Monday, January 17: Flint Pen Strand

Since the Barred Owls haven't been seen in two weeks, probably because they're on eggs in a cavity in the cypress dome by the parking lot, we didn't feel a need to be there a half hour before sunrise. Plus, the large flights of wading birds haven't been arriving then either.

But there were lots of wading birds. The scene above was just north of the west lake in an area ripe for foraging because small fish were trapped in the water. In addition to the Wood Storks, Roseate Spoonbills, Great Blue Herons, Great Egrets, Little Blue Herons, Glossy Ibis, and White Ibis in the photo, there were Snowy Egrets and Tricolored Herons just to the right.

New this week after several weeks of absence were Black-bellied Whistling Ducks and Mottled Ducks.

In spite of some regular birds that weren't seen or heard -- Blue Jays, Northern Cardinals, Mourning Doves, Common Ground Doves -- we still had 51 species of birds. After our hike around the lakes and marsh and a side trip down Ridge Road, I stopped at the main parking lot to try and find a few of those absentees, but the only ones added were Mourning Doves, bring the day's total to 52 species.

Although neither of the Great Horned Owls were in their tree on Ridge Road, the walk wasn't wasted. We found a pair of Brown-headed Nuthatches, an Eastern Phoebe, Red-bellied Woodpeckers, Downy Woodpeckers, a Pileated Woodpecker, a Northern Flicker, and a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. Warblers were Palm, Pine, and Yellow-rumped.

Red-shouldered Hawks were also there, but more had already been seen around the marsh and lakes.

In addition to the herons and egrets, birds foraging along the shores of the lakes and in the marsh were Greater Yellowlegs, Killdeer, Common Gallinules, a Spotted Sandpiper, Least Sandpipers, and one immature Black-crowned Night Heron.

Birds in the marsh grasses and reeds were mostly Boat-tailed Grackles, but one King Rail called and one Wilson's Snipe was flushed and flew into the wet grasses near the pines.

One surprise in the marsh grasses was a male Northern Harrier which eventually flew up and to the west.

Belted Kingfishers and Ospreys were overhead.

The only herps were gators. The large ones were in the lakes and the small ones were at the north end of the marsh. Mammals were just White-tailed Deer, but there were several groups of them.

It was cool and windy most of the morning, so insects weren't overly common. White Peacocks and Gulf Fritillaries were the most often seen of the four species of butterflies, and the only dragonflies were Needham's Skimmers and one Halloween Pennant.

Friday, January 21: Pepper Ranch

It was short-sleeve weather in the morning, but with the humidity near 100%, it was incredibly foggy. When the fog did begin to burn off later in the morning, it was overcast, so lighting for photography was poor the whole time.

We were still able to see movement near the main road through the preserve. One of the first sightings was a group of Wild Turkeys moving through one of the meadows. At first there were three, then four more emerged, then more became visible. All were moving in a straight line to the north and disappeared back into the fog.

When we reached a turn in the road, we looked back and could see three of them but the rest were out of sight. More Wild Turkeys were seen later in the morning.

We could hear Sandhill Cranes in the distance and a little while later, we saw more that were too far away to photograph. Finally we came upon a pair that was relatively close to the road and could dimly be photographed.

Lots of Eastern Meadowlarks called, but the only one we saw was perched on a wire above one of the cattle crossings.

After recent heavy rains, one of the trails was completely closed and the others were very muddy, so we did most of the birding along the road, some walking and some by car. Nevertheless, we eventually wound up finding 43 species of birds in the preserve and added one more at the Ann Olefsky park just south of the preserve.

Two of the species we were hoping to find -- Crested Caracara and Northern Harrier -- were absent although we had seen them on previous visits.

One of the nicest sightings was a pair of male American Redstarts. They were in roughly the same area where they had been spotted the last time we were there. Other warblers observed were Palm, Pine, Common Yellowthroat, and Yellow-rumped.

The only herps that were seen were gators, a moss-covered Red-bellied Turtle, and Brown Anoles. One Florida Cricket Frog called. Mammals were just Gray Squirrels and one White-tailed Deer that bounded across the road.

Not many plants were in bloom, so butterflies were scarce. The only species along the road were White Peacocks and Zebra Longwings, and a Black Swallowtail and Great Southern White were spotted near the Lake Trafford overlook in the preserve. That's also where 14 of the Anhingas, an Osprey, and Double-crested Cormorants were seen.