Saturday, February 10, 2007


Jan 31, 2007

I got into Blackwater State Forest after dark, after a lot of poking around trying to find the place, which had signs I found confusing, but eventually settled down, to discover I was under the flight path of some kind of military cargo flyway, with big planes taking off right overhead every few minutes. (Groan) But after awhile they stopped and sleep was possible.

Feb 1, 2007

Up before first light, and away, except for the locked gate. After awhile of looking at the bulletin board and other head-scratching behavior, I looked in the packet that came with the registration, and there was the combination. It was raining too, and continued all the way to Tallahassee. Rain was light and sporadic from there to St. Mark's NWR. The birding was great. I already had 154 tics, not too bad, would have been better if I'd kept good records of all the trips to Florida, but on the earlier ones I was concentrating on lifers, and hadn't made a complete state list. Nevertheless in four hours of drizzle and short openings I managed to find 28 new FL species. Great shorebirds, ducks and loons, and sparrows along the beach and the lagoon behind it at the Light-House. Later when I sent a message to Don Chalfont, he commented that the FL panhandle could be excellent birding in the winter. Big clouds building to the north and west.

And then the rain really set in. I had planned to stay in a campground along the St Mark's River where the refuge road turned off the highway, but the river was rising fast, and I feared getting stuck on flooded low ground. I went over to the restaurant next door, Outz's Too, had a great fish dinner, listened to homemade music in the tent-like stage area attached, asked the owner for permission to sleep in the parking lot, and stayed there, rain and wind driving and howling the whole time. As the storm passed east over the main body of Florida, it spawned tornadoes, big damage, killed people and wiped out one year's reproduction of the FL Whooping Crane flock. National news stuff. We knew something unusual was up when water started flooding the restaurant dining room, something they'd never seen, but we did some work with brooms and shovel to fix the drainage and got it mostly dried out.

Feb 2, 2007

I got up really early, drove down the highway for some kind of C-store breakfast, and was back and through the refuge gates in the dark. The rain had stopped, but the world was soaked and the creeks and ditches full to the banks. Another great day, with 12 more new FL species, but after three tries I couldn't get the Henslow's Sparrow that other folks were seeing. I walked the Lighthouse trail and the Mounds Trail. I had been on both before but this time I took the time to bird them thoroughly. I drove to another area called Alligator Point, the tip of the little southward dip of the Panhandle, and found good birds on the protected water on the backside (north side) and also checked out a state park area there, but not well.

My real goal was Wakulla Springs State Park. This is really special, and not to be missed. The spring feeds a large pond-like pool and flows into a wide shallow river. You get on a canopied boat that holds maybe forty folks, we had about six, and it makes a loop down the river and back up a side channel. The captain calls out the birds and answers questions. The birds are many, varied and extremely tame. Great close-up looks and photo ops for waders and ducks. I got it together to actually take some pics, and a few were keepers. Then came the real treat. I had an introduction to one of the rangers, Jackie ?, and she met up with me after the regular trip with another ranger, and invited me along for her boat handling training. So we made the loop gain with a lot more poking into hidden places, and a lot more informative conversation concerning geology, species, pollution and other threats, and general life handling. Unforgettable.

I had been traveling long enough that I was running out of clothes so I found a funky little laundromat, listened to the locals jive and tease, and renewed my underwear supply. I found a free campground in the National Forest north of there, near the Georgia border, no comforts, but a high bright winter full moon.


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