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Wednesday, May 04, 2016

Two Birds, No Stone

Long-horned beetle exploring a Florida cactus flower
Black Vulture in left, Short-tailed Hawk on right.

Today began with careful scanning of the skies near the western shores of Lake Weohyakapka, looking for Florida specialty species - the Short-tailed Hawk.  Was surprised to learn from Larry, the raptor's normal prey are birds. Can't fault that diet, as must admit, am fond of eating birds too.

The inset of the Short-tailed Hawk 
There were plenty of birds near the lake - the usual water birds; cormorants, herons and the like, as well as feathered landlubbers such as Great-crested Flycatchers andVultures. The vultures, Larry told us, were the key to our quest. Short-tails like to soar with vultures. as their prey ignore carrion eating vultures, so do not notice the hawk overhead. Driving on there was no  success, causing us to face the horrid thought, perhaps today wasn't our day. Then... huzzah! Larry spotted a dark phase, Short-tail Hawk over a forested area. I was on the bird in a flash, shooting off 25 or 30 shots. Then I looked down at my camera to check my shots, and then rat! I'd shot a string of black photos. *(@)#!  the camera's control dial had been accidentally be set to 'Eff Claire'. Note to self: Check camera's settings at the start of every day, EVERY TIME!

By now, the Short-tail was farther off, but a string of photos managed. The pix are out of focus, but that's because that beauty was so far off. The photo shown is an inset from the upper photo. I must say, a fuzzy pic makes for a happier 'moi' than no photos at all. It took me um... 18 years, but as of today, the Short-tailed Hawk perches proudly on my life list. Go me!

Our next bird was also a 'speciality' meaning birders 'flock' to Florida just to see the species. We now looked for the Florida Scrub Jay. To start, Larry took us to where the species had been easily seen in the past. Arriving at the local State Park, the friendly woman park ranger looked suitably grieved to inform us the birds were for no known reason - absent. However, she was quick to give us a map and directions to a location where the birds have been seen recently. Soon Larry was driving the van in an ever-decreasing Fibonacci swirl. Eventually we arrived at - inhale deeply prior to saying this out loud - Allen David Broussard Catfish Creek State Park - Whew!

The park was strange, as the ground beneath our feet was sand.
Sandy parking lot at Allen Dav... er... Catfish Creek Park
Soon we were treading a park trail, which was akin to walking on a sandy beach. Between the warm air and the difficult to walk on sand, I fretted a bit, a total waste of energy, I can tell you. With everyone disappearing up the slope, I moved as fast as my tubby legs could manage.
Innocent sandy, shrubby habitat at the park
On the bright side, there were butterflies flitting about, and yellow bloomed prickly pear cactus to distract from the sandy walking. It wasn't long at all before we stopped and Larry focused his trained hearing for Jays. As earlier in the day, success didn't just pop out of the shrubbery - we had to skulk around, listening and watching. Then, Larry heard a tell tale raucous call off down the hill. He headed into the shrubbery and I headed right after him.
Prickly Pear Cactus were scattered in the brush
Hurrah! Two Florida Scrub Jays flew nearby, sitting tippy-top on trees. They called and seemed to be scouting the area out themselves.
Florida Jay calling 
A bit of a pose here...
Everyone managed pretty good views of these rare birds of Florida Scrub lands. The Jays are endangered because much of their preferred habitat - scrub - has been developed. You would think the birds not having beach front property would have spared the species, but you would be wrong.
The Jays weren't lifers for any of us, which didn't dim our pleasure at viewing the birds one danged bit. Myself, I was thrilled to finally get decent photos of them - the Jay species, not the motley group shown below.
Larry, Steve and Marian after successful Jay viewing

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