We found this Sora at the beginning of Black Point Drive (Lynch)
Saturday, January 4, 2014. dawned as the coldest day of the winter to date, (48 degrees at daybreak in Titusville) but ended up as the best Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge (MINWR) trip the SLAS has ever conducted, at least to everyone’s best recollection. Leaders Hart and Jewel Rufe, joined by Sam Fried and Billi Wagner, both well-experienced and knowledgeable birders, and 22 additional participants, enjoyed an overcast and gray, but heart-warming and fun-filled birding day.
At the first stop, Sand Point Park, in Titusville, our traditional location for Common Loons (at least four this time), Gale Donnelly found the first remarkable species: an unexpected and previously unreported female Long-tailed Duck (left, Rufe), the first ever seen in Florida by anyone of the 26 participants, and a life bird for all but the experienced birders on the trip.
Across the bridge, at Parrish Park, while watching the Horned Grebes (4 in one cluster) another birder informed us that a female White-winged Scoter (right, Brooks, click for larger photo) was mixed in with the Lesser Scaup at the Rest Room (also new for the trip) parking area in the park. This was the second life bird for most members of the group.
The drive around Black Point started with an accommodating Sora, and continued with most of the expected species, although there seemed to be fewer ducks than have been there in past years. Quite possibly the sound of shooting from the nearby duck hunting areas of the “Refuge” explains the low numbers of ducks.
While there was a good representation of Northern Pintails, the numbers of Green-winged Teal, American Wigeon, Northern Shovelers, Hooded Merganser, and even Blue-winged Teal were down significantly. (We later learned where the Green-winged Teal were when we found hundreds of them at the Click Ponds in Viera.)
And American Coots, which are normally at MINWR in large rafts, were not there at all. We didn’t see a single Common Gallinule there either. Nevertheless, we found enough individuals of most species to satisfy us, and many put on a nice show for us. At the MINWR Visitor’s Center we added the one and only Painted Bunting at the Center’s feeder.
From the Visitor’s Center, one group went to Playalinda Beach where they saw Northern Gannets flying over the ocean, and added Sanderling to our trip list. Most of the rest of the group proceeded to the Viera Wetlands, where a number of species missed at MINWR were found: most notably, the American Bittern and Crested Caracara and a number of Wilson’s Snipe (right, Lynch) engaging in their erratic flight around the wetlands. But the highlight at Viera was a drive around the Click Ponds, where the previously mentioned hundreds of Green-winged Teal were found, as well as numerous White Pelicans (above left, Rufe, click for larger version), Avocets, sandpipers, including our only Western Sandpipers, and finally, a great way to end the day: Ruddy Ducks; and a female Canvasback and a male Redhead, together making an odd couple in the fading light (left, Rufe). The last bird of the day was fittingly: a Bald Eagle.
The trip’s total, including birds seen traveling to and from the various locations, was 96.
Submitted by Hart Rufe,
Photos by Hart Rufe, Richard Lynch and Larry Brooks (Note: larger versions only available where noted)