Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Birding Update: Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge

Took a two-hour drive up to Merritt Island today, in the hopes of having a Big Day (meaning lots of species sightings and good photo ops). A Big Day is hard to accomplish by myself, since I don't own a spotting scope and I'm not great with shorebirds and peeps. I tend to see a lot that I can't identify. My solo one-day record is 74 species, but I managed to get 66 today, including a lifer: Northern Gannet! And some of my favorite species, including Roseate Spoonbills, Scrub Jays, and Reddish Egrets.

Spoonbills make every day better.
The highlights:

An enormous flock of white pelicans, literally hundreds...the most I've ever seen. They were hanging out with several dozen spoonbills and dozens more assorted egrets and white ibis. I didn't realize how many there were until they all flew up and headed over to a new foraging site...and the birds just kept coming...and coming...there was no end to their numbers. At first I started taking pictures, but then I just stood and watched in awe.

Likewise, the coots throughout the refuge probably numbered in the thousands. Perhaps tens of thousands wouldn't be an exaggeration.

American Coots

Scrub jays were abundant but secretive and not friendly this time around. Usually they at least come out to investigate me and the shiny grommets on my hat, but today they were camera-shy. Got some good looks at some of my favorite ducks: wigeons, pintails, and shovelers, and had a strange sighting in the early afternoon. At first I thought I was seeing a giant flock of blackbirds or starlings making their characteristic swooping, undulating circles. That in itself is cool enough to stop and watch, but these birds seemed too large to be blackbirds. When I looked at them through binocs, I could see patches of white on some of them. A few minutes later, I ran into a couple photographers who told me that the giant flock was comprised of WIGEONS (and was possibly two flocks) being pursued by a peregrine falcon. None of us has ever seen ducks flock or fly the way masses of blackbirds do. I wish I'd had time to get the video set up on my camera.

Wigeons on the wing
Spent a beautiful hour at Canaveral National Seashore, where I spotted what I first thought were several Masked Boobys offshore, far enough away that it was hard for me to make a positive ID at first. I didn't have my bird book with me, and although I've seen Masked Boobys in the Galapagos, I wasn't entirely sure what these were. They turned out to be Northern Gannets, allowing me to add to my life list. (And for the record, it's awfully awkward when you're sitting on the beach with binoculars, and someone asks what you're looking at, and you say "boobies!")

Canaveral National Seashore

All in all, a decent birding day. I wish I'd gotten my butt out of bed earlier, because I didn't get there until 8:30, and I think I should have hit the wildlife drive areas first. (Note: there's a new $5 entrance fee to access Blackpoint Wildlife Drive; however, you're on the honor system to actually put a fiver in the envelope.)

Species list for today

American Wigeon                 Mottled Duck
Blue-winged Teal                  Northern Shoveler
Northern Pintail                    Hooded Merganser
Pied-billed Grebe                  Wood Stork
Northern Gannet                  Double-crested Cormorant
Anhinga                                  American White Pelican
Brown Pelican                       Great Blue Heron
Great Egret                             Snowy Egret
Little Blue Heron                  Tricolored Heron
Reddish Egret                        Cattle Egret
American White Ibis            Glossy Ibis
Roseate Spoonbill                 Black Vulture
Turkey Vulture                      Osprey
Bald Eagle                              Northern Harrier
Red-Shouldered Hawk         merican Moorhen
American Coot                      Killdeer
Spotted Sandpiper                Greater Yellowlegs
Ruddy Turnstone                 Sanderling
Laughing Gull                      Ring-Billed Gull
Herring Gull                         Royal Tern
Rock Pigeon                          Mourning Dove
Belted Kingfisher                 Red-bellied Woodpecker
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker    Pileated Woodpecker
Eastern Phoebe                    White-eyed Vireo
Florida Scrub-Jay                 Tree Swallow
Tufted Titmouse                   Carolina Wren
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher         Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Gray Catbird                          Northern Mockingbird
Yellow-rumped Warbler      Yellow-throated Warbler
Palm Warbler                        Black-and-white Warbler
Common Yellowthroat        Savannah Sparrow
Northern Cardinal                Red-winged Blackbird
Common Grackle                 Boat-tailed Grackle

Daily total: 66
2012 total: 74
Life total: 422

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