Here are some of the target species that I hope to find during my trip to Florida at the beginning of November. The Panhandle does not seem to be the best place to bird in the state, however, there is potential for a few lifers as well as some possible goodies if I'm really lucky. It'll still be great practice though, as this will be my third visit to the state. For some reason, I have done this list in taxonomic order but went backwards, starting with blackbirds! I will complete the list soon with further discussion (mostly, I'm just doing this for my own information so that when I get there, I have some idea of what to look and listen for).
Florida Target Species:
*note - all quotations are taken from the ABA Birdfinding Guide: A Birder's Guide to Florida.
Boat-tailed Grackle – I saw this species in abundance on my first trip to Florida, however I’d like to study them in more detail now that I’ve gained more experience; particularly because I hope to get Great-tailed Grackle on my Arizona trip. The species do not have much range overlap but I still want to have that knowledge under my belt. I also want to study the female in more detail to identify it from the Common Grackle.
Seaside Sparrow – “a fairly common permanent resident of marshes, represented by several subspecies.” I think I’ll be looking for the ‘Wakulla’ subspecies, which is said to be found in Panama City (near our destination). Basically I’m just going to look for the “Gulf Coast” subspecies as seen in Sibley’s. This is one of my most hopeful target species.
Nelson’s/Saltmarsh Sharp-tailed Sparrow – Saltmarsh would be a new species so that would be a great find but I’d love to get both in the state (I think this is tres difficile). In the ABA’s guide to Florida, the author states that Nelson’s is more abundant on the Gulf coast while Saltmarsh is more abundant on the Atlantic coast; however, status is uncertain and needs more study (due to the recent split of the 2 species, which took place in 1995). I’ll have to be extremely careful with identification though, as I have only seen 3 Nelson’s Sharp-tailed Sparrows in my life and the 2 closely related species are very similar in appearance.
Bachman’s Sparrow – The ABA guide says, “A fairly common permanent resident of the Panhandle,” which is very promising. Unfortunately, singing males only occur from March until August, so it’s going to be hard (impossible?) to locate this secretive bird. However, it does mention that the species responds to tapes and Screech-Owl calls during the winter months. On top of that, Bachman’s Sparrows “are found in open pinewoods, pine plantations, and dry prairies.” I am going to be along the Gulf Coast for the entirety of the trip so it may be difficult to find the appropriate habitat for the species.
* Note: most sparrows are listed as uncommon to common winter residents of the Panhandle so I might be able to tally some sparrows on my state/trip list.
Brown-headed Nuthatch – “An uncommon to fairly common permanent resident of pinewoods and plantations south through the central peninsula.” This is high on my target list, particularly as it has gone unseen on my first 2 trips. Also, seeing a third nuthatch besides Red-breasted and White-breasted is a sweet thought.
Tufted Titmouse – sadly, sadly, sadly, I have not yet added this species to my life list, when it can be found relatively easily right in my home turf of Essex County. I’ve been close, and I’ve tried but for some reason, this bird has remained elusive. Just like the American Bittern. 2 of my nemesis birds. I have a chance in Florida though: “An uncommon to common permanent resident of the Panhandle.” It responds readily to pishing like their allies, the chickadees so I’m hopeful for this one.
Loggerhead Shrike – “An uncommon to locally common permanent resident of open areas north of the Everglades.” There are actually breeders in the north (and in the Panhandle, and the book also says that they are more abundant in the winter. As well, the guide mentions that, “Loggerhead Shrikes are still easy to find in much of Florida.” Boy, do I hope that’s true.
Red-cockaded Woodpecker – “A rare to uncommon, extremely local permanent resident of mature, fire-maintained pine flatwoods and sandhills of the Panhandle.” I have to do some further research with this species to see if there are any reliable sites near Panama City (*note - I have went back and researched...there aren't. The most reliable places are large park areas that are relatively undisturbed).
Rufous Hummingbird – perhaps if I’m at the right feeder at the right time, this species is a possibility (albeit a slim one). “A rare to uncommon winter resident throughout the mainland; perhaps most frequent in the Panhandle.” Allen’s Hummingbird might be present as well and the two species are considered unidentifiable from each other and should be identified only to family. Well that just sucks!
Barred Owl – “A fairly common permanent resident of hardwood hammocks, swamps, and bayheads throughout the mainland.” Probably a long-shot but I’m listing it under my target species anyway if I can find the right habitat or happen to hear its distinctive who-cooks-for-you call.
Barn Owl – influx of northern breeders in the winter into the Panhandle. Another long shot, like the Barred Owl (I imagine it takes some concentration, effort, and time to find these species but who knows).
Common Ground-Dove – a main target species of mine as it has gone missed on my 2 past trips. Although the species is on the decline, the ABA guide says it is, “An uncommon to fairly common permanent resident throughout.” Further research will tell me their status in the Panhandle.
Black Skimmer – The Panhandle seems to be a tougher area to birdwatch in Florida with most species being permanent or seasonally common residents of the peninsula. The ABA guide mentions that the species, “usually withdraws from the Panhandle during fall,” so it might be more difficult to locate than I thought.
Sandwich Tern – “A rare to locally common coastal permanent resident throughout, except absent from the western Panhandle during winter. Panama city is more towards the east end of the Panhandle and our hotel is right along the coast so I’m still hopeful that this is a potential species to add to my life list (I sound like a lister here, which I am to an extent, but I obviously look forward to studying these birds as well, not just ticking them off and running to find the next bird).
Royal Tern – “An uncommon to locally abundant coastal permanent resident throughout, with numbers augmented during winter by northern breeders.” I really hope this is a reliable species in the Panhandle as it is high on my target list. I think I may have seen them on my first trip to Florida but I didn’t get a good enough look (I was looking at a flock of terns through a car window during rain). *note to self: the birds will be in non-breeding plumage.
American Oystercatcher – another longshot, locally common but scarce in the Panhandle. Further research of range needed.
Wilson’s Plover – “Generally an uncommon to fairly common permanent resident of sandy beaches and flats throughout, but rare in the western Panhandle.” I’ll have to find out what constitutes the ‘western Panhandle’ as Panama City seems to be quite east to me. If this is the case, this species might be a possibility.
Snowy Plover – one of Florida’s most endangered birds due to disturbance by people and pets at their nesting sites along the Gulf coast. The ABA guide states that, “the largest numbers are found in the western Panhandle, but small numbers occur along the entire peninsular Gulf Coast.” Since I wasn’t at Point Pelee during May to get across to Pelee Island for the single bird that stayed a week on the beaches there, it would be great to find them in Florida.
Limpkin – O.K., so I’m setting myself up for disappointment by adding this species to my target list, but I want to see one really badly! It’s listed as “rare to absent in the Panhandle,” so I have my doubts, but there’s a slight hope that I may come across one, thereby making the trip a complete success.
King Rail – “An uncommon but widespread permanent resident of freshwater marshes throughout the mainland.” Since I have yet to actually see a Virginia Rail instead of just hearing one, chances are I won’t see this species in Florida either per se, but I might be able to hear it. The same goes for the Clapper Rail, “A common permanent resident of salt and brackish marshes and mangroves throughout.” Yellow Rail also falls into the same category: “A scarcely seen but probably regular migrant and winter resident throughout.”
I'll finish this list soon, and hopefully put up some pictures of my most-wanted species. I also plan to write about the common guys that I want to see again in Florida, particularly different plumage or subspecies types.