Day two's field trip took us first to the Three Lakes Wildlife Management Area in Kissimmee. Bordered by Lake Kissimmee, Lake Jackson and Lake Marion, the WMA proved to be fruitful for life birds for me. Brown headed nuthatch, snail kite (one of my target birds for the trip), whooping cranes (another target bird), barred owl, savannah sparrow and crested caracaras were all seen and/or heard (in the case of the owl) along with 64 other species.
Here we are, all lined up on the side of the road to view the whooping cranes at the Double C-Bar Ranch south of St. Cloud, Florida. The ranch is where the original group of cranes was released in the 1990's (after flying from the Great Lakes - Wisconsin region following ultralight planes) . Naturally occuring flocks of whooping cranes in the southeastern United States disappeared in the 1930's. Florida participated in the relocation of over 280 cranes from 1993-2004 hoping to establish a non-migratory flock. Texas was another successful area where whooping cranes were transplanted, but since one hurricane hitting Port Aransas, TX could potentially wipe out the Texas crane population, Florida became an additional site for crane tranplanting. However, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission discontinued the release of whooping cranes into the non-migratory population. Here is the press release explaining the decision. The current non-migratory crane population in Florida is only about 30. There are only 500 of these birds in existence, 350 of them in the wild and the rest in captivity. What an honor to see a handful of them on this trip.
At Lake Jackson, our guide let me use his Kowa scope to try my hand at digiscoping. On the tree across the lake were 4 snail kites, 3 anhingas and one lone red-shouldered hawk (my spark bird!!). Click on the picture for closeup views.
I got great looks at kestrels (almost as common as mourning doves, perched every few feet on the power lines), red-shouldered hawks (I hardly ever see hawks perched when birding, but these reds seemed a bit lazy - always resting, but sharp-eyed), green herons (love me some green herons), and loggerhead shrikes (my bird club, the DVOC, named their World Series of Birding team the Lagerhead Shrikes, so this bird makes me smile - and think of beer).
Day three's trip was a shorebird excursion at New Smyrna Beach. I am pitifully inexperienced at identifying shorebirds, so I was hoping to learn a lot. After a second 12 hour birding day, I was eager to fall into bed and dream of birdies. So I did. More later...