August 3, 2015 - We are starting a new series here at Rogue Birder called "Rogue Collective". This series will feature guest...

Rogue Collective - Jeff Timmons - Anderson, Indiana

August 3, 2015 -

We are starting a new series here at Rogue Birder called "Rogue Collective". This series will feature guest posts from birders, artists, naturalists, and nature photographers from across the state and the country. Having met so many talented and interesting people over the past two years, we felt it would be great to hear their stories. Start working on your story now - you may be next! First up, Jeff Timmons our Rogue Brother from Indiana. Enjoy!!!

Hello, my name is Jeff Timmons. I am an addicted birder from Indiana. I have been birding since a very young age. My grandfather was a bird lover and banded birds so birding has always been an interest to me. I have great memories of banding birds with him, taking bird trips and simply hanging out at their house to watch the birds. I was asked about writing a guest post for Rogue Birders which I thought I could do but I was not sure what I would write about. It then hit me that I could write about my recent trip to Florida.

A lot of years my family ends up in Florida for vacation as it has the warm beaches that my wife and daughter love and places for me to escape and find some new life birds. I spend a lot of time researching what new birds I can find within a reasonable driving distance of our lodging. Once I know what birds are on my target list I use the Florida bird list archive and for researching the various locations of the species on my target list as well as new spots to bird. The difficulty is that in the summer time Florida can get very hot and buggy so people are not out as much and they do not report as often. If you have not explored eBird I would urge you to do so. There is way more information on the site than what you can ever use. In return, I try to log all of my birding trips in eBird both for my personal use but also as a way to provide data back to others as well.

Sanibel Island is one of our favorite destinations. The wildlife there can be very interesting, lots of shells and several great birding locations nearby. We have been there several times so life birds are becoming more difficult to get. My list of life birds this time seemed to be somewhat of a stretch. The list that I started with is below:
1. Short-tailed Hawk – Sanibel is a little far south in the summer time
2. Smooth-billed Ani – not likely as there are very few in the state over the last several years
3. Fulvous Whistling Duck
4. Spot-breasted Oriole – I have tried several times
5. Egyptian Goose – Recently added to the ABA list
The one issue with this list is that at least 4 of the 5 are located on the eastern side of the state and not the western side. Most of my mornings consisted of “local” birding and taking pictures of the birds I saw.

I always enjoy going to the Ft. Myers beach to see the birds before the beach goers overtake the beach. You can usually locate Black Skimmers, Roseate Spoonbill, Least Terns, Wilson’s Plover, Snowy Plover and many other birds. One of my ideas was to practice some bird in flight photos. I need a lot of practice in this area. Pictures in Florida can be tough with the harsh sun and a lot of heat distortion. However, the sun provides for great shutter speeds. Below are a few of my favorite photos from my first trip to the beach.

If we go to Sanibel I also try to make a special trip to see my friendly Florida Scrub Jay. On the way back I always stop to see the Burrowing Owls. I was surprised to find that the Burrowing Owls had taken up camp in the same area with the Florida Scrub Jay so there was no need for a special stop this year. 

The family agreement is that I usually go out birding early in the morning and then arrive back in time for some fun on the beach for the rest of the day. However, knowing I had to go to Miami there would have to be one day that would be later than normal. The day had finally arrived. I awoke at 3:30 in the morning and departed for Miami so that I would arrive at day break. The target was Spot-breasted Oriole and Egyptian Goose. I have tried several other times for the oriole with no luck. Depending on how long it took me to find those birds I could possibly go for Fulvous Whistling Duck and there was no word on a Smooth-billed Ani that was sighted a couple of weeks prior to my arrival.

I arrived at spot number one in Miami for the oriole and looked around for about 45 minutes with no luck but I did see a couple of Red-whiskered Bulbuls. I was not feeling real lucky at this spot and I decided to head to location number 2. After looking around for about 10 minutes I was standing at my car and turned around only to find the bird in a tree about 30 feet from me. I quickly grab my camera and take a couple of pictures only to have the bird disappear. Mission one accomplished by 8am. 

The next target was Egyptian Goose. I had several locations identified where there had been sightings reported in Ebird but nothing that was real recent. I headed to the closest location that I thought was realistic. I drove around scanning the pond areas. This was a local park and there were several bodies of water. The highlight here was seeing the dog beach that had a fence on the land and a fence in the water with a sign on the edge of the bank just outside the fence warning of alligators. Just as I hit the last body of water I see two Egyptian Geese sitting in the grass. Mission two accomplished and it is only 9:30. This allowed me time to decide what to do next as I had a lot of options. I decided that this trip was about seeing new life birds and not quantity of birds so that led me to look for the Fulvous Whistling Duck.

A good place for the Fulvous Whistling Duck is Stormwater Treatment Area 5 (STA5). This is a very large area that was only accessible once a month on the auto tour but over the last couple of years they have opened up several days if you are willing to walk or bike this vast area. The heat index was about 100 degrees and the ducks in this area were at the far end meaning at least a 4 mile walk from my understanding. I decided that was not in my best interest and I had researched another area south of Lake Okeechobee on Brown's Farm Rd - Belle Glade, FL. I drove through some very interesting areas and a vast amount of sugar cane fields. I finally arrived to Brown’s Farm Rd and all I can see is sugar cane fields. I finally made it to a body of water filled with heat distortion and everywhere has gates with no trespassing signs. I pulled into the gravel and scanned the pond. Luckily there were 7 very distant Fulvous Whistling Ducks. Life bird 3 and it is only noon.

I could head to look for the Ani but it was very hot and I inquired about the Ani with no luck of anyone that was able to relocate the bird. It had also been two weeks since the previous sighting. After all I was 3 for 3 on life birds and the odds of number 4 were limited. I decided that I would really like to see a Crested Caracara and so I chose to take the long way back home to search for them. I knew that 3 hours back would put me at least a 3pm and I had two kids and a wife patiently waiting for me to get back.

I started heading back and the roads took me through more sugar cane fields that were loaded with dragon flies and many other bugs. It was very warm and the birds were few. There were a couple of Cattle Egrets that I took pictures of and Mourning Doves on the wires. Then suddenly there were several other birds that did not look right. I stopped to view them and they were Common Nighthawks sleeping on the wires in the heat of the day. I was finally able to get a picture of a Common Nighthawk that was stationary even if it was on a wire. There were at least a dozen of them. 

I quickly moved on as I still had a ways to go to get to the area where I thought there might be a Crested Caracara. After driving on several roads I came across a utility pole that had two birds on it. I stopped to quickly scan and luck was on my side. An adult and a juvenile perched side by side.

I only had to drive about 15 minutes out of my way for the Crested Caracara so I turned around and it was time to head back to Sanibel. I arrived back about 2:30 much to everyone’s surprise. I grabbed a quick bite and got ready to head to the beach. I looked at my phone for the daily dose of birds only to find that the Smooth-billed Ani was located at 1pm 25 miles from where I was at for the Fulvous Whistling Duck. Oh well, 3 for 3 was not bad and I was able to see some other nice birds as well. Time to head to the beach. 

It was a long day of birding and I did not go to bed until 11pm after getting up at 3:30 so it was time for another local trip. I got up early the next morning to head back to Ft. Myers Beach. One of my target fun birds for the trip was to get good pictures of a Reddish Egret. I arrived at sunrise as it gets warm and the sun harsh for pictures. The early sun can make for some good pictures but too early is not good. Arriving at the beach there was a Black-crowned Night Heron that I was hoping to see and a Reddish Egret that was pretty cooperative in the early morning sun. I walked for about 3 miles and took pictures of several different birds.

Time to go back and have some fun on the beach. While I was on the beach for the day I of course could not stop thinking about the Smooth-billed Ani. I told myself if it was reported again I would have to try for it or I would be disappointed. There are very few of these birds reported in the last several years and I was probably closer than I would ever be again. Well, you guessed it. The bird was reported so I had to go for it again in the morning. The plan was to get a good night of rest and be there at day break. Well the good night of rest started at 11pm and was interrupted through the night until my awakening at 3:30 again only to chase a crazy bird. I somewhat had my doubts but again knew I would be disappointed if I did not try.

I hop in the car and drive the 3 hours and arrive on the east side of the state at 6:30am. I park my car, grab my camera and head down the trail. Another birder pulled in at the same time. I noticed down the trail that there was camera in about the right spot pointing up in the trees. Well it was not the Smooth-billed Ani but there were several Snail Kites that I had missed on one of my other outings. I always love to see the Snail Kite. The sun was on their back side so my pictures were terrible. This photo is from last year.

I spent the next hour or so walking back and forth along the trail wondering if I should walk the vast area or stick to the area where it has been seen the last couple of days around 8:30am. I decided to stick close and was taking a picture of a Limpkin when suddenly the other guy I had been birding with calls from 40 yards down the path that the Ani was there. I take off running camera and all and get a decent look and a couple of pictures before it flies to the top of the Snail Kite tree which is distant and terribly back lit. We decided to back off down the trail and watch to determine what the bird does.

While fighting the bugs and watching the Ani a Spot-breasted Oriole flies by and lands in the tree. Go figure. I stood back and watched the Ani slowly move about and eventually coming down low to the canal. We gave him some space and watched the bird feed. The behavior was truly interesting. I stayed for a while observing the bird and taking some distant photos over the heat distorted water canal and then headed home since I did not have a lot of rest and my family was again patiently waiting on me. I made it to the east coast and back to Sanibel before noon. Still time to enjoy the day at the beach with the family.

One of my last days in Florida we rented a boat and went to Cayo Costa State Park where I was able to spend the day with 50 Magnificient Frigatebirds. I was able to see one grab a fish from the water 30 feet from me. The Reddish Egret stayed close by as we swam in the water.

Unfortunately, it was time to pack up and go home after enjoying some more beach time (which for me means looking at shells and scanning for birds), putt putt and an evening drive through Ding Darling Wildlife Sanctuary. 

Overall it was a great trip to Florida with 4 out of 5 lifers accomplished. I will say that without the help of the list serve and eBird that I would not have nearly the amount of birds on my life list that I do. I urge everyone to at least try submitting their next bird outing via eBird whether it is through your phone or waiting until you get home. Below is a complete list of birds that I observed. I am sure I could have had more but again I chose to chase life birds and a few pictures over quantity of birds. I can only hope that my next vacation is as successful as this one. More photos below!

- Jeff Timmons

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