Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Highway Birding: Day Two

When we left Chattanooga this morning (see yesterday's post), it was still dark and a steady rain was falling.  The first light of dawn brightened the clouds as we drove through Dalton, Georgia, but the rain continued until we reached Atlanta.  Other than a few crows, I had not observed any birds to that point on this soggy morning.

South of Atlanta, the clouds began to break up and massive flocks of vultures (both turkey and black) soared overhead.  Farther south, in southern Georgia, I encountered flocks of tree swallows on the power lines and saw a few anhingas and great egrets in roadside wetlands.  Soon after we crossed into Florida, a peregrine falcon swooped over the highway but vultures, crows and rock pigeons continued to dominate the sightings.

Approaching Tampa, the avian diversity increased significantly, including white ibis, wood storks, cattle egrets, laughing gulls, cormorants and ospreys.  Indeed, of the 32 species that I encountered between Columbia, Missouri, and Longboat Key, more than a third were observed in the vicinity of Tampa Bay.  While I certainly anticipated that the final count would be much higher, the periods of rain took a toll and birding at 70 mph offered its own challenges.  Nevertheless, birding on the road made the journey more interesting.