Saturday, August 23, 2008

Storm Birds

Another new bird for me: A Red-bellied Woodpecker at Palm Point Park, by Newnans Lake.

Fay loomed psychically over Gainesville like an empty threat for most of the week, before dumping torrents of rain on Thursday and Friday. And I was soon to find out that around here, storm-blown pelagic birds are the silver lining to hurricane clouds.

Through a great site called, I contacted a local birding master who told me that Newnans Lake is THE place to be the day after a hurricane or tropical storm, and invited me to join him and several others to look for pelagics there on Friday morning.

But when Friday rolled around, rain was coming down in sheets, all the local schools and government offices were closed, and public-service announcements were warning of the dire consequences of "non-essential travel". I figured that there was no way they'd be going out on a day like this, and went back to bed.

That afternoon, I got an e-mail from him: he and the others had seen seven tern species, some phaloropes, and a Leach's Storm Petrel.

And I had wimped out. I blame it on my Southern California background: if you'd spent your life in a place where the tiniest hint of condensation becomes STORM WATCH 2008! in the local TV news, would you get up at 5 am to drive through unfamiliar rural roads through a tropical storm?

But--my new birding mentor's e-mail continued—they were going out again on Saturday. Could I join them then?

It was still raining on Saturday morning. But there was no way I was missing out.

Once there, I found myself surrounded by a crowd of birders with spotting scopes, all scanning the lake. A large flock of Black Terns drifted back and forth over the course of the morning. I also got three new tern species: Sooty, Common, and Sandwich Terns.

The other birders were thrilled with the influx of seafaring birds. I was thrilled by everything: The common resident Tri-colored Herons (a lifer for me) . The resident Bald Eagles (not new birds for me, but by no means routine, either). And the moss-filled oaks and cypress trees surrounding the lake were filled with noisy Red-bellied Woodpeckers and warblers--I got two new warblers as well, a Prothonotory Warbler and a Northern Parula.

Nobody could re-find the Leach's Storm Petrel seen the day before, but we did get another good bird: a Magnificent Frigatebird, which I miraculously managed to photograph, sort of:

This was so much fun, I decided to go back again on Sunday. The fact that someone had spotted a Jaeger on Saturday afternoon was all the more reason for a return trip.

The Jaeger was indeed there for most of Sunday morning, but it sadistically chose to stay on the opposite shore of the lake from us, far out of decent photo range. Through our spotting scopes, we could see that it was a solid dark brown (thus immature), and had wingtips that ended before its tail when it was resting on the water (which was most of the time). I think the others sort of decided it was a Parasitic Jaeger. Or a Pomarine. Or something...

This was Mystery Lifer #1 of the day. Mystery Lifer #2 was this hawk, who, according to the other birders looking at it, was either a very dark Broad-winged Hawk or a Short-tailed Hawk:

But I also got a few new birds I could ID definitively (or that were identified definitively for me by others): a Yellow-billed Cuckoo, a Prairie Warbler, and an Anhinga. There were also lots of interesting new butterflies to wonder at:

I could not ask for a better weekend: 12 lifers in 48 hours, the company of pleasant and knowledgeable birders, and a great place to look for birds. And I was happy to find that, contrary to the warnings I've heard from local acquaintances, my birding adventures out here won't resemble a violent mashup of "Kingbird Highway" and "Deliverance" after all.

This could be good!


Corey said...

Great weekend! Your hawk is NOT a broad-winged . . Short-tailed is much more likely. And the swallowtail is a Spicebush Swallowtail . . one of the fastest flying swallowtails you'll see. Watch out for the floods!

Felicia said...

Thanks for the ID! (And I'm still looking for your Glossy Ibis...!)

Sparverius said...

Sounds like you had a wonderful time. Glad to hear it. Good company is always a good thing!

Felicia said...

Thanks much! There is really nothing more reassuring than finding kindred spirits when moving to a new place!