Tuesday, March 1, 2022

Fort Pulaski National Moument

 On our way northward toward home we stopped at Fort Pulaski National Monument located between Savannah and Tybee Island. Not really intending to bird as we were unfamiliar with the area and just planning on seeing the historical site, we learned that the land and trails around the fort are rich birding territory.

A family of Bald Eagles on a nesting platform on the way to the fort's entrance were the first birds we saw, and then a dozen of more Forester's Terns in non-breeding plumage perched on the bridge railing. While in the fort along the earthen battlement we observed a lone Great Egret in the marsh below. Eastern Bluebird flew into an ancient cedar tree and song sparrows grazed by the moat.

The park ranger noticed the bird on my baseball cap and the binoculars hanging from our necks and asked if we were birders. We affirmed her guess and she then told us of a owls, she didn't know which species, in a crater on the side of the fort's outer wall.

It was a game of Where's Waldo scanning the cannonball and shell pocked brick fort but we found the owls: a Great Horned adult and owlet on the ledge and tucked into a crater from a long ago siege.


 

The owlet was awake and even tilted its fluffy head up when a small plane flew directly above the fort.

We found a paved trail that wound through a wood of cabbage palm, cedar, holly and palmetto.


 

The tree tops were full of hundreds of Cedar waxwings enjoying the bounty of the holly and cedars. We've never seen so many in one place. Their high-pitched song was so insistent that it felt like we had tinnitus.


 There was a beach but the wind was up so high that no shorebirds were present where we walked to, but brown pelican and bufflehead were out in the chop. This is one place we are planning to return another day and there are more trails to explore and certainly more birds to find!



Friday, February 25, 2022

Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge and Canaveral National Seashore

 Cutting through early morning fog burning off as the rising sun brightening everything, we headed to the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge from our Titusville accommodations. 


 

We stopped at the visitor center about 15 minutes before it opened and walked the boardwalk trail there.

Green Heron engaged on a territorial struggle, Osprey sat in a snag nears its nest, Common Grackle, Red-winged Blackbird, and Blue Jay disturbed the morning silence as did the burring call of Northern Parula.

The boardwalk behind the visitor center had a railing that bordered a bit of green with a bird feeder. We gasped as Painted Bunting, one male and two female, emerged from the shrubs and took advantage of the feeders.


What a great sight! We felt so fortunate to finally get good views of these lovely birds.

We walked the boardwalk trail that wound through the hammock of orange tree, cabbage palm (the Florida state tree), saw palmetto, and giant leather fern among others.


 


 We then drove to the adjacent Canaveral National Seashore before taking the roads through the wildlife refuge on a quest for Florida Scrub-jays and were told that they are by the ranger station on the seashore road.

Before we saw any jays a covey of Northern Bobwhite ran across the pull over road by the station.


 

And just a few hundred feet down the road five Florida Scrub-jays called their raspy song and flew back and forth across the road. It was thrilling to see these indigenous birds of the Sunshine State for the first time.



 

We decided to see the shore before the rest of the refuge. The NASA Vehicle Assembly Building sits on the landscape to the south.

 A Black Vulture makes a perch of a warming sign on the way to the beach.

The beach is wide and seemingly endless.


 


We saw Ring-billed Gulls and a lone Bonaparte's Gull with a Royal Tern in the group. 



 

A lone Willet probed the sand.


 

Back in the Refuge we drove the Biolab Road and Wildlife Drive which is edged with button mangrove canal and wetlands. Birds were everywhere!

Glossy Ibis:


 

Little Blue Heron:

 

Anhinga:

Pied-billed Grebe:

Tri-colored Heron:

Common Gallinule:

Rafts of American Coot:

Reddish Egret:

 The bird blinds on the Wildlife Drive yielded lots of Blue-winged Teal, a Lesser Yellowlegs, and Willet.

And in the nearby mangrove a Sora poked out in the open for a few seconds before slipping back into the shade.



 The road is flat and so easy to drive and see birds.

American Alligator live there and several basked in the sun.

Little butterflies (and I have non idea what these beauties are) flitted and landed on the thistle and wildflowers bordering the road.


 



Merritt Island and the Canaveral Seashore in February is certainly a wondrous place to bird and to slowly enjoy nature.













Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park, FL

 We drove over three hours from Key Largo to central Florida. This is cowboy country, and the home of the darkest park in Florida: Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park. We were there for the morning, and birds were our main focus.



The open land with palmetto and grass and the occasional shady live oak and palm oasis is bird rich. It's the home to the elusive Grasshopper Sparrow and Bachman's Sparrow. We weren't fortunate enough to find these birds but we did see quite a lot of species,  some of whom don't make an appearance up in northern Virginia until late April.

The first bird we saw was a Red-shouldered Hawk (the paler Florida variety) perched on top of a cabbage palm.



 

Five miles from the park entrance was the campground area and it was very productive. In one large live oak we saw three warblers. Our photos weren't that great as they were up high and very active.

Northern Parula:

Pine Warbler:

And also the Prairie Warbler and Blue-gray Gnatcatcher.

In a near by live oak, American Crow with young made a big racket.

 

A Red-bellied Woodpecker searched for a meal on the same tree.


As did a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker:

 

Wild turkey roamed the ground under the trees.


 

Chipping Sparrows took advantage of the shade and searched the ground for tasty treats.

 

Out in the prairie we drove the five mile dusty road and spotted over a dozen Eastern Meadowlarks along the road side. They were calling out from the tops of the scrubby bushes.


 

We saw Loggerhead Shrike, Turkey Vulture, Northern Bobwhite scampering across the road, and Northern Mockingbird singing from pence posts. Cattle Egrets walked at the hooves of black cows searching for the insects these big animals exposed with each step.

The park was a great habitat to visit in Florida. Not one that many tourists think of when they think about Florida landscapes or beachscapes. We are already making plans to reserve a camping spot and return during spring migration next year!