Two Early October Mornings

For the last two mornings, I have arrived at St. Marks NWR just before 6:00 am. On Tuesday morning I was out to do a shorebird survey. First light found me shivering on the North levee of Stony Bayou II as creamsicle streaks lit up the Eastern sky. A fat crescent moon had provided enough light for me to see an American Bittern as it flew above the marshes. Live migration radar had shown a strong overnight movement and I was watching for migrants as I ran my route scanning for shorebirds. Along the edges of the levees and during the short period that I drove Lighthouse Road I had Blackburnian, Palm, Yellow, Yellow-rumped & Tennessee Warblers, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks and Indigo Buntings. 

Shorebirds were light for late October. I had a total of 499 birds, including the first good contingent of wintering Dunlin and a quartet of American Avocets. I did a little recreational birding before leaving and ended the day with 91 species.

Wednesday morning, I was back with a goal of seeing 100 species.  Live migration radar had shown another strong overnight movement. The day did not start out auspiciously. I could hear branches breaking as something big moved towards me through the woods at my stop at the Double Bridges. I was within about fifty feet of my car and double-clicked the key fob. My Honda flashed its lights and honked its horn, which I assumed would cause a deer to freeze or run. The sound of breaking branches continued to approach and I decided to listen for owls somewhere else.  I quick-stepped over to the car, grabbed the door handle and found that I had locked the car. 

It took me over an hour with listening stops all the way out to the Lighthouse and back before I got my first bird, a Barred Owl in the distance. At sunrise I was on Lighthouse Road at the Double Dikes. I had heard King Rail and Sora and seen a late-flying Common Nighthawk. It was a grim-looking cloudy day with a cold breeze out of the North. I looked up and saw a lone Greater White-fronted goose fly by. Tis species is from Northern Canada and Alaska, West of Hudson Bay. They winter in the Western Gulf and are rare at St. Marks. Things were looking up.

I went down to the Lighthouse and began to walk out the coastal berm to the East. I found Yellow-throated, Bay-breasted, Yellow, Palm & Magnolia Warblers, as well as Common Yellowthroat and Northern Waterthrush. At the far end of the berm, two Nelson’s Sparrows cooperatively flew out of the beach grass and landed on a low bush.

Scanning Apalachee Bay from the Lighthouse parking lot I had a Common Loon. Lighthouse Pool had Black Skimmers, American Oystercatcher and several other shorebird species.

I moved over to the Cedar Point Trail and added Eastern Wood Pewee, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, An American Redstart and a Chestnut-sided Warbler.

At the Tower Pond Trailhead, I ran into some Alabama and Georgia birders that I knew and we walked the trail together. We saw Wood & Swainson’s Thrush and Hooded Warbler. On Tower Pond were a dozen American Avocets, five Marbled Godwits and nine other species of shorebirds.

I ended my day with a walk down Tram Road. It was getting late and I had only had a few hours of sleep. At this point I had fourteen warbler species for the day, which is respectable. I added another half dozen species on my walk, but was short of my goal. I decided to end the day. Ninety-eight species on a late October day at St. Marks is a passing grade. 

Don Morrow, Tallahassee, FL