It can sometimes be wet in areas, so rubber boots are recommended as well as insect repellent. It is also a fairly lengthy walk so water and trail snacks are advised.
Huh. I don’t have boots of any kind. In fact I only brought one pair of shoes with me to Florida. So I headed to the one store that I’d seen nearby, Wal-Mart, to peruse the sporting goods section for anything that might keep my feet dry. And the only thing that came close was this:
And lo, it was good:
Once again, the tour leaders were all great guys. (And yes, all my guides have been guys.) This time it was Tom Dunkerton from Nikon Sport Optics, Chip Clouse from Opticron, and John Puschock of Zugunruhe Birding Tours. We carpooled from festival HQ, and I rode in Chip’s car, talking with him about our respective career paths, how we got into birding, what kind of binoculars I should use, and of course cool birds that we’ve seen. Very nice guy.
But there was one big disappointment on this trip. Less than an hour into the birding, we found a little sparrow darting through the thick grass. By the way it was behaving – flying very close to the ground when flushed, always disappearing into the thick stuff rather than sitting up where it could be seen – the guides knew it was Something Good. One of the rare secretive sparrows that people had come hoping to see. Henslow’s Sparrow, LeConte’s, Baird’s… these were among a small number of birds that I might actually be able to add to my life list during the festival.
So the guides sprang into action. Seriously, it was an impressive thing to behold. As the bird hid in the grass, they flanked it, directing others where to stand so as to keep it contained. When the bird flew, they repeated the process, until they were basically marching the bird back toward us, as we stood in a line, binoculars at the ready. And then it happened – the bird walked out of the grass, and people started saying they could see it. There it is, out in the open! LeConte’s Sparrow! Camera shutters were going crazy. And I was ready – but I was at the wrong end of the line. From where I stood, the bird was obscured by vegetation. After several seconds of staring in vain, I tried to make my way around to the other end, but as I did, the bird flew off in a new direction. With most of the group satisfied, we decided to spare the bird any further torment, and moved on.
It was a stinging miss, and I went over it in my mind for a few minutes afterward. Was there any way I could’ve “gotten” that bird? Though frustrated, I had to agree with the decision to leave the bird alone when we did; we had scared it enough by that point. During the chase, I’d been alert, had tracked the bird each time as it flushed from one clump of grass to the next, and followed each instruction from the guides. Should I have known somehow what the best vantage point would be when the bird finally emerged?
I don’t think so, really. Sometimes, the breaks just don’t go your way. But with a gorgeous morning on your hands and nothing to do but bird, who can stay pissed off? I chatted a bit, saw some common but handsome birds, got my deck boots dirty, and snapped a few pics.