Florida’s Woodpeckers and Gulf State Park, Alabama

And another great day is in the books.

It was downright chilly—not quite 50 degrees—when we left Mobile this morning, but the bright skies matched our spirits as we headed east into the Florida Panhandle. Pensacola, a city I’d never seen, proved remarkably attractive, Gulf Breeze even more so. Bob and Lucy (with whom I’d birded in Arizona some years ago) generously opened their home and their feeders to us. And to more than 100 (!) indigo buntings, blue grosbeaks, wood thrushes, brown thrashers, downy woodpeckers, and many other residents and migrants.

Hard as it was to tear ourselves away, other birds awaited us in Blackwater State Forest. It was a gloriously beautiful day, and we dawdled happily along the red dirt roads through the pines, enchanted by pitcher plants, sundews, and orchids in the seepage bogs. A peregrine falcon passed over high and dramatic, while eastern towhees chewinked from the thickets; I got a good look at a total of one, but it was a fine white-eyed male, a very special bird to those of us used to the red-eyed towhees farther north in the species’ range. The stars of the whole glorious show, of course, were the red-cockaded woodpeckers, which eventually gave spectacular eye-level views as they fussed and fed in the trees right next to the road. This is the second-rarest of picids in the US, exceeded in scarcity only by the Arizona woodpecker, and I’m already looking forward to showing them to my companions on next April’s VENT tour, when they will certainly by a highlight for many of us.

We bade a grateful farewell to Lucy and Bob, then stopped for a quick lunch in Milton before moving on to Gulf State Park back on the Alabama side of the line. A lingering common loon was a nice find, as was a marbled godwit sharing the beach with human waders.

Once back in Mobile, we met up with John her at the hotel and headed out to the bay for a lavish seafood meal chez Felix as brown pelicans, royal terns, cattle egrets, and double-crested cormorants looked enviously on. The only thing wrong with the day? Joe has to return to Birmingham early tomorrow morning, so we’ll continue our scouting without his good counsel and good company.