Saturday, January 28, 2012

OTOW Unique Birders at Paynes Prairie

My sister, Beth is here for a week and we're having a wonderful time. I have lots of pictures from our various adventures that I will get posted soon - I promise.

On Thursday, Bill and I took her with us birding with the OTOW Unique Birders to Paynes Prairie. It was a beautiful warm and sunny day. We met the rest of the group at the big tree in the Health & Recreation Center parking lot at o'dark-thirty to arrange car pools. Anne joined us and the delightful ride was a preview for the rest of the day.

The La Chua Trail into the prairie and the observation deck is about 1 1/2 miles one way. It begins in a lovely wooded area with huge Live Oak trees draped with Spanish Moss where we parked our cars. Just past the pay station ($2 per person) and the porta-pottie, we observed this Osprey sitting on a mess of a nest high atop the high power tower. On each side were Great-tail Grackles. One was terrorizing a Red-belliedWoodpecker that we could see only with binoculars.

In the trees were several Cardinals, both male and female - and boy are they getting red! Looks like Spring will come early this year.

Past the Alachua Sink and the hundreds of alligators in the pond and along the bank, the trail follows the river bed. Since it has been so dry, we saw just a splash of water compared to what has been there in past visits. The usual birds were present: Belted Kingfisher, Anhinga, Double-crested Cormorant, White Ibis, Snowy Egret, a Little Blue Heron and this Great Heron. We also saw what looked like a grey hawk in the bushes. I took lots of pictures - none of which were good enough to publish, but good enough to ID the bird as a Black-crested Night Heron.

This American Kestrel must be a resident as I think I see him in the same spot every visit - overlooking the water and the boardwalk.

Along the trail, a juvenile Northern Harrier flew overhead, behind trees, into the bushes and low over the scrub keeping us company.

It was a special treat to see a group of Sandhill Cranes close to the trail. We were able to get as close as I've ever gotten - and I took hundreds of pictures. They are large, magnificent birds with incredible coloring. I just couldn't get enough.

The bright red on their heads is amazing! ...and look at that orange eye and long black beak!

Elegant. I see why their feathers were so valued for ladies' hats in the 1920's.

Back at the observation platform, we saw lots of Red-winged Blackbirds - but no wild horses, feral hogs, bison or Whooping Cranes as in years past. We rested for a short time before beginning the walk back.

Overhead, more and more Sandhill Cranes were flying in. The cranes on the ground called to them and we enjoyed the loud chorus.

I told you I took a lot of pictures. They were just so beautiful - I couldn't stop!

Back on the boardwalk, lots of Palm Warblers flitted in the bushes.

I was surprised to be able to get a couple of fairly good pictures as they usually aren't still for very long!

After our walk, we drove to the 43rd Street Deli (or was it the 42nd Street Diner?) for a delicious lunch, more great company and our bird count. It was a delightful day with my sister and the Unique Birders!

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