At Rainey Slough I spent some time listening to a King Rail eventually being rewarded by a quick fly by from it. Not much else was evident apart from the vultures which seemed to follow us everywhere. Did they know something we didn't? Other birds seen en route were several White-winged Doves in and around Sebring and a Pied-billed Grebe on a lake near Sebring.
On the 28 April we drove from Cocoa to Sebring. The majority of the journey was unexciting but we made a couple of stops once in Prairie land along the SR70. Birds seen from the car included Sandhill Crane,
a fly over Whooping Crane which unfortunately could not be located once landed and two glimpses of Crested Caracara on roadside telegraph poles. At a food and comfort break we turned up a side road and were rewarded with a field full of Bobolinks and two Common Nighthawks flying in broad daylight.|
We found the motel in Sebring. Another Econolodge, backing onto a lake, it was cleaner than the one at Cocoa but more expensive, over $60 per night. We unpacked and headed off to Lake Wales Ridge State Forest to look for Brown-headed Nuthatch and Bachman's Sparrow. We had no luck with these but did see Eastern Bluebird, Short-tailed Hawk and Swallow-tailed Kite (gotta be the best bird of the trip).
Before heading off for something to eat we checked out Lorida mentioned in Pranty for Burrowing Owl. It looked a good spot but no Owls were found. We did find some Sandhill Cranes displaying in the sunset which made up for not finding the Owls.
We headed out early on 29 April to get to Rainey Slough as early as possible. We arrived at about 8 o clock after already having close views of Sandhill Cranes with young and a pair of Burrowing Owls patrolling the fence posts round a sod field (turf field).
On the way back from the Slough we stopped off at Venus Flatwoods, mentioned in Pranty for Red-cockaded Woodpecker. Not according to the signs around the wood which stated strictly no entry, although according to Pranty the tract is walkable. Needless to say we did not see Red-cockaded Woodpecker but did see Eastern Kingbird, Red-bellied Woodpecker and Eastern Towhee. I wouldn't bother visiting this area as it appears that you are no longer able to walk the woods.
Now for the main attraction of the day, Avon Park Airforce Range, which according to my email conversations with the rangers at the site, would be open that afternoon. I had delayed our stay at Sebring to allow for one and a half days at the range. After driving several miles down a dead end road to the base, we stopped at the entrance only to be informed that the base was not opening to the public on its usual days. Yet again you have to drive all the way and waste valuable time to find out you cannot get in. Come on USA whats wrong with information signs on the roads.
This was a major disappointment as I was relying on the base for Bachman's Sparrow, Florida Grasshopper Sparrow, Brown-headed Nuthatch and Red-cockaded Woodpecker which are all found on the range.
Oh well you win some and you lose some.
It now began to rain as we headed back. We noticed that the back entrance to Lake Wales Ridge State Forerst was open (normally closed according to Pranty). An omen I think. We headed into the forest to the spot recommended for Bachman's Sparrow near Lake Godwin. On the way down the track to the parking area I spotted a couple of Brown-headed Nuthatches fairly high up in the pines, decent views though. One down three to go.|
At lake Godwin car park the rain became very heavy and we sat in the car for a while watching a Red-eyed Vireo in a nearby tree. I left the car when the rain stopped and found to my surprise the air was full of the song of Bachman's Sparrows, well at least two or three were singing.
I followed the sound of the nearest one to eventually see a small brown rain soaked Sparrow in some dead branches of a bush. Two down and two to go. Who needs Avon Park anyway.
On the way there we saw our first Wild Turkeys by the roadside, two females.
We left Lake Godwin and parked along the main road through the forest near a track down to Lake Arbuckle. On the walk to the lake were two female Scarlet Tanagers calling from the tree tops and Prairie Warbler and Yellow-throated Warbler were spotted along the roadside.|
The only other eventful incident was the snake I met along the track close to Lake Arbuckle. I'm not sure which of us was the most scared or who jumped the highest, me or the snake. I don't think it was poisonous but when I almost trod on it both of us jumped luckily in opposite directions.
We entered TLWMA area from the south and paid the requested fee, which you put in an envelope and display a tear off strip from the envelope in your car, placing the payment envelope in a collection box. The area is split into two separately run units, the three lakes unit with the prairie lakes unit sandwiched in the middle of it. All the roads are numbered and maps for each of the units are available at the pay stations.
We followed road 10 across the first area of dry grassland searching for Florida Grasshopper Sparrow. Initially several sparrows whizzed up from the roadside diving into dense clumps of grass. I eventually identified one as a Savannah Sparrow before it escaped to its clump of grass. We also caught up with the target species of the area Florida Grasshopper Sparrow, firstly identified by call then pinned down sitting in the top of some tall grasses. They were less elusive than the previous species and eventually several birds were seen.
On leaving the southern section before entering the prairie lakes unit the road crosses a slough. Here yet another sparrow showed itself briefly, a Swamp Sparrow.
We entered the Prairie Lakes section of the area and drove directly to the exit on Canoe Creek Road after checking out another female Wild Turkey and a Brown Thrasher. We drove along the main road to the main entrance of the unit further north and paid a separate fee for the Prairie Lakes unit and picked up a map of the unit. Whilst sitting in the car a small hawk darted overhead and landed in a nearby tree, This was our only Sharp-shinned Hawk of the trip. After leaving the parking area we drove to a suitable area in the open flatwoods to look for woodpeckers. Red-bellied were evident everywhere. We stopped close to an information sign about Red-cockaded Woodpeckers and no sooner had we left the car than a harsh chip was heard, not unlike a Great Spotted Woodpecker. Our luck was in, a family party of Red-cockaded Woodpeckers passed close to us in the pines, feeding mainly on the lower trunks giving excellent views. Lets just mention again at this point who needs Avon Park Air Force Range anyway?
We drove a short distance round a left hand bend to see a large brown shape lift up off the ground. Superb, Great Horned Owl in daylight.
Next we visited Parker Slough which was not good for birds, probably as there were no migrants around but we did see two of the biggest Alligators of the holiday here. Right next to the camping area. Would you camp here with these two as neighbours?, I know I wouldn't.
The sky had now become extremely black and an almighty thunderstorm blew in so we headed back to the motel watching the thunderbolts, quite impressive.
We headed back to Canoe Creek Road heading north to Joe Overstreet Road which runs down to Lake Kissimmee. In the fields at the side of the road were several family parties of Sandhill Cranes and one family of Whooping Cranes, what a bonus. On the wires near the lake was our first Gray Kingbird and on scanning the lake with my scope I picked a very distant Limpkin and closer were two American Purple Gallinules with several commoner wading species.|
Sarah spotted a nice adult Bald Eagle sat on a post by the lake. On the drive back up the road another or the same bird was perched on a telegraph post right next to the road for a photo opportunity.
At this point the heavens opened so we decided to try Brinson Park on the outskirts of Kissimmee.
We eventually found the park, which was more of a roadside stop in the rain. After a drink and a few cookies the rain slowed down and on a drive round the edge of the park we spotted Laughing and Ring-billed Gulls hanging around with a large flock of Black Skimmers. A couple of long tailed birds which were flying around the parking lot were identified as Monk Parakeets which are countable according to the ABA.