I picked up Debra at 3:55 AM on Friday morning, and we headed for Lugoff. Lex was waiting when we got there, and we started loading his car with all our equipment. We were on the road again before 5:00, heading to Florida. The three of us were taking our best shot to see the Greater Sandplover, a stray bird that normally lives in Asia and Africa. This individual is only the second ever recorded in North America, and we hoped it would still be there. Storms with gale-force winds and abundant rain earlier in the week had made finding the bird difficult for some other birders, and rainy, windy weather was still partly in the forecast.
At 10:15 we pulled into Hugenot Memorial Park and found a place to leave the car. (This is located east of Jacksonville, out on the coast of Duval County.) We grabbed our scopes, binoculars, raincoats, and started walking. Other birders were standing around a large group of mixed shorebirds, and we knew we were in the right spot. The bird had been cooperative all morning for those who were there earlier, so we had good hope. We didn’t have to wait. It was among several hundred plovers and sandpipers, but with a little pointing and scanning, we all picked it out and had leisurely, upclose scope views. That was nice. Here’s a picture of the scene (the Greater Sandplover is in this group, but too far for the camera to show detail):
We continued there for a few more hours, enjoying the bird and the people who came long distances to see it. One gentleman had just flown in from Rhode Island to see it; he liked watching the bird through the scope. As we stood there searching the birds for something different, a Red-necked Phalarope flew in, and we got great scope views of this normally pelagic species. That, also was a new one for me.
On the walk back to the car after noon, rain started, and wind pelted us with sand. We were gritty and soaked on the way to find something to eat. Not knowing the area, we solicited recommendations from the locals. Both people we asked said the Sandollar was the place to go. We did, and it was worth it. Debra tried the cashew-crusted curry grouper; Lex and I had grilled mahi with dill and caper sauce…all of it very good food!
I saw two guys come to the buffet line and recognized them as birders from Tampa who had shared part of the morning with us. I walked over to see what else they had found after we parted, and they told about finding Leach’s Storm-Petrels over the surf at Little Talbot State Park. That is another pelagic species not normally seen from land. So after finishing at the restaruant, we headed up A1A to Little Talbot.
If you are ever in the area, pay the small entrance fee and just drive through this unspoiled fragment of coastal Florida. It is a beautiful place. We parked and walked up onto one of the boardwalks so we could scan the ocean. After a little while I found dark slivers of movement cutting over the waves. As they came closer, even flying over the beach itself, we were able to get positive identification as Leach’s Storm-Petrels, my third new bird for the day. It has been a long time since I got three new birds in a single day east of Texas.
It was mid-afternoon, and we had seen what we came to see. So we drove back home. I only had two-and-a-half hours of sleep the previous night, but the adrenaline kept me going all day. We made the vehicle transfer back at Lex’s house, drove to Lancaster, dropped Debra off, transcribed my bird records, and I was in bed by 12:15. That was a great way to spend a Friday!