This weekend, I did something I've never done before: I took a non-birder friend birding. This friend is a colleague of mine who's endured God-knows-how-many of my Monday morning weekend birding reports—and she decided that she had to see for herself what all the fuss was about.
So on Sunday morning, I picked her up and took her to La Chua, a perfect place for a birding virgin: a long, flat trail overlooking several waterways, offering guaranteed sightings of Big Pretty Birds. And for the first time in weeks, the birds decided to cooperate with me. (I suspect they decided to make an appearance for my friend's benefit, not mine.)
Near the trailhead, I set up my spotting scope so she could get good looks at the nesting Osprey pair, and while we were there, a Brown Thrasher and a Great-crested Flycatcher lingered close by—close enough for good looks even without optics. Other usual-suspect birds—Northern Mockingbirds, Northern Cardinals, Carolina Chickadees—hopped around nearly, singing loudly and allowing more good looks.
I was counting on a short trip; I figured that a non-birder would grow quickly bored of staring into clumps of foliage for signs of movement. But my friend was surprisingly game—and naturally skilled. We lingered on the trail by the Osprey nest for a good half-hour, watching songbirds come and go.
We moved on towards Alachua Sink: just before the sink, the trail opens up to a flat expanse of prairie and grazing land. There, we saw several Wild Turkeys—a fairly common occurrence there. But today we got unusually lucky: one of the male birds was in the middle of a feverish courtship display:
This dude kept up his prancing and preening for a good half hour, while a nearby female pointedly ignored him. We kept tabs on their seduce-and-snub act while looking out for other birds in the area: a group of three Red-bellied Woodpeckers (a family?), a Blue Grosbeak, and passing overhead, a Sandhill Crane and a Mississippi Kite. Another productive half-hour spent standing nearly still.
Near the sink, we got another good summer bird, and an ideal piece of avian eye candy for a new birder: a Purple Gallinule:
Along the main part of the trail, we saw all the usual egrets and herons (though not the Least Bitterns that others had reported seeing a few days earlier), as well as Wood Storks and the whole range of non-avian wildife known to inhabit the area: a huge herd of bison, wild horses and pigs, a four-foot long soft-shell turtle, and of course, dozens of alligators.
I was happy and grateful that the birds and other critters were all out and about for my friend. Maybe now she understands what all the fuss is about.