|2014 Winners, My Friends Danny and Maralee, With the Trophy That They Shared|
The June Challenge Kickoff started on June 1st, bright and early, led as always by local birder extraordinaire, Rex Rowan. The Kickoff is a great way to commune with fellow birders and to take advantage of the combined eyes, ears and knowledge of a big group to get your list going. At the end of the morning it is usually possible to have 50-60 birds checked off the list. Without the Kickoff, my list is considerably shorter at the end of the month. Rex plans the morning to hit 4-5 locations with certain target species and it usually very successful.
|Sunrise in the Flatwoods|
|Here, Kitty Kitty...|
Next stop was the boat ramp at Owens-Illinois Park in Windsor, on the east side of Newnan's Lake to look for Eagles and Limpkins. We walked down to the lakeshore and were mobbed by midges until we stood in the sun. They had completely covered the grass and plants in the shady edges. It was pretty impressive how many insects were out there, but they werent biting, and they probably provide lots of good food for insectivores. At Windsor we saw a Limpkin eating snails, a Laughing Gull, a fishing Osprey, Red-winged Blackbirds, Grackles, an Anhinga, Black Bellied Whistling Ducks, Cormorants, a Great Egret, a Green Heron and a Great Blue Heron as well as a cool Black Mudsnake. I've never seen one of these before, but I understand now that they are very common. I missed the Bald Eagle because I was looking at the snake. We also saw a Least Bittern climbing up some cattails. Least Bitterns have been very plentiful this year and I almost laugh when I see yet another. They are delightful little birds, though. On the way back to our cars people heard a Prairie Warbler, which would have been a great bird for the list, but no one was able to see it. We did see a Red Eyed Vireo, though.
|Millions of Midges|
|Red Belly of a Black Mudsnake|
|Successful Osprey over Newnan's Lake|
|Can You Find the Least Bittern?|
Next stop, Palm Point Park, on the west side of the lake, to try to find a Prothonotary Warbler. I was so impressed to learn that both Rex and Mike Manetz, another expert birder in our group, could each make a pretty convincing Screech Owl call! No luck with the Prothonotaries, but we did find a Tri-Colored Heron, another Limpkin, a Carolina Wren, White Eyed Vireo and a Pileated Woodpecker. It was getting pretty hot, but we trudged on to the last stop, La Chua Trail at Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park.
It was about 10:30 and was getting hotter and hotter. It seemed like a bad sign that the Iron Ranger (self-pay station) at the park entrance was covered with a sign saying no fee was necessary because the trail was closed. But we decided to try anyway. When we got inside the park, we met one of the workers doing the road construction and he told us to stay on the boardwalk rather than on the road closer to the bushes where we wanted to go. So we looked from the boardwalk as the bulldozers chased away birds at the edge of the road. It was not ideal. Still, we saw an Orchard Oriole, an Indigo Bunting and a family of Common Gallinules.
At the end of the boardwalk, we realized that the construction would not impede our access to the rest of the trail, so the group marched on. We hoped to find a King Rail or Purple Gallinule along the old Sweetwater Branch, but the vegetation was too high to continue. We did see a Mississippi Kite as well as White Ibises and Cattle Egrets flying overhead and a Barn Swallow resting on a branch.
After I had cooled off and showered at home, I took a peek around my yard and added Mourning Doves, Brown Thrasher, Mockingbird, Cardinal, Titmouse, Carolina Chickadee, Downy Woodpecker, Ruby Throated Hummingbird, Brown Headed Cowbird, Bluejay and House Finch. And later on an evening walk, I added Chimney Swifts, and drove past the Beef Unit on the UF Campus to add Rock Pigeons to my list.
At the end of the day I was exhausted, had visited 5 parks, and had 51 birds on my list. Not a bad start. 29 days to go!