A tale of nature, wildlife and birding from Cheshire, North Wales and across the globe....

A tale of nature, wildlife and birding from Cheshire, North Wales and across the globe....

Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Florida Birding Trip Report - Day 10 (Bunche Beach, Carlos Pointe, Felts Audubon Reserve & Tierra Verde)

With blue skies dawning and the Florida sun shining once again, we headed over to the first of two beach locations in an attempt to track down some of the specialist plovers that make their home along Florida’s sandy coastline.
Bunche Beach, Florida
Bunche Beach, Florida
Arriving at Bunche Beach to be met with hundreds of tiny mangrove flies in the car park that insisted on sticking to our sun cream, we quickly headed to the beach to begin our quest for American waders. With the tide rapidly coming in, all the birds were extremely close, meaning we could get excellent views, the only downside being we would need to be quick before they flew off to their high tide roosts!
Bunche Beach, Florida
Bunche Beach, Florida
The skyline from Bunche Beach
Scanning the tideline we quickly spotted several of our main targets at this site – the extremely ‘cute’ looking Piping Plovers. With their large glassy black eyes, dainty faces and exceptionally small size, these mini waders scurried along the edge of the water, several sporting brightly coloured rings on their legs and counting around 7 individuals in total.
Piping Plover - Bunche Beach, Florida
Piping Plover - Bunche Beach, Florida
Piping Plover - complete with leg flags!
A protected species in Florida and under threat due to the development of their beach habitat, Piping Plovers are very much an Eastern American bird in terms of their distribution, so most definitely a species we needed to connect with. Indeed, these spritely individuals turned out to be our only ones of the trip!
Piping Plover - Bunche Beach, Florida
Scanning the rest of the wader flock also revealed two Least Sandpipers, miniscule in size and no mistaking their ID clinching yellowy-green legs. Our only confirmed birds of the trip, we got great views as they scurried along the lapping waves before being moved on by the tide.
Least Sandpiper - Bunche Beach, Florida
Least Sandpiper - Bunche Beach, Florida
Least Sandpiper
A single huge Brown Pelican cruised effortlessly over the waves providing our best photo opportunity yet, while a pair of Ospreys fished from above, taking advantage of the crystal clear shallow water.
Brown Pelican - Bunche Beach, Florida
Brown Pelican - Bunche Beach, Florida
Brown Pelican - Bunche Beach, Florida
Brown Pelican - Bunche Beach, Florida
Brown Pelican
Horseshoe Crab - Bunche Beach
Horseshoe crabs littered the shore
Sea Sponge - Bunche Beach
Large Sea Sponges also protruded from the sand
Finding a secluded bay the tide hadn’t quite reached yet also revealed a confiding flock of Willets, allowing an extremely close approach and not bothered in the slightest by the stream of walkers enjoying the truly stunning scenery and white sandy beach setting alongside them.
Willet - Bunche Beach, Florida
Willet - Bunche Beach, Florida
A rather obliging Willet
Willets - Bunche Beach, Florida
Bunche Beach, Florida
Bunche Beach, Florida
Bunche Beach, Florida
With the tide now fully in and the majority of the waders heading off to their hide tide roost, we headed south along the seaside towns to our next location and the home of two more target plovers – Carlos Pointe
Carlos Pointe, Florida
Parking up near Lovers Key and crossing the huge bridge towering over Big Carlos Pass below, we were soon scanning the vast white sandy expanses in the search for movement. Spotting several poles and a roped off area, it was immediately obvious this was a nesting location, and approaching closer revealed a singly tiny Snowy Plover resting in the sand. 
Snowy Plover nest - Carlos Pointe, Florida
Hunkered down, we were able to get a good look at this beautiful wader, and not wanting to disrupt and disturb it, we quietly left it in peace.
Snowy Plover - Carlos Pointe, Florida
Snowy Plover - Carlos Pointe, Florida
Snowy Plover
Walking along the tideline it soon became clear that the Snowy Plovers had truly exceptional camouflage against the white sand – at one point we were mere feet away before we noticed one pop up off the beach right in front of us – incredible. 
Snowy Plover - Carlos Pointe, Florida
Snowy Plover - Carlos Pointe, Florida
Snowy Plover - Carlos Pointe, Florida
It really was a special experience to have plovers practically walking around your feet – clearly not perturbed by humans and seeming completely at ease.
Snowy Plover - Carlos Pointe, Florida
Snowy Plover - Carlos Pointe, Florida
Snowy Plover - Carlos Pointe, Florida
Snowy Plover - Carlos Pointe, Florida
Snowy Plover - Carlos Pointe, Florida
It wasn’t long before we had our third and final plover target of the day safely in the bag – 2 Wilson’s Plovers, once again their impressive camouflage on point and letting us get to within feet before hopping up to surprise us. Edging slowly across the sand, these enormously thick billed waders moved in an incredibly comical fashion, keeping an eye on us as they shuffled slowly along the beach, settling down again in the same place and more than likely scoping it out as a potential nesting spot.
Wilson's Plover - Carlos Pointe, Florida
Wilson's Plover
Like the Piping Plover from earlier in the morning, Wilson’s Plovers are also predominantly east coast birds, and it was great to catch up with this unusual looking species.
Wilson's Plover - Carlos Pointe, Florida
Taking a wander around the rest of the beach, we soon caught up with the many terns that had been screeching noisily over our heads all morning. 
Least Tern - Carlos Pointe, Florida
Least Tern - Carlos Pointe, Florida
The dainty Least Tern
A small flock of tiny Least Terns kept landing in the lapping water, dwarfed by the large breaking waves, with one individual in particular being not quite quick enough resulting in him getting repeatedly washed away down the beach by the tide!
Least Tern - Carlos Pointe, Florida
Least Tern - Carlos Pointe, Florida
Least Tern - Carlos Pointe, Florida
Least Tern - Carlos Pointe, Florida
Least Tern - Carlos Pointe, Florida
Least Tern - Carlos Pointe, Florida
Least Tern - Carlos Pointe, Florida
Least Tern - Carlos Pointe, Florida
Least Tern - Carlos Pointe, Florida
A single Royal Tern roosting on the sand also provided us with point blank views, much more satisfactory than the distance specs we had on our first day in Florida at Merritt Island. 
Royal Tern - Carlos Pointe, Florida
Royal Tern - Carlos Pointe, Florida
Royal Tern!
With a much thinner yellower bill in comparison to the thick scarlet red of the Caspian Terns, it was easy to separate the two and we were able to approach within metres of this impressive bird. 
Royal Tern - Carlos Pointe, Florida
Royal Tern - Carlos Pointe, Florida
Royal Tern - Carlos Pointe, Florida
Achieving close up views of all our target species, Carlos Pointe seemed like a beach birding wonderland!
Carlos Pointe, Florida
Carlos Pointe, Florida
Carlos Pointe, Florida
Doing some beachcombing revealed some impressive sea urchins – it was a challenge not to stand on any with our flip flops!
Having a quick lunch consisting of melted brunch bars before we departed, we were soon well on our way to target what was one of my most wanted birds of the whole trip -  a male Painted Bunting. Having felt that we may not connect with a male at Merritt Island (I was right, we’d only seen a female) I’d done a bit of research before flying out to try and find a nailed on site for this rainbow patterned wonder.

Noticing a number of records of males at Felts Audubon Preserve and monitoring the site on e-bird during the trip, it was clear there was still at least one male hanging around a few days earlier, and even better, the site was just a 10 minute detour from our hotel up at St Petersburg.
Felts Audubon Preserve, Florida
Felts Audubon Preserve - home of male Painted Buntings!
Despite Alex’s protestations before we flew out about not wasting time on a male if we had already seen females at Merritt Island, me behind the wheel during this leg of the journey meant he had little choice but to strap in and enjoy the ride. Arriving at this secretive and hidden away reserve, we made the short walk to the hide and feeders the buntings had been coming to, the trees draped in swathes of hanging moss and lichens creating the impressed of an enchanted wood – the Painted Bunting clearly the hidden treasure within.
Felts Audubon Preserve, Florida
This Bee Home was just one of many cool things at Felts Audubon Preserve
Settling down in the hide to begin our wait, it wasn’t long before the first Indigo Buntings started to appear, several bright blue males perched on the edge of the clearing, closely followed by up to 3 female Painted Buntings, all eager to feed on one of the many large bird feeders surrounding the clearing. It seemed only a matter of time before our male appeared.
Indigo Bunting - Felts Audubon Preserve, Florida
Indigo Bunting - Felts Audubon Preserve, Florida
Indigo Bunting
At this point however, four loud photographers entered the hide, and upon swiftly deciding that this set up didn’t suit their needs, promptly decided to head outside and in to the feeding compound, right in front of the hide and feeders and completely ignoring the signs asking birders not to do this. Armed with their huge telescopic lenses and making a racket of noise, the birds promptly vanished and didn’t reappear until after they had left (without their shots) half an hour later. Annoyed and frustrated was an understatement.
Cloudless Sulphur - Felts Audubon Reserve, Florida
This Cloudless Sulphur offered some distraction whilst waiting for the male Painted Bunting to show. Photo by Alex Jones
Waiting patiently and quietly inside the hide, a trickle of birds eventually started to return. With up to 18 Indigo Buntings gradually reappearing, we sat and waited, a wealth of other regular birds keeping our attention. Northern Cardinals, Blue Jays, Gray Catbirds and Common Grackles all took advantage of the food scraps on offer, while a fine Red-bellied Woodpecker put on a show clinging on to the wooden bird table. A beautiful Swallow-tailed Kite briefly made an appearance, gliding gracefully over the tree line before vanishing out of sight, while a pair of Mourning Doves gave us a fright as one powered straight in to the glass of the hide before taking shelter in the undergrowth – hopefully it was ok!

Then, on the right hand side of the palm leaves something bright and bold caught my eye. Hopping in to view and perching on a large leaf, my breath caught in my chest – there in all his colourful glory was my much sought after male.
Male Painted Bunting - Felts Audubon Preserve, Florida
Male!
With his multi-coloured feathers displaying every colour of the rainbow, this is surely one of the most beautiful birds in America – every shade of the palette seemed to shine out of his wings.
Male Painted Bunting - Felts Audubon Preserve, Florida
Male Painted Bunting - Felts Audubon Preserve, Florida
Flitting away before we could get any photos, we waited until he reappeared – much shyer than the accompanying Indigo Buntings but eventually putting on a show stopping performance as he fed on the nearest feeder to us. Definitely a bird I’ll never forget. Despite not technically being a lifer, this was my second best individual of the trip, proving that birding should never be about acquiring a tick – seeing a bird well and at its most beautiful is far more important.
Male Painted Bunting - Felts Audubon Preserve, Florida
Male Painted Bunting - Felts Audubon Preserve, Florida
Male Painted Bunting - Felts Audubon Preserve, Florida
With time marching on, Alex had his own ‘male’ that he wanted to catch up with. Checking e-bird for any species we had missed off our checklist before we left, he was stunned to find a pool containing hundreds of Redheads just 15 minutes away from our hotel in St Petersburg. Being a wintering species and usually disappearing at the end of March and beginning of April, this pool in Tierra Verde seemed to contain them in relatively good numbers right up until the end of April – ideal. Bizarrely numbers had been much lower this year with birds moving on quicker, and since the end of March just 1 or 2 individuals lingered on.

Travelling up through St Petersburg towards the pools the Redheads had been seen on, we had our next unexpected lifer of the day - a Nanday Parakeet perched on the wires lining the road. Another introduced exotic, again this species is fully countable under ABA rules, and we made several brief stops to enjoy these brightly coloured parrots on the way to the Redheads.
Nanday Parakeet - Tierra Verde, Florida
Nanday Parakeet
Arriving at the pool it seemed our luck was in – a single male Redhead swimming swiftly towards us – bingo! A bird we had no idea would even be present in Florida during our stay just a matter of weeks ago was now firmly on our list! 
Redhead - Tierra Verde, Florida
Redhead
Moving around to the other edge of the pool to get a better view, another two individuals came out to join our first male, moving quickly across the pond and allowing us to get some distant record shots.
Redhead - Tierra Verde, Florida
Osprey - Tierra Verde, Florida
Photobombing Osprey!
Counting several Red-breasted Mergansers fishing alongside the usual American Coots and Common Gallinules skulking around the edges of the reeds, the pools held nothing further of note, and with it now getting late we headed back to our boutique hotel for the night, stopping to watch several flocks of chattering Nanday Parakeets along the way.
Nanday Parakeets - Tierra Verde, Florida
With a delicious tapas restaurant situated right next door to the hotel, it was safe to say we ate especially well that night, the lamb cutlets in red wine jus a particular favourite and arguably the best food of the trip. Well-fed and extremely satisfied with our birding, we were able to relax for the night before a promising next day at Fort De Soto – with practically all of our targets here already checked off we could afford to step off the gas a little and just enjoy our time leisurely on the beautiful Gulf of Mexico coast. 

Bunche Beach, Florida
Bunche Beach, Florida
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