18 January 2016
It was 36.5 degrees in my tent when my alarm went off at 05:20. I had big plans to get a few miles of hiking behind me and to collect a robust list of bird observations at Palmetto State Park. I wanted to get a jump on the sun and listen to the raucous Barred Owls that reign at Palmetto State Park. After coaxing myself out of my relatively warm down bag, I grabbed the GoPro camera and set off for the western end of Oxbow Lake to try for a sunrise time lapse. From the trail, I heard 2 or 3 Barred Owls in the timber along the San Marcos River; they were doing their best imitation of monkey calls. I set up the camera and finished the loop around the lake as light crept above the horizon. Back at camp, I built a small fire to keep me company as I collected my thoughts on the day’s plans. For a distraction, I kept track of the sequence of songbirds as they began to call.
- Northern Cardinal
- Carolina Wren
- Carolina Chickadee
The waking activities of these three species were clearly delineated by a couple of minutes as noted by the progression of bird songs. Of course, as the dawn chorus came and all order collapsed into a mish-mash of chirps, whistles, clicks, and buzzes I could make no further order. I was able to capture a dozen species of birds at camp before hustling back down the lake trail to take in the sunrise.
The GoPro video didn’t turn out to be anything special but I was able to capture a couple of nice photos of the sun peering above the eastern tree line. The chill in the air and warmer waters of the lake (fed, in part, by the artesian hot springs) were in contrast and provide a neat foggy effect.
When I got back to camp, I noted a small flock of passerines foraging in the leaf litter. Pine Siskins, American Goldfinch, Savannah Sparrow, and a beautiful male Pine Warbler were all added to the list.
I finished the morning birding off with a 4.5 mile circuit from my campsite, across the river, and into Palmetto’s limited back country. For such a small park (just over 200 acres), Palmetto provides a good diversity of habitats accessible via a great trail system. Unfortunately, the River Trail (about a one mile stretch of trail that runs adjacent the San Marcos River) was closed off due to unstable banks caused by the 2015 Halloween Flood. The trail was very quite for longish stretches but the quietude was broken by irregular messes of mixed species aggregations. I didn’t note anything particularly crazy along the trail but did enjoy an over-wintering White-eyed Vireo and calling Pileated Woodpeckers. With most of the common birds accounted for by the end of the hike, I spent some time walking along the swamps looking for signs of the river otters I had spotted during 2015 (link to post here). I was unable to track otters but did note the unique clicking call of a Green Kingfisher for species number 43 on my birding list. A great bird to end on!
I added two species (Northern Flicker and Mourning Dove) later in the day during an evening hike. All told, I finished the day with 13.5 trail miles added to my hiking shoes and much satisfaction. I finished the day, packed up camp, and began my trip home as the sun dipped below the horizon. With the last of evening’s light, I settled for a couple moments of reflection at the overlook along Park Road 12.