While Nick and I are residing in South Florida, we have decided to travel around the state as much as possible to get our fill of Florida specialties. One such trip was to the panhandle. As mentioned in a previous post, Nick and I took a long trek up north for Labor Day weekend. Our original goal was to see if we could possibly catch the front end of hawk migration. Well, it was too early for that, but we had a fabulous time birding, nonetheless.
This post won't have many great pictures to tell our tale, but the stories themselves are what is so exciting.
The trip itself was, as Nick put it, epic. An 8 hour drive up, we arrived at our almost pitch black campsite around 1am. We manage to get our tent set up and fight off some of the mosquitos, but we were up bright and early in the morning to start on our birding adventure. We made a few short trips throughout the day to different locales. But we had some of our most exciting and CLOSE encounters right at our campsite.
One especially exciting evening was when we were back at our home base, just lounging in our foldout chairs waiting for the sun to go down. As I looked up from either sifting through one of my bird apps on my phone or flipping through a field guide, I see a creature just casually run across my field of view no more than 10 feet away from me. This creature was in fact a Rail! It happened so quickly and I was not camera ready, but it was so incredible. I couldn't tell you what type of rail it was - most likely either a Clapper or King Rail since they are year-round residents in this area. I was just so amazed that this incredibly shy and hard-to-find bird just scampered across our campsite almost out of nowhere. And the Rail ran in such a funny manner, reminding me of a scantily-clad older woman running towards her dressing room while saying "Excuse me, pardon me!" And just as mysteriously as it came, the rail disappeared into the brush behind our tent.
When I initially realized what I had seen, I exclaimed and pointed, "It's a rail!" Nick was facing me, so he had his back towards where the rail ran. But by the time he turned, it was gone. But we took one quick astonished look at each other and then synchronously leapt out of our chairs and ran towards the brush. We searched and searched as much as we could without risking going into waist-high who-knows-what's-lying-in-there brush. But we had no luck. The rail was gone. That didn't keep us from continuing to search for a few minutes more. And thankfully we did because it lead to our second close encounter.
Nick and I stood side by side, trying to possibly get one more glance at the rail. And then, out of nowhere (once again), a Red-eyed Vireo landed two feet next to me on a tree branch just to my right and just below eye-level. Yes! Another lifer!!! It stood perfectly still for a good 30 seconds, which is an incredibly long time for a small passerine to be close to you. I even had time to say, "Are you seeing what I'm seeing?" And Nick says in a low and drawn out way, "Yeaaaah."
The Vireo turned its head a few times, looking around. And once again, I wasn't camera ready, especially because of the state of shock I was in - not just from the new life bird, but also from the proximity and length of stay of this bird. And then finally, off it went! Nick and I were extremely elated and couldn't believe our luck.
To wrap up our great close-up looks, we stopped at St. Mark's National Wildlife Refuge on our way back home on Labor Day. It was fairly busy with warblers when we arrived, but they quickly moved away from the path we were walking along. They, along with some other unidentifiables, were about 80 feet away from us. We could hear all the hustle and bustle, but they were too far away and there was just too many brambles in between us to get closer to them. But then there was a bird that came a little closer, then a little bit more… And then finally it was in a tree right above us! It was a Yellow-Billed Cuckoo! This was not a lifer for us, but definitely a better look than we've ever had before! We enjoyed watching the cuckoo play with some grub it found for lunch. This was a great way to end our epic weekend.