Sunday, November 23, 2008
Rail #1: Sora
After last week's fire ant attack, I was tempted to skip birding this weekend. I've practically scratched my left leg off, it's freezing out, and I've got a ton of work to do before the semester ends—not to mention tons of prep for my classes next semester. By Friday, I'd more or less decided to stay indoors and away from biting insects until my leg healed and my to-do list shrunk to manageable proportions.
Then I came to my senses and went out anyways. If stayed in, I'd spend more time wondering what I was missing than working.
So on Sunday, I headed to Cedar Key with the Alachua Audubon field trip group. Our leader warned us that the birding could either be wonderful or non-existent: on one hand, the tide was going to be up when we were scheduled to arrive, meaning little shorebird activity. On the hand, the cold front could well drive in some interesting birds. And there was only one way to find out which way it would be...
Our first stop was on the edge of town, where we pulled off to the side of the road to look for shorebirds. The tide was lower than we expected, and huge flocks of Dunlins, Western Sandpipers, American Oystercatchers, and other usual suspects were feeding off in the distance. We also had a large group of American Avocets—a common bird back in Orange County, but a good sighting here.
In the reeds not far from us, someone spotted a Sora. I heard, but didn't see, a Clapper Rail: Someone played its call, but there was no response.
These were good birds, but we were now on the lookout for sparrows: the swampy area across the street was a known hangout for Nelson's Sharp-tailed Sparrows. And it wasn't long before we found one:
Nelson's Sharp-tailed Sparrow
This was a lifer for me, and I was happy. Then several more came into view, along with several Marsh Wrens. I love Marsh Wrens and haven't seen any since leaving California, so it was a pleasure to see and hear them again. For some reason, seeing them again reminded me that it won't be long until I get to go home for Christmas. Yay!
Soon after, another Sora popped into view, followed by a bold Virginia Rail, who moved in and out of the reeds, occasionally pecking at a dead sand crab nearby:
Rail #2: Virginia Rail
Someone started playing a Seaside Sparrow song on his iPod, but with no response. "Can you play a Clapper Rail?" on of the others asked, "There was one on the other side, but I missed it--and I've never seen one."
The iPod's owner was happy to oblige—and so was one of the local Clappers:
Rail #3: Clapper Rail
"Whoa. How about a Black Rail?" someone else asked. We tried that, and were met with only stillness. We had been lucky, and now we were greedy.
And this was just the first half hour of our trip. Our other major findings were a Bronzed Cowbird (another lifer for me), several Bald Eagles, and the discovery that birding near the runway of Cedar Key's tiny airport is not a good idea. (The police officer who informed us of this suggested that we go to the cemetery instead to look for Ospreys.)
By time we finished up at the cemetery (one skinny juvenile Osprey and a couple of strangely pale, nearly leucistic Red-trailed Hawks), it was almost 1:30 (we had assembled in Gainesville at 6:30), and I was hungry to the point of distraction. My carpool mate was as well, so we stopped at a local seafood place for lunch, where I made my second-to-last useful discovery of the day: Datil pepper sauce is really good on fried seafood. And most other things too, most likely.
My final discovery? On some lucky days, you don't have to work to be productive. And three rails in a day is enough.