March 29: When out-of-state birders visit Florida, such as Dickson Smith visiting this week from Utah, one bird often high on the wish list is the federally endangered Red-cockaded Woodpecker. Three Lakes WMA in Osceola County has stands of the sparse mature pine woodland that the woodpecker favors, and is a particularly reliable place to see this species, along with the secretive Bachman’s Sparrow, which likes the same habitat. The birds become active at first light, but the woodpeckers have generally left the nesting area and have scattered for the day by 9 AM and the sparrows tend to stop singing, so it is essential to arrive very early.
Red-cockaded Woodpeckers live in small social groups, so it is common to see a number of individuals flitting from tree to tree in the same general area. Bachman’s Sparrows are numerous here and are usually seen flying low to the ground away from the observer, but occasionally one will perch low on a young evergreen or an overhanging larger tree branch. This habitat also features Brown-headed Nuthatch, good numbers of Eastern Bluebirds, Eastern Meadowlarks, and Pine Warblers, and Northern Bobwhites can be heard calling from various hiding places. On this particular day both Red-cockaded Woodpeckers and Bachman’s Sparrows were uncharacteristically still active when we left at 9:30.
Next stop was Joe Overstreet Road and Landing, where again we saw Sandhill Cranes but no Whooping Crane. The landing had just the usual suspects, including three adult Bald Eagles all perched close by on posts.
We then headed south on Route 441 toward Kissimmee Prairie State Park in Okeechobee County. On the way, in the area east of the park itself, we came across several Crested Caracaras, and were treated to the spectacle of two separate pairs of Swallow-tailed Kites soaring and swooping over the road. As they worked their way along the road, we several times drove a couple of hundred yards ahead in anticipation of their catching up while we waited with cameras poised.
We hadn’t been at Kissimmee Prairie long before the rain, which had been predicted all day but had luckily held off until now, finally began in earnest, but not before we finally managed some photos of a very shy Northern Bobwhite that had been calling from deep cover for a half hour before finally allowing a glimpse.