Sunday, February 14, 2010

Dispatch from Space Coast - Day Three

scoping for shorebirds on Disappearing Island

Day Three at the Space Coast Bird & Wildlife Festival held a new concentration for me - shorebirds. Peeps, plovers, willets, sandpipers, gulls, terns, loons, sea ducks - you name it - I'm lost. I needed teaching and I needed it badly.

We started our day in a classroom on the grounds of Brevard County Community College where Adam Kent reviewed the 29 species we are likely to see on Florida coasts in the winter, including my goal birds for the day, Piping Plover and Wilson's Plover. Not to keep you in suspense - I got great looks at both once we were in the field. Adam also provided us with convenient cheatsheets that described each bird. My wrinkled and rain-spotted copy is on the desk next to me and you can be sure I will be referring to it throughout this blog post as well as often in the future!

As a frequent visitor to Barnegat Light, New Jersey, I have seen my share of ruddy turnstones (my favorite shorebird until I fell in love with the Piping Plover) and purple sandpipers, but these were target birds for many in our group.

Piping Plover

Thunderstorms and heavy rain were forecast so we quickly drove to New Smyrna Beach and Smyrna Dunes Park. Originally scheduled for later in the day, our guides decided to take us by pontoon boat first over to Disappearing Island so we wouldn't get stranded there in the rain later. Disappearing Island is a large (acres wide) sandbar in the middle of the Ponce Inlet festooned with hundreds of shorebirds and in this case an additional 35 birders sneaking up on them. Without the distractions of crashing waves and other humans, it was easy to compare a Wilson's Plover (the largest plover with a long bill) to the smiliar looking and much more common Semipalmated Plover. I could not tear my binoculars away from the cutest plover of them all - the Piping Plover. An endangered species, the Piping Plover is often difficult to find - but certainly prevalent here on Disappearing Island. With a stubby bill, paler back and bright orange legs, it was cuddly cute.

After Disappearing Island, it was a boat ride back to Smyrna Dunes Park for a walk along the beach and looks at laughing, herring and ring-billed gulls, greater black-backed gulls, Caspian terns, black skimmers (lifer), sanderlings, more plovers including black-bellied, ruddy turnstones (which have developed a gull-like habit of approaching humans begging for food), pelicans, gannets doing fantastic dives into the ocean, short-billed dowitchers (lifer) and dunlin.

The rain came down heavily around 1pm, so a lot of us decided to cut our losses and trek back to our cars. The rain and the size of the group made for a difficult field learning experience, but any birding trip is a good birding trip! The inside of my car fogged up with condensation as I dried off during the drive back to BCCC campus to kill time before my evening symposium by shopping and taking in the sights at the Exhibit Center - chock full of artists, photographers, nature tours, crafters, wildlife and birding organizations and the always entertaining Raptor Project.

The evening presentation was the esteemed artist and naturalist, David Allen Sibley. He spoke about nature study and how it helps sate our desire to understand and classify our natural world. I certainly understand the need to put everything into little cubby holes and organize it - just ask anyone who has ever lived or worked with me! He explained how he struggled for years to pen his wonderful Sibley Guide to Birds and his newest Sibley Guide to Trees. Sibley is a brilliant, brilliant man with an understated and quiet sense of humor. I enjoyed his anecdote about a friend who once said "there is a fine line between birdwatching and standing around like an idiot." As David said to us, "Can you imagine how he feels about tree-watching?!" Insert chuckles here.

I don't know that tree-watching will be my next hobby, but I have ordered a copy of his guide because I can't help but admire someone who can dedicate massive amounts of time, energy and talent to classifying and structuring the world around us to make it easier for the rest of us.

Day Four (Sunday) of the Festival only held a symposium for me (a real Birding Braintrust) - but I planned a trip by myself to the Viera Wetlands to track down a rare Masked Duck that had been seen there throughout the previous three weeks. All the festival participants were abuzz about it. More about Day Four later.

1 comment:

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