Snowy Owl and Purple Sandpipers in Florida – January 7th

I wrote up a post roughly a week ago about birding in Duval and Nassau counties, which can be read here. A few days ago, on January 7th, Dan Irizarry came up once again to try to get the Snowy Owl. The bird had been refound the day after we had tried, and has been seen consistently ever since. Due to flight complications with getting home to Chicago, I had a few more free days in the area and was able to join Dan again. He picked me up around 8:30 AM with fellow Florida birder Ray Webb. Ray needed the Snowy as a Florida state bird, and I was determined to help them both get it.

We arrived at Little Talbot Island State Park at about 9:00, and were told that the owl was there, all we had to do was walk out on the boardwalk and look at the beach. We did so and the views were killer. The Owl was sitting on the side of a dune, relaxing in the cooler weather (it was in the upper 20s at this time, very very cold for Florida). It then decided to fly a bit and landed not far from the ocean on the beach itself.

Snowy Owl

Snowy Owl (Photo by Nathan Goldberg)

Snowy Owl with a dead Palm Tree

Snowy Owl with a dead Palm Tree, not a normal setting (Photo by Nathan Goldberg)

Snowy Owl

Snowy Owl (Photo by Nathan Goldberg)

After leaving the Owl, we headed to look for some inland birds. Our first stop was University of North Florida’s campus, where there is a little island surrounded by a pond. This area is good for Brown-headed Nuthatches, and though we didn’t find any, we did get an Anhinga and 10 Ring-necked Ducks. From here, we travelled to Spanish Pond, a location I found in eBird that has Common Gallinule. Upon arriving here, we were alerted to the presence of a large military helicopter flying over, a neat non-avian sighting.

A neat military helicopter that flew over

A neat military helicopter (Photo by Nathan Goldberg)

After a bit of searching, two Common Gallinules popped out of the reeds to greet us. A Wood Stork was also present, a welcome sighting for me as we do not have them in Illinois (besides stray birds).

An immature and adult Common Gallinule

An immature and adult Common Gallinule (Photo by Nathan Goldberg)

Wood Stork

Wood Stork (Photo by Nathan Goldberg)

After Spanish Pond, we headed up into Nassau County to bird Fort Clinch State Park (just like last time!), only our targets were a bit different. Though we would welcome another view of the Harlequin Duck, Ray and Dan were more interested in a report of an Iceland Gull during the past week. This is a almost yearly occurring bird in Florida, but still not an easy bird to find. I was also hoping to get the Purple Sandpiper that had been seen in the Ruddy Turnstone flocks.

On the way to Fort Clinch, we stopped for lunch at McDonalds, where Boat-tailed Grackles were all over.

Female Boat-tailed Grackle

Female Boat-tailed Grackle (Photo by Nathan Goldberg)

Sticking to the schedule, we soon got to the State Park. I began the long trek along the half mile long pier, and while walking, I heard Dan call out that he found the Harlequin. This time it was relaxing on the jetty, not swimming under the pier. With my sights set on the Purple Sandpiper, I had to pull myself away from the duck and continue walking. Using my scope, I was able to pick out a mass of shorebirds huddled together on the pier. Approaching them, it was clear that one bird was quite different from the Ruddy Turnstones. Upon closer inspection, it was the roosting Purple Sandpiper, ABA bird 521 for me! But wait, could that be another? Yes! There were two Purple Sandpipers in the group of Turnstones, both sleeping with their heads tucked away.

Two Purple Sandpipers mixed into a group of Ruddy Turnstones

Two Purple Sandpipers mixed into a group of Ruddy Turnstones (Photo by Nathan Goldberg)

Purple Sandpiper with Ruddy Turnstones

Purple Sandpiper with Ruddy Turnstones (Photo by Nathan Goldberg)

A levitating Purple Sandpiper!

A levitating Purple Sandpiper! (Photo by Nathan Goldberg)

While watching the Purple Sandpipers, Dan and Ray were able to pick out a Northern Gannet offshore, another great bird for a lake restricted birder.

A distant Northern Gannet

A distant Northern Gannet (Photo by Nathan Goldberg)

Walking back to the beach, Royal Terns were streaming past at close range.

Royal Tern

Royal Tern (Photo by Nathan Goldberg)

We decided to walk down to the beach for better looks at the Harlequin Duck, but along the way I got distracted by this “Western” Willet feeding close to shore.

"Western" Willet

“Western” Willet (Photo by Nathan Goldberg)

The lighting was great on the Harlequin from this new angle and he posed nicely for us.

Harlequin Duck

Harlequin Duck (Photo by Nathan Goldberg)

Along the beach, we could see a Great Black-backed Gull picking at a dead creature. When we got closer, it was clear that it was the remains of a Black Skimmer.

Great Black-backed Gull eating a Black Skimmer

Great Black-backed Gull eating a Black Skimmer (Photo by Nathan Goldberg)

Along with the dead bird, there was a group of live Skimmers that momentarily visited the beach.

Black Skimmer flock

Black Skimmer flock (Photo by Nathan Goldberg)

Fort Clinch State Park is a great birding location in northern Florida, and the algae covered jetty is perfect for Shorebirds, as can be seen here.

Ruddy Turnstones and Sanderlings sheltering from the wind

Ruddy Turnstones and Sanderlings sheltering from the wind (Photo by Nathan Goldberg)

This trip was a great success, and I must thank Dan and Ray for taking me out birding again. Northern Florida is full of such diversity, and I cannot wait to come back. For now it is back to school, in the frozen north.