I wanted to do something special for my birthday last month, so I started planning a little getaway to the west side of the state. I was looking to chase a few birds, see a different part of Florida, and just bum around a bit. My original itinerary had Arthur and me hitting 3 or 4 hotspots a day over a long weekend, racking up life birds like Burrowing Owl, Snail Kite, and Red-cockaded Woodpecker. In the end I decided to scale down our adventure to just two days centered around the Tampa Bay area, and our first stop after an early morning wake up call on Sunday, February 26th was Possum Branch Preserve in Safety Harbor, Pinellas County. We were there to look for a western sparrow that had been seen regularly since December 10, 2011.
The bird, first thought to be only the 5th or 6th* Green-tailed Towhee ever recorded in Florida, must have been seen by hundreds of state birders. Thanks to regular mailing list posts by those who went out to see the bird before us, we had extremely detailed directions to follow when we went twitching over two months after the initial sighting (is it still considered twitching after so much time has passed?).
We arrived in cool, rainy conditions, but were lucky to find the bird immediately upon arriving at its favorite haunt. It scratched, foraged and fed nearly continuously for the half hour we were there.
As a bonus, we found another lifer at Possum Branch Preserve: American Oystercatcher. This species was a target we had for our Tampa trip, but we didn’t expect to see it at Possum Branch. After two fly-by oystercatchers took us by surprise we had to do a second life bird boogie. 🙂
*This has been an exceptional season for Green-tailed Towhees in Florida. There may have been up to 8 different birds in the state in the past 12 months.