Sunday, January 10, 2010

Babcock-Webb Wildlife Management Area

Bill and I found a great new birding spot with a nice scenic wildlife drive and lots of hiking and biking trails - Babcock-Webb Wildlife Management Area. It is home to all kinds of creatures including the rare Red-cockaded Woodpecker. Babcock-Webb has over 65,000 acres of pine flatwoods, hammocks and freshwater marshes with thirty-seven miles of trails. During hunting season, (mid-October through mid-January) the entire area is open to vehicle access. We were able to drive the 5-mile year-round (paved) scenic drive, several of the improved side trails and the 15-mile main (unpaved) access road across the entire preserve. Since we are Florida residents and senior citizens, the $3 entrance fee was waived. What a deal!

We stopped often along the wildlife drive to get a closer look at all of the birds and take lots of pictures. This Red-bellied Woodpecker was clearing out a hole in the tree. We saw a variety of robins, jays, shrikes, warblers and sparrows.

I REALLY wanted this to be either a Yellow Warbler or a Prothonotary Warbler but I just couldn't get a good enough picture to positively identify it. It's probably a common Pine Warbler. Bill tells me that I zoom in too far and that I should rely more on my pixels than my zoom. Looking at my awful pictures from this trip - he is probably right.

Isn't this a gorgeous picture of a Mockingbird? I just wish I'd taken it - but it is one of Bill's.

Another of Bill's sightings - an Eastern Bluebird.

After the scenic drive we headed past the shooting range, around the corner and over the gravel side road in search of the rare Red-cockaded Woodpecker. They mark the trees where they know the birds nest and our map clearly shows the area with old pine forests that the birds call home.

We saw lots of woodpeckers, Red-bellied, Hairy and Downy. Our illusive bird looks similar to the Downys but with more white on its cheek. I took pictures of everything that moved and I have tons of pictures of trees where they had perched just seconds before. We were sure we saw the rare bird and I was sure I had pictures to prove it - and after looking closer, we think this one is a Red-cockaded Woodpecker!

The guide at the entrance told us we could drive through the entire preserve and across the 15-mile access road - all the way to Route 31. The gates were open - so off we went.

The access road was primitive to say the least. Bill had to drive very slowly - but it was worth it! We saw almost 4-dozen different varieties of birds including herons, egrets, quail, ducks, cranes, plovers, sandpipers, kingfisher, swallows, thrushes, warblers and a beautiful bright red Summer Tanager. A mother hog and her two babies crossed the road just ahead of us as did a couple of deer. This lake was full of alligators and every kind of wading bird Florida has. It was wonderful. Since we were in the car, we spent more time looking through the binoculars than taking pictures.

It was getting late - but Route 31 was just ahead, so we weren't worried. Unfortunately, the guide neglected to tell us that we couldn't get ON to Route 31, we could only get TO it! The exit was blocked with a large locked gate. Now we had to turn around and drive all the way back over the bumpy access road - hoping they don't close the gates at dusk. It was almost dinnertime by the time we reached the last gate. We will definitely go back - and I'll try again to get another picture of that rare woodpecker!

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