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Christmas in Florida

Part 3:  Withlacoochee State Forest

Monday I wanted to check out the Withlacoochee State Forest, so decided to head east from the Best Western in Brooksville (which was actually just off the freeway) and into the Croom/Rital portion of the forest.  I miscalculated severely: sunrise wasn't until around 7:30, so it was just getting light when I started out, and it was cold out there!  The first place I stopped was Silver Lake, which was pretty dead, but managed to scare up an Ovenbird, which was very nice!  Headed on up the road after that, and where it narrowed I started the drive-a-mile bit; one of the best flocks was unfortunately right across the street from someone's house, with Carolina Wrens and Chickadees, a huge flock of Chipping Sparrows (the first of many), Tufted Titmice, robins, goldfinches, a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, a Red-bellied Woodpecker, cardinals, a Ruby-crowned Kinglet, and a Mocker zipping out and in for a finale! Down the road a bit the paved bike trail crossed the road, so I parked and walked a little of that; lots of Butterbutts and Palm Warblers, but the best birds were two Pileated Woodpeckers calling to each other.  Continuing on, I stopped near one of the Red-cockaded Woodpecker spots, but nothing but a TV rocked back and forth overhead.  Found another great trailhead close to the border (called the Tucker Trailhead) which bird-wise was pretty dead, but it was a nice exercise hike.  One thing I really appreciated was that they have two parallel trails: one for hikers and one for bikers!

      

I-75 from Silver Lake, with a bike path through the forest

        

Croom Road and the Tucker Trail head

After that headed up to the Citrus section, where the first road I got on was a definite "don't try this at home" one: real bumpy and sandy, with a lot of "stuff" growing in the middle!  Didn't get far, as a big ol' tree had fallen across the road a couple of miles down, so I made my way back to pavement, thinking if all the forest roads were that bad then that was the end of the exploring for the day, but just down the road was a big sign and a big wide dirt road that was great!  This was Road 13 (interestingly) and cut through the whole forest for about 13 miles (I think) on up to SR 44.  But this was a wonderful road, and actually took me by several white-banded RC Woodpecker nest trees, but no woodies around except for Hairy and Downy.  There was a variety of habitat (including some "fields") and kicked up several goodies such as Blue-headed Vireo, several Pine Warblers in every shade of brightness/dullness, Eastern Bluebirds, a towhee, and the real prize, a Yellow-throated Warbler! 

      

Scenes from the forest roads

       

Red-cockaded Woodpecker habitat (white bands mark the nesting trees) 

                

L-R:  Chipping Sparrow, Pine Warbler, and Butterbutts pigging out on clay

But I asked a question of the locals: there were tons of Palm Warblers back there, and while I saw several pale-bellied birds, most of them actually appeared to be the yellower, yellow-browed eastern race, and according to Sibley, I'm in a "green dot" zone for these guys!  So I was wondering if both races are commonly seen in this area (I would almost assume so based on how many I saw).  I heard back from at least one guy who said that was indeed the case: some years they’re more plentiful than others (usually it’s one Yellow to 50 Browns), but this year seems to be a good year for them.

           

“Yellow” Palm Warblers, the eastern race which is usually more rare here

After dumping out on 44, I decided to check out McKethan Lake, only to discover that it was closed!  In fact, according to the sign, technically all of the forest was supposedly closed due to hurricane damage, but the places I was at previously sure looked open!  So with what little time I had I thought I'd try to get a coastal location in, so decided to check out Pine Island County Park described in the ABA guide (picking up a Bald Eagle heading west). Said guide says the road going in is good for marshy sparrows, etc., and I believe it, but the down side is that you can't park anywhere!!  (One birder coming out was trying his best...)  So I just enjoyed the scenery going in (managed to pick up a Little Blue Heron on the fly), and just took a quick look at the beach, which is about all that's accessible there (they weren't charging at the time): a mob of larids included Laughing and Ring-billed Gulls, Royal Terns, and Black Skimmers, and one lonely Willet was off to the side, but that was about it.  (Probably shoulda checked out Shoal Line Road instead, but oh well...)  So headed back to Brooksville, picking up a pair of kingfishers on the way out, then on down to Zepheryllis for the night, picking up a flyover Anhinga for the trip!

    The marsh at Pine Island County Park

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