06 August 2010

5 Terns and a Brown Booby

Our mission was for Bachman's Sparrows and Florida Scrub-Jays but instead we found 5 species of tern and a surprise juvenile Brown Booby. Andy and I started the day in Port St. Lucie County in some typical scrub habitat that jays find beneficial. We hiked around the Savannas Preserve State Park but instead of jays and sparrows we mostly heard Eastern Towhees. At the little patch of trees pictured below we found a nice mix flock of Northern Parula, Prairie Warbler, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, and a few Carolina Wrens. The Downy Woodpecker above was hanging out with the group as well.

With no luck at the first stop we continued on to another part of Savannas State Park Preserve, the Hawk's Bluff Nature Trail. This state preserve contains the largest tract of freshwater coastal savannas this far south in Florida. It's a beautiful park with open prairie where we heard Sandhill Cranes in the distance and Ospreys overhead.

Once back in the scrub our search continued but this time we found mostly Northen Cardinals. A Great-crested Flycatcher gave us great looks before leaving the park for another try at our target species.

According to Bill Pranty's FL Birding Guide we found a tract of prime scrub habitat near the Government Buildings. We hiked the small property without any luck. The scrub looked promising but either the scrub-jays are gone or they were laying low in the mid-day heat.

Somewhat defeated we decided to head towards the ocean. By this point the day was becoming more and more hot so it was nice to stop near the intercoastal and soak our feet in the water as we did some birding.

This stop proved to be more than adequate for tern species. We saw Sandwich, Royal, Least, and my lifer Gull-billed Tern. We were hoping for a Black Tern but left the stop with only 4 tern species.

At the Fort Pierce Jetty we were able to pick up a fifth tern species but it wasn't the Black Tern we were looking for but instead a Common Tern. This was an unexpected turn of events but definitely a great bird to see. Andy added it to his year list and we felt pretty happy with our find. Of course we were even happier after walking down the jetty and finding a juvenile Brown Booby sitting only feet away.

The jetty gave us great looks at all 5 of our tern species and we stood within a few feet of the booby, soaking in some great looks at a mostly pelagic bird. Many fishermen and visitors walked by with the booby giving no notice or disturbance. It merely sat on the rocks and busied itself preening.

We ended the day with 48 species. Sometimes it's nice to go birding with a target in mind but it's even better to have a few surprises along the way. This weekend I'm back on the road birding, hopefully finding Andy a Black Tern at the Palm Beach County Ag. Fields. Wish us luck!

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