Headin’ down south to the land of the pines…

I have finally discovered a warm place to write my entry and plan for tomorrow.  I am sitting in the coin laundry building of my new campsite feeling exhausted yet accomplished.  It is toasty warm in here and I have the place all to myself.  Every so often a group of Quebecois tourists comes in and checks the french catalogues they have in here, but other than that I can finally get some peace and quiet.  I say that as if today was some riotous day of commotion, when in truth I probably spoke to about five other humans, most of whom were observing the same bittern as me.  If I ever heard Wagon Wheel again it will be too soon, but I thought that was a fitting title for today.  It was the most frustrating day of the trip so far, and regardless of all the incredible sights I saw I couldn’t shake my feeling of crabbiness.  I think it mostly has to do with the fact that I did not plan ahead very well last night because I was cold and tired, so I dipped on my two goal birds of the day in a most tedious and time-consuming fashion.  I wanted to try for Red-Cockaded Woodpecker and Bachman’s Sparrow at Three Lakes WMA, but Viera Wetlands was on my way down there from my campsite at Manatee Hammock.  Viera Wetlands was beautiful and there were plenty of birds, but I should have prioritized and gotten to Three Lakes at dawn for the best shot at seeing some lifers.  I ended up getting there around 2:00 PM and kicking fruitlessly through the Saw Palmetto for about three hours hoping to flush a Bachman’s before it started getting dark and I called it a night.  Every House Wren seemed to know what I was doing and would flush to a nearby plant and get my heart racing, only to make a “vreeeee” noise moments later, informing me that it was not what I had hoped.  At one point, when I was stalking what turned out to be a Downy Woodpecker rather than a Red-Cockaded, I heard something in the grass nearby and leaned forward cautiously to investigate further.  An explosion of Northern Bobwhites scared the bejesus out of me and simultaneously improved and dampened my mood.  Believe it or not, those were the first Bobwhites I’ve ever seen, but they were not the lifers I had been willing to appear.

Side note: This campsite is great for many reasons, but I’m really digging all of the eavesdropping I can do on the french tourists.  Any opportunity I get to listen to people speak real french and see how much I’ve retained over the years is super exciting and eavesdropping immediately becomes my top priority. Every time they come in here I keep getting distracted and pretending to type so I can listen to what they’re saying.

Anyway, on the brighter side of today, I got some incredible views of my first Crested Caracaras.  I know they’re super common the farther south you get, but they were one of my most-desired species and they did not disappoint.  I got some pretty good photos of one preening on a fence and got to watch them in flight over my haphazardly stopped car.  It’s a miracle I haven’t gotten in an accident yet with all the quick stops and k-turns I’ve been pulling to look at birds.  I also saw my first Common Ground-Doves, the first of which perched directly next to my car just long enough for me to snap a photo before flying off across Viera Wetlands.  I also got some great looks at American Bitterns, one of which might have been my favorite moment of the day.  I had seen one fly over at Viera Wetlands but didn’t catch where it landed, so I was pretty pumped when I saw it sitting in the tall grass about 25 feet back from the berm while driving.  A drive-by bittern is a good way to start any day, in my humble opinion.  One other sighting of note at Viera Wetlands was my first-ever Marsh Rabbit.  We learned about them in my Mammalogy class and I remember thinking they were ridiculous because no one would ever be able to tell them from a Cottontail nor would anyone care. Today I did care! It did indeed have smaller ears than an Eastern Cottontail and a brown stubby tail. It also hopped into the water after munching on some grass, and there aren’t too many amphibious Cottontails as far as I’ve seen.

The second AMBI of the day, pointed out to me by a lovely older couple.
The second AMBI of the day, pointed out to me by a lovely older couple.

On my way from Viera to Three Lakes, I stopped by the Double C Bar Ranch to scope out some Whooping Cranes.  I saw one helping itself to the cattle feed with a green color band on its right leg.  All of the Whooping Cranes in this area are captive-bred birds released in the hopes of establishing a non-migratory population in Florida.

I can feel my sentences getting more terse and boring, so I’m going to plan out my itinerary for tomorrow and go to sleep.  Wakodahatchee Wetlands await me tomorrow and then hopefully some Burrowing Owl madness in the evening.  I’ve also added some pictures to yesterday’s post if anyone is interested. I was hoping to hook up my camera and upload all my photos up to this point, but my mini USB cable has escaped into the cavernous jungle of my car and I haven’t yet been able to locate it, so you’ll just have to bear with my terrible phone pictures a bit longer.

Whooping Crane from 86 thousand miles away
Whooping Crane from 86 thousand miles away

Another side note: I just accidentally pressed backspace and it took me back a page, making me think this whole post had been deleted.  Luck won out, however, and you will not be deprived of your bedtime reading tonight.

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