The last destination on our Florida road trip was the home of our birding friend Stilt in Gainesville. We arrived in mid-afternoon, dropped our stuff off, pet Enzo the dog, and headed off for some birding.
|Paynes Prairie Preserve|
Stilt took us to Paynes Prairie Preserve, a fantastic spot in her 5MR that hosts quite a few cool birds including a Whooping Crane!
|Trust me, that's a Whooping Crane|
We picked up a bunch of trip birds like Brown Thrasher, Song Sparrow (??), and of course, Snail Kite. As we were heading back to the car we found some more Barred Owls.
Back in the car we drove slowly down the entrance road till we heard one of our target birds, Chuck-will's-widow singing!
That evening we learned that tree frogs crawl all over her house.
|Squirrel tree frog (Hyla squirella)|
The next morning we birded Sweetwater Wetlands, a human-made wetlands with miles of trails, mostly with no shade. It was hot but birdy.
Sandhill Crane families were extremely distracting.
We dipped on King Rail here but eventually Stilt summoned a Sedge Wren for us, which turned out to be our last lifer of the trip. Back at the entrance we sat in the shade for a bit while these Fir Tussock moth caterpillars roamed all over the place.
|Nerds in the shade|
We had some good Mexican food for lunch then relaxed a bit back at the house where there is a lot to look at.
|Leaf-footed Bug (Leptoglossus zonatus)|
|Monarch on milkweed|
We went out for more birding later in the afternoon starting with Prairie Creek Conservation Area, aka a good spot for Prothonotary Warbler.
We stopped at Boulware Springs Park where we saw some Red-headed Woodpeckers, another trip bird.
Our last stop was La Chua Trail at Paynes Prairie.
|Eastern glass lizard!|
|Green tree frog|
|Eastern rat snake|
|Eastern rat snake|
At the end of the boardwalk was where the Snail Kite action was happening.
|Apple snail shell|
|Stilt knows all the secrets of Snail Kites|
Back at the house I set up a moth sheet in the yard with just my little blacklight flashlight. Amazingly it stayed on all night so here are a few highlights:
|Tawny virbia moth|
|Fir Tussock moth (the adult of the caterpillar seen earlier)|
|Eastern tent caterpillar moth|
In the morning we stuffed our faces with Halo Donuts then returned to Sweetwater Wetlands for another shot at King Rail and some other birds.
|Roseate Spoonbill and Tricolored Heron|
|Boat-tailed Grackle vs. crayfish|
|Snowy Egret looking fancy|
|North American racer|
We failed to find any of our targets but still had fun. We birded one last spot before leaving town, Palm Point Park on Newnan's Lake. Yellow-throated Warbler was one of our last trip birds:
|Awkward baby Northern Parula|
After that it was time to drive south to Orlando and fly back home. Overall it was an awesome road trip! We had 154 trip birds with 16 lifers for me and 24 for Jacob. If I were to do it again I would have skipped the Everglades (or picked a different part of the Everglades) and spent time on the gulf coast, or more time in the Keys. Regardless it was fun and I am amazed at all of the cool wildlife we were able to find, especially the snake variety! Good times!