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Christmas in Florida

Part 12:  New Smyrna Beach

Since I figured Smyrna Dunes Park probably didn't open till later, I decided to bird the north part of Canaveral NS the next morning since it was just down the road from where I was staying.  I stopped at several beach accesses and scoped, and while I only picked up one new trip bird (finally got the Sandwich Tern), I had several enjoyable experiences: a Catbird sitting out in the open at the first stop let me walk right up to him, which is a first!  On the beach were several surf-fishers, and one guy had a hunk of fish nailed to a piece of wood with his big ol' skinning knife, but while he was watching his rods, that didn't stop a brave Ring-billed Gull from sneaking up on it, and bit by bit finally devouring the whole thing, leaving only the standing knife!  Watching at a discreet distance were other Ringbills, Laughers, a single Great Black-backed, Royal, Forster's, and Sandwich Terns, and a handful of Black Skimmers.  The Gannets were real close to shore here, so watching them through the scope (so close you could actually see the face pattern and buffy head of one adult) was a real treat!  An Orange-crowned Warbler hopped up in the bushes just before I left.  The mammal of the day was the Bobcat that loped across the road and into the palmettos!

   

Boardwalk to the beach at the north end of Canaveral National Seashore

             

Surf-fisher and opportunistic Ring-billed Gull waiting to get at the fish nailed to the log while other larids watch from a safe distance...

            

L-R:  A three-tern flock, another immature Great Black-backed Gull, and a normally skulky Gray Catbird  

Found the famous Turtle Mound Trail, and while it makes for a great seawatch, you definitely have to do it in the afternoon, as I was looking into the sun for the most part.  Carolina Wrens played hide and seek in the undergrowth, and a beautiful Blue-headed Vireo greeted me at the entrance.  There were a few pelicans (including a single White) and egrets in the inlet, but pretty far away.  At the old historic house, I walked out on the pier and sat for five, where what I almost wrote off as a distant Great Blue Heron too quickly actually turned out to be a Reddish Egret upon closer scrutiny!  A male Red-breasted Merganser fed nearby, as well as a Common Loon.

           

Entrance to the Turtle Mound Nature Trail and view of the Intercoastal Waterway from the top

After checking out the rest of the beach accesses I headed up to Smyrna Dunes, and that was a great boardwalk loop (if Turtle Mound didn't give me exercise, this sure did!).  I followed Pranty's suggestion to take Walkway 2 to the inlet (I think the "boardwalk around the pond" he mentioned was closed), where I sat for five and watched a huge pod of birds out on the sandbar; something spooked them (it may have been the Bald Eagle, but he was pretty high), and I was able to pick out at least three Great Black-backs and a Herring, but if there was a Lesser BB in there, I wouldn't have been comfortable calling it.  More rails called that sounded just like our Clappers, so again, unless told otherwise, that's what I'm assuming they were.  Walking along the shore to the jetty as suggested produced a few friendly Sanderlings (I think it was really low tide at that time), and as I approached the jetty I saw all these cars parked at the base and said, "How did they get to park there?!"  (That's the lazy part of me talking... J)  There must be a beach access for cars up the way, because as I continued along the boardwalk I saw a lot of cars going back and forth!  But at any rate, I cautiously approached the jetty not wanting to scare off my life Purple Sandpiper (if there was indeed one), and as I stepped around some of the rocks to get the sun to my back, discovered the thing was literally crawling with Ruddy Turnstones at my feet!  There was also an oblivious Snowy Egret, and right where the water met the land was a young Reddish Egret dancing away!  Although not as exciting as a potential lifer, he was still a very nice bird!

         

Boardwalk loop at Smyrna Dunes Park with Snowy Egret and Sanderling

   

Beach and the dike, which had Ruddy Turnstones (also below) and a Snowy Egret

        

            

Young Reddish Egret and a Snowy Egret sentinel 

No PUSA, so I climbed the stairs and continued the boardwalk all the way around to do the whole loop; the most interesting thing between the jetty and the car was a Gopher Tortoise sitting up on a piece of sand dune!  Also ran into a rather large group of Palm Warblers that included at least two Yellows.  It was a great loop, and there were a lot of folks (mainly elderly) out there getting their exercise!  What a neat place to do it!

                  

More views of the boardwalk and dunes with a Gopher Tortoise

      

Heading back to the parking lot... 

Looking at the map again, I realized that if I got into Gainsville that night, I could still do a little of Paynes Prairie before getting up into the Panhandle for the night, which would be a good jumping off point for the drive home.  So I took County Road 42 over to I-75, which was a lovely country road, with just enough hills to remind me of California (just a little bit, though)! J

Continue to Paynes Prairie Preserve SP

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