Our first real day in Florida was very exciting! Both my eyes and ears were alert to anything that sounded different. While eating cereal outside our Motel 6, flocks of Laughing Gulls were flying over on their way to the beach. Just a flock of Laughing Gull was more than I have seen in my whole life! Driving towards Honeymoon Island State Park I saw my first lifers, FISH CROW and BOAT-TAILED GRACKLE. Before crossing the Dunedin Causeway I saw another lifer, three WHITE IBIS on someones front yard! Lucky them! We also saw a couple of BLACK-HOODED PARAKEET, our first non-ABA countable species for the trip.
It was low tide in Honeymoon Island Sate Park when we got there around 7:30 am. Shorebirds were everywhere along the shoreline. We had Dunlin, Least Sandpiper, Willet, Short-billed Dowitcher, Black-bellied Plover, and Semipalmated Plover. With them was a beautiful ROYAL TERN.
We pulled over at a little parking spot further into the park and noticed that the fog was settling over the water. We quickly got out and scanned for waders. Among the Great Egrets, Tricoloured Heron and Great Blues, I picked up a couple of more new ones, REDDISH EGRET and BROWN PELICAN.
We decided to walk down over to the beach on the other side of the park (not as much fog) before it got busy with people walking their dogs. A couple of COMMON GROUND-DOVES flushed with their rufous wings flashing, and as we got onto the beach we saw Semipalmated and WILSON'S PLOVER. Scanning the open waters of the Gulf of Mexico we saw a few species of terns on a sandbar including Common, SANDWICH, ROYAL, LEAST and of course the unique BLACK SKIMMER. Walking along the beach we encountered a few more species of shorebirds. Willet were pretty common, flying off when people got too close, revealing their striking wing pattern. Semipalmated Plovers wandered up on to the white sand of the beach, even walking right beside people sunning and totally oblivious of the plovers. Wandering along the beach, we discovered the bird we were looking for, the AMERICAN OYSTERCATCHER, turning over and pecking oysters.
Afterwards, we walked a trail. We saw many Osprey nests, complete with Osprey, and a lot of Great Crested Flycatcher, along with one GREY KINGBIRD.
Around noon it was getting very hot, and tons of people were now flooding into the park, so we decided to retreat and head on our way to Safety Harbour City Park for a few more key species for our trip. The ABA guide didn't steer us wrong. While Aaron had his lunch I wandered around the park. I saw two more White Ibis, an ANHINGA drying its wings, and a LIMPKIN. At the baseball diamonds, I saw a Loggerhead Shrike on the fence, and a MONK PARAKEET.
Monk Parakeet, Safety Harbour Park. Photo by Marianne Balkwill
Later on in the afternoon we headed south to Oscar Scherer State Park, to search for Florida Scrub-Jays. We went down a trail with scrub/pine flatwoods and before to long we saw one. Seeing us, the FLORIDA SCRUB-JAY made its way over. Aaron, jokingly stuck out arm with his hand cupped, and the Jay landed on his hand. I did the same and another jay came and landed on my own hand and then landed on my head! After that entertainment, we continued down the trail until we discovered a GOPHER TORTOISE. We also flushed an ARMADILLO.
Florida Scrub-Jay. Photo by Marianne Balkwill
After the trail, we had our lunch/supper. A WOOD STORK circled lazily over, riding on thermals. A flock of White Ibis flew over, while Common Ground-Doves fed on the lawn next to the visitor centre. We checked out one more trail after that along a creek. Mottled Ducks, Great-tailed Grackles, and both Green and BROWN ANOLES rustled in the vegetation.
It was getting late and we had to find somewhere to stay nearby so we could get to Myakka River State Park early the next day. We drove back towards Sarasota and then we saw it, the Cabana Inn Motel. There were two cars in the parking lot, which should've been our first clue about this place, and then...we saw our room...ewww.
After NOT taking a shower in their bathroom, looking at all the stains on the bed and the walls, and a lamp shade that was once lit on fire, we decided to go to bed.....with our clothes on! In the middle of the night we woke up with the sound of someones car alarm going off, and the sound of music in the distance (there was a local band playing there that night) I opened up the shudders. Where there were once only two cars, the parking lot was now full and I could see people hanging out all over the place!! Crawling back into bed, we could hear the sound of people getting louder. When we were finally dozing back into slumberland, there was a knock on the door next to our room, and then pounding!
"Open up, open up! This is the police, we have a warrant for your arrest!
...could this get any worse?
Stay tuned and find out.