Florida Space Coast Festival – Two National Seashores
Texas week 3 blog 1-18 thru 1-24
David did his parachute jump on Sunday, 1/18, so we had a 5-hour drive to Corpus Christi straight south from Lexington, TX. We had an Olive Garden lunch and made it to Padre Island National Seashore (we had been there 2 years ago) by dark and he set up. We enjoyed Monday the 19th and I finished packing for my trip to Florida the next day with birding buddies Jan, Rita, Jim and Dianne.
I got a new bird the day before leaving for Florida – a Thayer's Gull!! so happy!
We got up early for my flight out of Corpus Christi and on the way to the airport, I saw an American Oystercatcher (would have been a new bird if I had a picture!). We'll have to find one when I get back. I flew to Bush Continental Airport in Houston, found a Thomas Jefferson dollar coin in the airport, had to walk from terminal B to terminal E, and sat next to Mark Caroll from Arkansas who was heading to Florida for a conference, and we talked the whole way (2-1/2 hours). I apologized for him not getting to read his book. I got to Orlando airport around 4pm, then waited for Dianne to get in around 5pm on Delta Airline. We took the shuttle to get the car (that was a whole 'nother experience), got a Nissan Sentra and headed for our hotel in Titusville, FL. We had a nice Denny's meal, I lost my Thomas Jefferson dollar after the toll booths :(, got a few snacks and sandwich stuff at Walmart, then settled in for the night, after we got our stuff ready to bird on our own on Wednesday.
Now, you know, me being retired, I don't get up before Festus, usually around 8am. Well, this week was getting up early every day :). I got up at 5:30am on Wednesday, Dianne and I had breakfast at the hotel and ran into Jerry Jourdan and his friend who were digiscoping that day. We heard the night before that a shuttle was launching around 8am and we wanted to be on Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge to see it. At the hotel last night, we saw that it launched at 8PM LOL. Oh well. Dianne and I did the WONDERFUL Merritt Island Black Point Drive (a 7-mile, go as fast as you want, use your car as a blind, meandering drive), where I saw through a scope and took a picture of new bird #2 – Eurasian Wigeon (like an American Wigeon, except the eye stripe is red). Rita and Jim started the drive after us, so we went slow so they could catch up. The funny thing (not to the person, but to us) – we stopped at the only rest stop on the drive where a note is posted on the women's bathroom “do not close the door or you may get locked in”. I heeded that advice and so did Dianne. Well, someone didn't read it and got locked in so the lighted rescue vehicles came in the exit to the drive to get her out! They need to fix THAT DOOR! LOL! We saw many Roseate Spoonbills, American Wigeon and Northern Pintail ducks, Egrets, Tri-colored Herons, Glossy and White Ibis, and American Avocet (I'll post the best pictures in the 1-Texas 2015 folder on my website)!
After Jim and Rita caught up, we went to the Viera Wetlands drive and also went slow. This is an awesome place and I wish we had more time. We left as the gate was closing. One of my fondest memories is one of us sitting on a FIRE ANT sand-dune and asking someone to “spank them off” :). Cracker Barrel for dinner, then to bed. Dianne coined the phrase “what happens in Titusville, stays in Titusville”!
We got up even earlier on Thursday for our 8 hour “Brevard County hotspots” bird tour. We visited Hatbill Park, Seminole Ranch, the tour guide's house where he had male and female Painted Buntings, but were hard to photograph. His wife Suzi was very nice! The bus then went to Canaveral National Seashore (and David is on the Padre Island National Seashore...) where 27 people crowded onto the boardwalk to see a few birds and the “timekeeper” said we couldn't go on the beach :). Not happy people. We stopped at Parrish Park and I saw through a scope a female Long-tailed Duck (formerly Old Squaw), and I got an identifiable picture for new bird #3.
We stayed at the East Florida State College that day for the Black Rails tour at 3:45pm, and got our goody bags (joke). After listening to the leader “you MIGHT hear a Black Rail, but probably won't see one, the road is MUDDY and you will get WET”, Dianne and I decided to skip it and the other 3 went on it (Rita and Jim didn't want to stand Jan up), so Dianne and I did the Merritt Island drive again from 4:30pm til dark. They said we made the right decision, because it was BAD, a lady fell, and mosquitos were awful. They heard one... Oh well...Dianne and I had dinner at I-Hop. She got her own room because apparently I snore.
On Friday, we slept in a little and had our Endangered Florida Scrub Jay tour from 8am-12:30pm, leaving from the Merritt Island Visitor Center. This was a closed area on the Canavarel National Seashore and we took a school bus to the researcher's location. He explained the Scrub Jay needs for habitat and burning periodically, and that the territories don't overlap. Where we were dropped off, one side of the land belonged to the “Hatfields” and the other side to the “McCoys”. They send up sentinels and squawk for danger, but never cross boundaries...and we observed this! Also, each Florida Scrub Jay is banded with colorful bands, and he asks them once a month to all line up so the researchers can see their bands for peanuts :). We got so close to them because they wanted peanuts from us, but that's illegal. My cover photo is a close-up, endangered Florida Scrub Jay, and new bird #4.
I was able to get my Refuge patch for Merritt Island NWR today and we saw Painted Buntings at the Visitor Center. We also ate our Turkey and Swiss sandwiches. Since we weren't allowed off the Boardwalk during our tour of Canaveral Seashore, we decided to visit there on our own and Jim bought his Senior Pass for $10, which gets you into all the National Parks for FREE! Entrance fee was $5 and the ranger put that toward his pass. Dianne had a good time photographing shorebirds, and Rita and I looked for birds and shells. I got some sand for my baby girl Michelle and me. I found a few nice Atlantic Oceon shells for my stepping stone I'll make this year.
Our final tour (all 4 of us) was a boat tour from a boat launch on Merritt Island at 4pm til dark. It was a pontoon boat and the owner was very nice. We saw lots of birds, but the most amazing thing was seeing groups of White and Brown Pelicans, Roseate Spoonbills, Glossy and White Ibis, Cormorants, Egrets, and Herons flying to the barrier island for safety before dark. Jim helped him get the boat out after we got back, then we ate a late dinner at the Village Inn in Titusville (great meal)!
Dianne had to be at the airport by 6am on Saturday, so we got up at 4:45am, it was pouring rain, and we drove to the airport. My iPhone map got me screwed up going to the rental car drop-off, but I found it. Made it back to the airport and got my diet pop and water confiscated after the TSA goof-ball told me “You're in big trouble”. OMG. Lost my favorite long-sleeved Cabela's shirt rushing to my plane (due to the snow in Newark, NJ, our plane was late) for Corpus Christi, despite riding a golf cart – so had to stay for the 5:45pm flight on standby. I asked my friend to pray I got on the flight because David was waiting at the airport since 3pm. I got on it and sat next to my new FB friend Sally from Indiana, who is a bird watcher! I invited her to Biggest Week in May and she may come! I was soooo happy to see my best friend (David LOL). Festus missed his Mama. Because I missed my original flight to Corpus, I had to have them hunt for my checked bag, but it was found! I was up from 4:45am til 8:30pm.
David presented me with a very pink feather, which I assume is from a Roseate Spoonbill, and a Sand Dollar! I saw my calendar on the table (that I keep track of where we stay) and David annotated the following while I was in FL: “1-20 – Shopped/sunned myself/entertained Festus. 1-21, drove the beach/nap/ate snack/entertained Festus. 1-22 – Rain/sand dollar/entertained Festus. 1-23 – found Starfish/entertained Festus.” I laughed, then I snuggled into bed with my two boys :)
Statistics week 3: David drove 563 miles this week. 4 new birds - #1 Thayer's Gull, #2 Eurasian Wigeon; #3 Long-tailed Duck female and #4 Florida Scrub Jay! Notable birds – first Black Skimmers and 23 Wood Storks together. Manatees and Bottle-nosed Dolphin!