Circle B Bar Reserve, pt. deux - 31 Dec 2009

With plumbing issues (hopefully) behind me, I headed out the door to go back to CBBR. A quick breakfast and a 15-min. drive would have me there by 8 am. As I was leaving the Lakeland Carefree RV Park I heard the ‘Cheeri-cheeri-cheeri’ of a Kentucky Warbler in the tree behind the house. I saw the bird fly off before I could get the binocs on it. Nice start! Skies were mostly clear w/ some thin clouds. Last night's blue moon (2nd full moon in the month) was still visible and had made for some nice digiscoping. 

Lakeland RV Park, FL, Polk, Florida, US
Dec 31, 2009 8:00 AM - 8:05 AM
Protocol: Stationary
Checklist Comments:     Out the door and back to Circle B Bar Reserve. Heard in trees in back of house.
1 species

Kentucky Warbler (Geothlypis formosa)  1     heard loud "Cheeri-cheeri-cheeri" of a Kentucky Warbler in the tree behind the house. I saw the bird fly off before I could get binocs on it.

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It was supposed to cloud up and possibly rain today, with temps reaching mid-70’s. Turning left onto Winter Lake Rd a large flock of Cattle Egrets were rooting around on a freshly-mowed lawn and culvert. Entering the reserve I quickly picked up Carolina Wren and Gray Catbird. As I arrived at the reserve I quickly found a flock of Palm Warblers, BG Gnatcatchers, another Yellow-throated Warbler, and several American Crow.

This morning I headed directly for the marsh. As I left the wooded parking lot I was greeted by a large flock of Common Grackles, followed by flocks of Red-winged Blackbirds, a few Osprey in the distance, and a nearby Common Yellowthroat. To my right, as I headed SE three Sandhill Cranes flew out from the field and landed ~60 yds away. A small flock of Black-bellied Whistling Ducks flushed nearby and provided a couple of flight shots as they passed. I paused momentarily to photograh a mantis attacking my spotting scope!

As I approached the junction of Alligator Alley and Marsh Rabbit Run I noticed dozens of Wood Storks lining the ditch to my left. 

The pond to my left also held several more stork, Roseate Spoonbill,

Snowy and Great Egrets, 

Little Blue and Tri-colored Herons

A Limpkin paid me no attention as it fed in the grass to my left. 

I started walking toward the Bald Eagle Field, but decided to backtrack when I failed to flush any sparrows. Returning to the wetlands I was rewarded with several Blue-gray Gnatcatchers and Northern Cardinals that appeared long enough for some nice images. 

A flock of Least Sandpipers made several passes next to me but failed to stop. Returning toward the junction I met several other birders and talked with them for a few minutes.

A nearby Marsh Wren got our attention, and I was able to pish it into view just a few feet away. Unfortunately for me, it popped out into the open just a foot away, and I was unable to focus on it fast enough for a clear shot. Ughhh! Three of us w/ cameras missed it before it flew off into the thickets. That would be our ‘missed’ bird of the day.

Just ahead a Pied-billed Grebe was swimming in the shallows, and attempting to swallow a tiny Madtom catfish(?). I spent several minutes watching/photographing the grebe wrestling w/ the fish before it dove and disappeared with its prey. 

Meanwhile, other birders were chasing a pair of River Otters that were heading up the canal along the Marsh Rabbit Run – they had appeared momentarily along the dike.

Walking along the Marsh Rabbit Run dike I was able to photograph a small flock of Blue-gray Gnatcatchers that were feeding just ahead of me. A couple of Swamp Sparrows, Palm Warblers, Anhingas, and scenery kept me busy as I walked. 

An approaching birder had found a Lincoln’s Sparrow up ahead, and I managed to find it skulking on the opposite shore myself. 

A Cooper’s Hawk was flying up and down the dike and seemed to have the locals excited, who were also out looking for the White-faced Ibis I saw a day earlier. A Lesser Yellowlegs flushed up ahead and flew off. Black-bellied Whistling Ducks were roosting in the dead trees overhead. 

A Northern Mockingbird flew overhead and perched for several minutes. Sandhill Cranes were bugling out in the marsh to my right. An Eastern Phoebe was singing to my right, and streams of American White Pelicans were moving overhead in all directions. A House Wren chattering nearby provided several nice photos from up close.

As I neared the end of the trail I came upon the large roost of American White Pelicans and soaked in their presence for a few minutes. There appeared to be fewer birds than yesterday, but still an impressive collection of large birds. 

A Northern Harrier was flying along the marsh about a quarter mile away, and drifting in their direction. They paid it no attention. I stopped for a few minutes to digiscope a Sharp-shinned Hawk that flew into a tree in the middle of the marsh ahead of me. 

A nearby Roseate Spoonbill was close enough for some digiscoping and photos w/ the D300. I attempted to digiscope some of the Glossy Ibis that feeding in the marshes around me, but they were spooking easily this morning. A pair of Limpkin were calling far out in the marsh.

As I returned toward the pelicans I spotted an American Bittern next to a patch of marigolds. It was frozen in position for several moments behind a tiny reed, but then moved forward for a few moments. I approached it slowly and took dozens of photos w/ the D300. Gorgeous bird! After a few minutes the bittern turned and headed slowly back into cover.

Heading back down the Marsh Rabbit Run trail toward the Visitor’s Center I spotted a second American Bittern fluffing itself to my left. Unfortunately I saw it through the thickets and did not have any clear shots at w/ the camera. I followed it for several minutes as it disappeared into cover. Just up ahead a 3rd bittern appeared but flew off to the distance.

I ran into Clay Holland and Gloria Brook, a couple of local birders, who filled me in on the status of the Reserve. They were part of a large letter-writing campaign that convinced Polk Co. authorities to prohibit hunting on the grounds for the next five years. This victory for the reserve has resulted in the return of Black-bellied Whistling Ducks (among other shorebirds, ducks, and waterbirds) and has resulted in one of the largest roosting sites in Central Florida for the American White Pelican. They expected the birding to only improve with time. I had a hard time believing that it could get any better than this! Kudos to them and everyone else that helped to create the Reserve!

Two pair of Red-shouldered Hawks, one on either side of the dike, were calling and flying 50-100 yds away. Pelicans flying overhead were creating long, string-like patterns across the skies as if a passing plane was dragging a long ribbon behind it. Really graceful stuff when you take a moment to enjoy them as they follow the ripple created by the birds ahead of them.

Walking along the trail I came upon a photographer who was busy photographing the pair of River Otters seen earlier. In the duckweed-covered canal a pair of otters was in the midst of their mating ritual. I stopped and watched as they swam and swirled below the surface before resurfacing with just their heads appearing. The male otter was clamping down on the neck of the female, and the two were swimming as one. 
Several moments later the female otter had had enough, and was starting to thrash and scream bloody murder. Everyone witnessing this once-in-a-lifetime experience felt bad for the female otter as she thrashed and snapped at the male biting into the scruff of her neck. It was painful and somewhat sad to watch and listen to… 

More whistling ducks in trees overhead, and more cranes bugling in the adjacent marsh. The Cooper's Hawk returned and landed directly overhead in the dead trees. I spent several minutes photographing the juvenile bird with the D300, and was able to set up and get several digiscoped images.

Circle B Bar Reserve, Polk, Florida, US
Dec 31, 2009 8:15 AM - 10:35 AM
Protocol: Traveling
3.0 mile(s)
41 species

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck (Dendrocygna autumnalis)  7
Pied-billed Grebe (Podilymbus podiceps)  1
Limpkin (Aramus guarauna)  2
Lesser Yellowlegs (Tringa flavipes)  1
Least Sandpiper (Calidris minutilla)  75
Wood Stork (Mycteria americana)  29
Anhinga (Anhinga anhinga)  2
American White Pelican (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos)  1000     less birds than yesterday, but still impressive!
American Bittern (Botaurus lentiginosus)  3
Little Blue Heron (Egretta caerulea)  1
Tricolored Heron (Egretta tricolor)  1
Snowy Egret (Egretta thula)  1
Western Cattle Egret (Bubulcus ibis)  6
Great Egret (Ardea alba)  1
Glossy Ibis (Plegadis falcinellus)  6
Roseate Spoonbill (Platalea ajaja)  3
Osprey (Pandion haliaetus)  2
Northern Harrier (Circus hudsonius)  2
Sharp-shinned Hawk (Accipiter striatus)  1
Cooper's Hawk (Accipiter cooperii)  1
Red-shouldered Hawk (Buteo lineatus)  4
Belted Kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon)  1
Pileated Woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus)  1
American Kestrel (Falco sparverius)  1
Eastern Phoebe (Sayornis phoebe)  1
Blue-headed Vireo (Vireo solitarius)  1
American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos)  1
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (Polioptila caerulea)  6
House Wren (Troglodytes aedon)  2
Marsh Wren (Cistothorus palustris)  1
Carolina Wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus)  1
Gray Catbird (Dumetella carolinensis)  1
Northern Mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos)  1
Lincoln's Sparrow (Melospiza lincolnii)  1     An approaching birder had found a Lincoln’s Sparrow up ahead, and I managed to find it skulking on the opposite shore myself. Buff-colored chest and fine streaking abruptly ends at top of belly.
Swamp Sparrow (Melospiza georgiana)  2
Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus)  1
Common Grackle (Quiscalus quiscula)  1
Common Yellowthroat (Geothlypis trichas)  1
Palm Warbler (Setophaga palmarum)  4
Yellow-throated Warbler (Setophaga dominica)  1
Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis)  2

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I took the trail past Alligator Alley toward Lake Hancock (the reverse of yesterday’s route) and saw a Belted Kingfisher fly past. The trail ahead was thick w/ visitors so there were few birds to see. Several alligators were found in the ditch to my left, and I stopped several times to get photos of the open marsh. A pair of duck hunters were scouting to my right, but carried no weapons. I managed a couple of long-distance shots at a Pileated Woodpecker just moments before my card ran out of memory. An American Kestrel was perched out on a dead snag 50 yds away, but too far to digiscope. I saw several more Blue-headed Vireo and Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, but that was it.

Lake Hancock ahead of me, on the opposite side of the reserve, had another 2000+ American White Pelicans roosting along the far shore. This explained the massive number of birds flying back and forth from one end of the reserve to the other. Incredible!

As I approached the Visitor’s Center I stopped for a few moments to first photograph an American Lady Butterfly, followed by a Sulphur Butterfly (possibly a Southern Dogface butterfly?). 

Overhead the approaching front was now bringing heavy clouds, humidity, and kettles of Turkey Vultures. Among them were several large flocks of Wood Storks riding the thermals. A few more photos of the oak hammocks near the visitor’s center and a conversation with some passing locals, and it was time to pack up and get back to Lakeland and try to make flight arrangements for the trip home. A juvenile Bald Eagle made for one last digiscoped image from a distance.

For anyone wishing to bird the greater Orlando/Lakeland area this place is a must-see destination. Circle B Bar Reserve – a 5-star birding destination! What a great way to end 2009.

Lake Hancock, FL, Polk, Florida, US
Dec 31, 2009 11:30 AM - 11:40 AM
Protocol: Stationary
Checklist Comments:     Quick stop across the street
8 species

Wood Stork (Mycteria americana)  12
American White Pelican (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos)  2000     rest of the flock of 3000+ birds was at Circle B Bar Reserve.
Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura)  12
Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)  1
Belted Kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon)  1
Pileated Woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus)  1
Blue-headed Vireo (Vireo solitarius)  2
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (Polioptila caerulea)  2

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This report was generated automatically by eBird v3 (