Thursday, May 24, 2018

A Great Find in Pennypack

I've been taking Peanut to Pennypack park in the mornings lately. We've been running into the Director of the Environmental Center, Pete almost every morning. He's been birding before work too. Each day, we exchange sightings and sometimes walk together for a short stretch. We found some nice warblers including those that I posted about last week. On Friday, he was all smiles. He found a  Barred Owl along the stream. That is a rare bird for Philadelphia. I hustled to the spot but only found owl poop. No owl.

On Monday, the Barred Owl was sitting along the stream again. I took a few photos and left him alone. On Tuesday, I saw the Owl again and tried not to disturb him but he was disturbed anyway. Owls are harassed by other birds in the woods when they are spotted. The birds want the Owl out of there territory so that they feel safer. This Blue Jay was absolutely on a mission to get the Owl to move on. The Jay would sit close and squawk.

Barred Owl and Blue Jay
The Jay moved all around the Owl but mainly sat on the branch above the Owl's head.

Barred Owl and Tormenter
The Owl didn't move, so the Jay took it up a notch. He swooped down . . .

And whacked that Owl in the head!
The Owl took the abuse and just ducked.
bob and weave
I think this is the Owl's tactic. Just sit still and take the abuse and let the attacker get tired or bored or both and leave. That is exactly what the Jay did. He left. I took one more photo.

Barred Owl
And the Owl was finally left undisturbed.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Southern Specialty

Migration at the shore seems to be hit or miss lately. I remember back in the 1990's that every time I made the trip to Higbee beach, there were birds in spring. Nowadays it seems like most days are pretty unremarkable at that site. Today was no exception. Peanut and I showed up at 6:30 AM and walked the fields all the way back to the pond. Hardly any birds were singing or seen. A single Chat was singing away and attracting attention but that was about it. We left and headed back to The Villas to see if any birds made it to Cox Hall Creek. Nope. No bird singing in the parking lot. No birds singing along the trail. Luckily, Harvey saved me by calling to say that he was going to see the Swainson's Warbler that has been seen at Cape May Point. The bird has been here for a few weeks but getting to see it is tricky. 

Swainson's Warblers are southern birds. They are drab colored skulkers that walk around on the ground and hide in the underbrush. Many birders hear Swainson's but do not see them. They stay below the Mason-Dixon line. I've been lucky enough to see one in Texas and hear many and see one in North Carolina. Today, Harvey and I went to find the celebrity bird and were really lucky. This poor guy is singing his heart out for a gal but sadly won't get one to respond. Not only did we get to hear his song but he perched in a tree for us too. 

Swainson's Warbler

Lonely boy singing
The photos aren't great because the bird was backlit by the sun but I assure you that many birders came out of those woods with NO photo at all. 

Friday, May 11, 2018

Home Turf Spring Migration

Back at home and N-V-T-S with work but I managed to get out to see a few birds this week before work. I have been walking Peanut at Pennypack lately due to bird migration and the fact that our "Mudhole" is being developed for 62+ housing. The contractor sprayed herbicide last week to kill the vegetation so we stayed away. At Pennypack, we managed to pick out a few golden nuggets including a Hooded Warbler for the second year in a row. Not the best photo but at least I managed to get one. Hooded Warblers are notorious for signing and hiding in plain sight.

Hooded Warbler
Blackpoll Warblers have the reputation of being the last warblers to migrate through in spring. Not this year. I heard and saw many already and migration isn't even in full swing. This guy was singing at the top of a tree in the field.

Early Blackpoll Warbler
Both birds were also seen by the park administrator and another local birder. I met up with them on the trail as they started their day off of birding. The woods were alive with the song of Wood Thrush. They are really active and out in the open this week. Such rich colors.

Handsome Wood Thrush
Wood Thrushes are HUGE compared to their cousin the Veery. This is the first one I've seen this year.

On our way out of the park, we saw this Red-tailed Hawk with her breakfast. Yummy squirrel. Not a great photo. I didn't want to move closer and scare her off. Sometimes the bird drops the prey when spooked and I didn't want that to happen.

Red-tail and Squirrel
Big shore weekend planned. Hoping for good weather and good birds.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Spending Time with Owls in Florida

Connie's sister now lives in Cape Coral. This is an interesting area with many vacant lots. Vacant lots that are occasionally mowed and perfect for Burrowing Owls. The owls have babies in March and April. We spent time with these adolescents. They would all sit together and scream for Mom.

A bird flew overhead and they all looked up. 

I don't think that all the babies at this burrow were siblings. I think they may be neighbors that hang out together until Mom or Dad shows up. Here is one Mom preening her kid. He or she seems to like it.

The kids occasionally try out their wings.

One of them flew across the street and went into a burrow. One of the remaining kids went into their burrow too. How would you like getting sand kicked up in your face?

This kid hopped up on the wooden post and gave my car the evil eye.

Fun times with owls for sure.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

More Bird Watching - Really Watching

Florida has produced quite the number of blog posts this week huh? Like I said before, nothing is better than time to allow you to really watch and photograph birds. Connie and I went to Sanibel Island on Saturday and spent some time at the infamous Ding Darling NWR. There weren't many birds at the refuge but we did get to spend quality time with a few favorites. The first was an Osprey nest that was right next to the road. These 2 siblings were squawking for food while the parents were out fishing. Big brother had a fish while little brother (or sister) waited and cried. Once the younger bird started, the older bird would join in the crying.

Crying Babies
Then, they would both stop and look around.

Osprey Siblings
The older bird (the one on the right) would chomp away at the fish in the nest. Finally, he or she gave up and the younger sibling slid in for a few morsels.

Osprey Siblings
Its a tough life for these siblings. Only the strong survive if there isn't enough food to go around.

Osprey Siblings
I suspect that these youngsters will both turn out fine. Meanwhile, Connie and I drove a little further up the road and spotted the only Roseate Spoonbill in the whole refuge. The only one. They are called "Roseate" because they are pink.

Roseate Spoonbill
The pink color makes them easy to spot. They sweep their bill back and forth in the water and then snap it shut if they find something.

Roseate Spoonbill
They are called "Spoonbills" because that bill really is shaped like a spoon if you see it from this angle.

Here is a video showing the feeding motion.

While we were studying the Spoonbill, the Ibis were intent on fighting over something. They kept leaping in the air and poking at each other. I captured this shot in mid-air.

Fighting Ibis
 You can see some detail in the cropped shot here. The bird on the left is an adult male. You can tell by the deep red facial skin and dark bill. I guess he had a beef with the young guy.

Fighting Ibis
We found other critters too. Have you ever seen a crab with no claws? Its called a Mangrove Tree Crab.

Mangrove Tree Crab
And this Anole showing off his neck thingy to impress the ladies.

Like I said, if you have plenty of time and just a few birds to look at, you can watch some interesting behavior and maybe take time to look at the other critters around you.

Monday, April 30, 2018

Final Florida Fort

The last fort that I visited was by myself. Lori flew back home on Wed and I headed up to St. Petersburg to visit Fort De Soto State Park. This park is on a spit of land that juts out into Tampa Bay and was constructed to protect that port. The area hosts a lot of migrating shorebirds, terns and Skimmers. I hit the photographic jackpot here thanks to a couple that directed me to the right locations. You already saw the Reddish Egret photos which were taken here. There were 2 other birds that I was hoping to photograph - Wilson's Plover and Marbled Godwit. I never imagined that I would get this close. The images that follow are barely cropped or edited.

Wilson's Plover
Wilson's Plover rarely shows up in New Jersey. I love the big bill and dopey look of these birds. This one literally walked up to me as I crouched on the beach photographing another bird. She was like "Hey, take a picture of me too", so I did. In fact, I took dozens of them.

Wilson's Plover
Here is another Wilson's Plover who was much more shy but I was able to get this shot. Look at how much darker he is.

Wilson's Plover
That other bird that I was photographing when the Wilson's Plover walked up is Short-billed Dowitcher. This bird was surrounded by photographers and still managed to pluck a clam out of the sand. We see plenty of these in New Jersey but it is always great to get up close.

Short-billed Dowitcher with Clam
I haven't moved yet. I'm crouched in the sand at the water's edge and here comes Black-bellied Plover.

Black-bellied Plover
I finally moved a few feet further down the lagoon and found another Black-bellied Plover. You can see that this bird was equally not impressed with the paparazzi.

Black-bellied Plover
I looked up and saw my other target bird flying across the lagoon so I headed over to the other side to see if I could get a photo. One of the other photographers said "you'll never get close to that bird" - a challenge if I ever heard one. The fact is that the bird couldn't care less about me. I crouched there and it walked on by!
Marbled Godwit
The obvious field mark on Godwits is the long bill. Marbled Godwit bills are really long and slightly upturned which you can see on the above photograph. The bird eventually flew to the other side of the lagoon and I found it again later.
Marbled Godwit
Another bird with an unusual bill is the Whimbrel. We see these birds in New Jersey but they are always way out in the marsh. This one foraged in the weeds and then came to the lagoon for a quick drink. 
On the way out of the park, I watched this Great Blue Heron fishing. She couldn't miss. Every time she put her bill in the water, another fish. Incredible.

Great Blue Heron
She would flip the fish in her bill before swallowing it whole.

Flippin' Fish
What a great day at Fort De Soto. That's the last of the forts for this trip. I recommend that you visit all of them is possible.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Florida Fort #2

Fort Jefferson is the largest brick masonry structure in the Americas. It sits 68 miles west of Key West in an island group known as The Dry Tortugas. "Tortuga" means turtle in Spanish. Ponce deLeon named the islands in 1513 after catching over 100 sea turtles there. Sad to hear about today but turtles were a great source of meat for sailors in those days. The fort is massive and was constructed to protect the shipping lanes in the Gulf of Mexico after the War of 1812. Today, it is part of Dry Tortugas National Park which is one of the most remote parks in the system.

I read a magazine article about birding on the Dry Tortugas many years ago and have dreamed about visiting ever since. This was the year. I invited several people but only Lori could make it this year. We planned to camp overnight but those plans were dashed when we learned that reservations needed to be made a year in advance. We opted for the day trip aboard the Yankee Freedom Ferry. The ferry leaves Key West daily at 8 AM. You arrive at Fort Jefferson by 10:30, spend 4 hours on the island birding, learning about the fort and/or snorkeling and arrive back in Key west by 5:30 PM. The ferry provides breakfast and lunch, snorkel gear and cash bar on the ride back all for $175. Not bad.

The Tortugas are known stopovers for migrating birds in spring as the birds island hop from South America across the Caribbean to get to North America. Remember, the birds migrate at night and refuel during the day which is great for birders.

Before we even arrived at the island, we saw hundreds of birds. The captain made sure to swing by "Hospital Key" so that we could see the only Masked Booby colony in the US.

Masked Boobies
Hard to believe that this sand spit once had an actual hospital on it. It was washed away many years ago. We also had our first look at the Brown Noddies and Sooty Terns that nest by the thousands here.

Brown Noddies and Sooty Terns
Lori and I were the first passengers off the boat. The fort is surrounded by a moat. Other people already arrived by private boat or seaplane.

Fort Jefferson
We plopped our gear on a picnic table and headed off to find birds which we did immediately.

Me and the Ruddy Turnstones

Lori and her little friends
These Ruddy Turnstones literally walked between our feet. They were so interested in eating that they were not afraid of the hundred or so people on the island. Lori loved it!

Once we were settled, we tried to optimize our time and headed inside the fort for birds. There are some trees and about 10 acres of open space that attract the birds.

Fort Jefferson
Most of the birds that we saw here will arrive in our area within the next few weeks on their way to breeding territories.

Acadian Flycatcher
Cape May Warbler
Hooded Warbler - female

Others birds that we find at the Dry Tortugas are specialty birds that we will not see in our area or anywhere else for that matter - including the Boobies, Noddies and Terns mentioned already but also birds like this Antillean Nighthawk which only comes as far north as the Tortugas and Florida Keys.

Antillean Nighthawk
 Nighthawks are so confident in their camouflage that they just sit there really close to the path. This one opened his eye for a minute which produced this cool shot where you can see the reflection of the fort in his eye (click on the image to make it bigger).

Nighthawk reflections
Another special bird is Shiny Cowbird. They really are shiny.

Shiny Cowbird
 While the main attraction was birding, we did manage to spend some time exploring the fort. We found this Barracuda hanging out in the moat.

Barracuda in the Moat
Good thing we didn't see one when we went snorkeling. We saw some fish but the visibility wasn't great. The coolest part of the snorkeling was getting super close to the Noddies. They were perched on any old structure around the island like this ruined dock.

Brown Noddies - Coaling Dock
I actually snorkeled around the pilings of the dock. When I picked my head up out of the water and there they were just hanging out, not worried about me at all.

Brown Noddies
Lori made me go up to the top of the fort - 45 feet up spiral staircases with no handrail or lighting. I'm glad that we did it but I got down as fast as possible. Lori stayed up and took some spectacular photos showing the color of the water surrounding the islands. This shot shows the seaplane waiting to take passengers back to Key West.

Seaplane at Garden Key
We bid farewell for now but will definitely be back again. I managed to snap this photo of Brown Booby on the way out of the dock just for a bonus.

Brown Booby