County Audubon Society. Local birders have a friendly competition to spot as many bird species as possible within our county limits in the month of June. You have to actually see the bird for it to count, so if you want to get Owls and Chuck-Wills-Widows, you need to be out when they are. This means mornings. I'm just not good at getting out early, and usually I don't have to. Flowers don't wake up at any particular time. Butterflies are active later in the morning when the sun is shining. 8 or 9 am is usually fine for my purposes. But birds get up early, and if you want to catch the good ones, you need to get out early with them.

This morning my buddy Maralee picked me up at 5:45 (such a good friend!) and we drove to the kickoff event for the June Challenge. We joined about 35 other dedicated souls at 6:15am at Longleaf  Flatwoods Preserve to get a head start on our checklists with a birdwalk guided by the June Challenge organizer, Rex Rowan.
Still Dark
Searching for Sparrows
The bugs weren't bad and we watched the rosy glow of the sunrise peek through the pines. A Chuck-Wills-Widow teased us from the edges of the parking lot, but no one saw it, so it didn't count. As the sun rose higher, dew dripped from the pine needles and the spider webs shimmered white. A layer of mist stretched across the tops of the palmettos.
Dewy Morning

Morning Mist
We called a Bachman's Sparrow and eventually, it answered, to the great delight of the whole group. You've got to love people that gasp and cheer when they see a sparrow fly up and perch on a branch!
Bachman's Sparrow
From the Longleaf Preserve, we headed to the Windsor Boat ramp on the eastern shore of Newnan's Lake, hoping to find Bald Eagles and some Gulls. In the parking lot we were greeted by 3 Wild Turkeys. But we heard a peculiar sound and high-tailed it down to the shore to investigate. It turned out to be at least 3 Limpkins! They make the strangest, most haunting call, and it was a wonderful treat to see them. They've been fairly rare in the county, due to the decline in their main food staple--the Florida Apple Snail. Invasive exotic Island Apple Snails moved in (possibly as releases from fish tanks) and out-competed the native snail. But apparently the Limpkins have adapted and are now feeding on the exotic Island Apple Snail and so we have Limpkins again. We also saw a Bald Eagle and some Laughing Gulls.

Then it was off to La Chua Trail at Paynes Prairie. We pulled up in the parking lot at about 9am and already we'd seen so much! The group tried to call in a Yellow Billed Cuckoo and Summer Tanager as we gathered, but they didn't cooperate. Another Cuckoo appeared a little way down the trail and some of the group saw it. I didn't, so I can't count it. I'll have to go back later in the week. I'm a stickler for the rules!
Calling Cuckoos
The sun was shining by then and it was starting to get hot, but we walked the mile down to the viewing platform and back. The butterflies perked up in the sun we saw a lot of Swallowtail action as we walked by the tall Nuttall's Thistles. Highlights of the La Chua Trail trip were the Great White Heron, King Rail and Least Bittern. Oh yeah, and 2 Whooping Cranes. (!).
Great White Heron

King Rail

Nuttall's Thistle (Cirsium nuttallii)
So at the end of the morning, I had 54 birds on my list. A pretty good start for the month. And I had a lovely time in the cool morning air, communing with nature and interesting people. Excellent motivation and reinforcement for waking up early and getting out for the next 29 days. But who's counting?


  1. Beautiful and lovely essay. This is the first time I read your blog. Rex did a good job of providing your link. Thanks!!


    1. It was such a lovely morning! Thanks so much for reading. I appreciate your kind comments.

  2. Love the line "you've got to gasp and cheer..." I've limpkins on the canal at the back of my garden, and feel very protective of them. I've memorized their clucks and cries (what else would you call it!). Your pictures are beautiful in their detail. I'm glad I've Networked you. ;-)

  3. Aw, thanks! You're so lucky to have yard limpkins! Very cool.