Since my teaching schedule gives me a week off between Christmas and New Year's Day, Glenn and I have developed a tradition of a New Year's road trip: when we were back in California, this generally involved a getaway to a cute (and potentially birdy) spot such as Santa Barbara or Monterey, and a stay in a comfy B&B.
This year, we spent New Year's Eve in the company of the world's largest palmetto bug ("palmetto bug" being a polite Florida regionalism for what other American English speakers call a BIG-ASS COCKROACH); said bug was promenading calmly across the wall behind the beds in our somewhat down-at-the-heels motel. Glenn caught it in a plastic ice bucket and flushed it down the toilet.
Then, as we watched that sparkly ball drop over Times Square, we toasted each other with big bottle of the excellent Arrogant Bastard Ale and marveled that for the first time, we were actually watching the ball drop live, rather than on three-hour tape delay viewed from the West Coast.
And we were exactly where we wanted to be. Our digs were about as romantic as the DMV, but we were just moments away from some of the best birding in Florida: Merritt Island National Wildlife Sanctuary. We had visited the reserve for the first time last spring, loved it, and were curious to see what birds we could find in the winter.
On New Year's Eve, we stopped by the Visitor's Center at the reserve, and, as on our last visit, immediately spotted Painted Buntings on the feeder behind the volunteer greeter's desk. Two males and a greenie were hopping in and out, looking as tame as House Sparrows. But our cameras were in the car, Glenn wanted to look for eastern shorebirds, and we just figured they would be there when we came back later.
They weren't. (A resolution for the New Year; Take advantage of every opportunity as it comes; it may not come again.) But our shorebird hunting at Canaveral National Seashore, located inside the reserve, gave us a gorgeous morning at the beach and my final lifer of 2009: a Northern Gannet:
The Gannets were seemingly everywhere: every few seconds, a flock of a dozen of them would appear in the north, flying south just beyond the surf line. Occasionally, one would dive for a fish. This was a bird I'd never seen before, and wasn't expecting to see, and now there were hundreds of them. A wonderful way to end a year of good birds.
On New Year's day, we woke up reasonably early and set out to the Viera Wetlands, a well-known birding and bird-photography hotspot about 30 miles south of Titusville. Weather reports the previous evening had warned of heavy rain for New Year's day, but it was still (sort of) dry at the wetlands when we got there. And we immediately found ourselves in the company of several hard-core birders eager to get a jump start on their 2010 year lists: my first bird of 2010 was a Loggerhead Shrike, and my second an American Kestrel. Not too shabby.
The other birders soon pointed out the main reason we were there: a male Masked Duck, who had been lingering there for the past few days. It was hiding in a cluster of pickerel weed when we arrived, but was soon chased out into open water by a territorial Common Moorhen. We all agreed we owed one to that Moorhen:
As we admired the Masked Duck, the rain started to come down—but not before we managed to get and photograph another local specialty, a Limpkin:
The rain continued to come down, now in big cold sheets. But it was still a good New Year's day. We ended the old year and started the new with some darned good birds. I hope this bodes well for everything else in the new year.