Monday, November 24, 2014

More Florida Follow Up

We made our obligatory trip to Corkscrew Swamp - an Audubon sanctuary located in Immokolee just outside of Naples Florida. We usually see Barred Owls here but we were too early for the nesting season. We did get to see other birds including an assortment of warblers - which as you now are already gone from our northern areas. Yellow-throated Warbler is one of the earliest warblers to return to PA and NJ. I think it is because they winter in Florida rather than way down in South America.  Here is one picking bugs in the cypress trees.

Yellow-throated Warbler
Another fan favorite at Corkscrew is the Pileated Woodpecker. They come much closer to the trail than they do in other parks. Here is a male hammering away at a cypress. You can tell it's a male by the red mustache. Females only have red on the crest. 

Pileasted Woodpecker
Butterflies are also nice to see in November when we know that they are all gone from our area.  Here are 2 that showed well in the swamp.

Ruddy Daggerwing

White Peacock
White Ibis were taking a break from feeding. I caught this one resting on a log.

White Ibis
Crested Caracara are interesting birds. Half hawk, half vulture, they scavenge on dead things along the roads and in farm fields in the deep south. They are quite comfortable walking and running rather than flying through the fields. We often see them on the ground which is how we saw our first Caracara in Belize - flipping cow patties with it's powerful feet to find beetles underneath (eeewww) We have since seen them many times along the road out of Corkscrew and also in NJ and DE as vagrants.  We were not disappointed on this trip where Lori spotted 4 Caracaras along the road eating something that was hit by a car.  I jumped into the bed of our rented pick up truck to snap some photos.  This one captures the bird's field marks the best. You can see the "crest" of feathers hanging off the back of the head and the bare orange skin around the beak. 

Crested Caracara
One final bird from the trip is this immature Bald Eagle that soared and circled above me while I was out at a park in Punta Gorda. He was looking right at me - kinda gave me the creeps. 

Bald Eagle
I'm home for a while now - at least until Christmas.  

Monday, November 17, 2014

Look out for the Sen-ti-nel

Florida Scrub Jays are endangered birds that only reside in very specific habitat in south Florida. Connie and I saw one many years ago in Naples before we knew how rare they were. Last week, I made my way over to Punta Gorda with Lori and Tara and we made a trip to Oscar Scherer State Park to see if we could find a few. They are reported there regularly.  We asked the Park Ranger at the entrance gate about the birds. He was not exactly what you would call "upbeat" about it. He started by saying "we used to have 29 but now we only have 19". When we asked what happened, his response was "population decline". No shit Einstein. Going from 29 to 19 is, in fact a decline. We meant, what happened.  Forget it.

The birds were last reported on the Blue trail near the D marker according to eBird. We stopped into the visitor center before heading out. The lady told us that she didn't know where the jays were but we could sit at the picnic table and hope they showed up. She said that they hang around hoping to get fed and that feeding them probably contributed to their decline. Ah hah! 

We headed out to the Blue Trail to search for the birds.  We walked and looked. Frankly, we couldn't even find the D marker let alone any birds.  When we were about at the furthest point on the trail, a maintenance truck came along. The driver asked if we were OK. We asked if he had seen any of the Jays. He hadn't but he had some advice for us.  The man reminded me of our dear neighbor Rocky Palombi. Big wide smile. A little split in his teeth. Rugged outdoors look. Salt and pepper hair. Willing to help us with advice.  His advice - look for the sen-ti-nel. He said it like that. Sen-ti-nel as if he were reading it outloud for the first time. He said that the jays put a sentinel up on the branch as a lookout while the others feed on acorns. He said sentinel rather than lookout. Anyway guess who was right?  Rocky was right.  Here she is Ms. Sentinel:

Florida Scrub Jay - female
Tara spotted her while Lori and I walked right past. We know this bird is a female due to the leg bands by the green and silver on her right leg. Nothing great to look at but suffice to say that we saw her and another bird - basically 10% of the population at that park which was really great. I hope they manage the park and the birds to bring the population back up to former numbers. 

We walked the Green trail after stopping back to the visitor center for some ice cream and were treated by the sight of this immature Red-headed Woodpecker right out in the open.  You can see a few red feathers coming in on his head.

Red-headed Woodpecker
 We watched him/her grab a bee for lunch.

Red-headed Woodpecker with bee
One last bird for our trip was spotted on our way through the campground.


Thursday, November 13, 2014

Location, Location, Location

Research told me that I could find a few new species at a spot named "Storm Treatment Area 1E" along Rt 98 near West Palm Beach so I dashed out there before 7 AM yesterday. Research didn't tell me anything about the area not being open to the public. What a disappointment. I drove all the way there to find that there is no public access. Oh well, it wasn't a total bust. I did get a few photos from the roadside. This American Kestral was on the wire.

American Kestral
There was also a flock of Monk Parakeets on the wire and in the fields along the road. Someone reported them as Nanday, but they are Monk.

Monk Parakeets
These 2 are a couple of love birds.

Being coy
Grooming each other on the wire. I won't show you what happened next but needless to say it was X-rated.

A little peck
After meeting with a client, I had a few hours in the afternoon so decided to try another new place called Green Cay Wetlands Park. This one was a winner. It is a park managed by the power company and has a boardwalk trail that was filled with people. The birds didn't seem to mind. First bird that I encountered isn't rare or unusual - Pie-billed Grebes can be seen regularly in our area. However, this cutie was doing something interesting by floating around with his wings raised like this. I had to sit on the boardwalk and shoot through the slats on the railing to get this shot. 

Pie-billed Grebe
The next few birds along the boardwalk were also interesting. Both have "purple" in their names. Purple Gallinules have giant feet to walk around on reeds in the water. Check them out:

Purple Gallinule
I had no idea that they used those feet to climb up to the top of the reeds to eat the seeds. It was fun to watch them climb up, up, up and then make the stalk bend over and go splashing into the water. This bird found a sturdy stalk. 

Purple Gallinule
The best bird of the day was this American Bittern who made an appearance long enough for me to get this shot which is (in my opinion) awesome. 

American Bittern
All in all, the afternoon made up for the morning. Wouldn't you say? 

Tuesday, November 11, 2014


That is what the weather is down in Florida. The weatherman said rain for Sunday but it didn't. Clearing on Monday but (you guessed it) it rained. Guess when the rain started? Hint - not when I was indoors. It started to rain when I was halfway across the Orlando Wetland Park (not a Disney thing, a nature thing) looking for a Vermilion Flycatcher. I don't know what made me bring a plastic Wawa bag with me. Oh, you read that right - a Wawa bag. Uh huh, Wawa has infiltrated Florida. Hallelujah!

Anyway, back to the story.  I was about a half mile out into the marsh when the sky opened up and it started to pour rain. I tried to hide under an observation platform but that didn't work. I tried to use a palm frond as an umbrella without success. I ran back to the car but was soaked through to the bone. The camera was snug in the Wawa bag but I looked and felt like a drowned rat. So, what's a grown woman to do?  I ran to the bathroom, stripped down to my skivvies and used the hand dryer to dry out my clothes of course.

The rain finally stopped. Not many photo opps but I had to shoot this bug. Look at the size of it. I put that quarter on the ground next to it for size comparison.

Mutant Grasshopper
A few of the larger birds. This White Ibis strolled across the path in front of me.

White Ibis
This Wood Stork showed off his flesh colored foot in the shallow water.

Wood Stork
These Coots were very skittish. They made a tight group when I got close.

 This Common Gallinule showed off his white  tail feathers.

Common Gallinule
I did get to see the Vermilion Flycatcher which was brilliant red. Unfortunately, the bird was very far out in the marsh making a photo impossible. I couldn't resist taking a shot of this young gator.

Lying in wait
Looks like he is waiting for someone to make a mistake. I hope for better weather over the next few days.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Toot Sweet

I drove to the Villas last night so that I could be here all day today to work - really, this time its true. We have a client here that needed a computer swapped out. I brought the computer, Roxy and Sammy with me. I was almost at the house when I received a text alert stating that they were doing an owl banding demonstration at Cape May Meadows starting at 8:40 PM - just 15 minutes away.  Of course, I went but I also dragged Patience along with me. It was a good demonstration. The bander already had 2 Northern Saw-whet Owls caught when we arrived. You can see how tiny these owls are:

Northern Saw whet Owl
It was a good experience for me and glad that I was able to get Biggie to go along too.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

A Thief Among Us

Sunday was very windy which turns out to be terrible for spotting little birds like the Kinglets, Warblers and Vireos that overwhelmed us on Saturday. The wind is good for raptors though. We headed out to a few new sites looking for some rare flycatchers that were reported but didn't see any of them. We did manage to have front row seats to a mugging at the old Magnesite Plant on Cape May Point.  It started with this 2 year old Bald Eagle soaring directly above us which drew "oohs and aahs" from the gang.

Bald Eagle - 2nd Year
The "oohs and aahs" turned to "woahs and wows" when the eagle started to chase an Osprey. Look at the size difference between the 2 birds. (The eagle is the big one :-))

Bald Eagle chasing Osprey
The reason for the chase became obvious once the Osprey dropped the fish that it had in its talons.

The Drop
The eagle locked eyes on the fish.

Up for Grabs
The eagle made no mistake - snatching the fish out of midair while the Osprey peeled off and headed back to the bay. We can only imagine how the poor fish felt . . . however, it's doom was inevitable.
The Steal

This Peregrine Falcon cruised past us looking very menacing.

The afternoon was much less dramatically for me, Roxy and this Golden-crowned Kinglet. Kinglets like to flutter around and pick bugs from shrubs. I caught this mid-flap shot.

Flutter feeding
You can see the golden crown in this typical pose. Kinlets like to hang under branches to look for bugs. Check out the orange feet too.

Golden-crowned Kinglet
We ended the day at Josh's annual pumpkin carving party. My pumpkin is in the middle. It is supposed to be a sunrise behind clouds.


Saturday, October 25, 2014

Big Fall Weekend

Magical. That is the feeling on days like today when you witness migration on a mass scale. I knew it was going to be a  good morning based on weather predictions of NW winds and it was. Deb, Jay and Brendan picked a terrific weekend to visit.

We started at the canal and watched literally hundreds and thousands of birds fly past us for about 30 minutes.  Mostly Kinglets and Yellow-rumped Warblers with a good scattering of Flickers mixed in.  It was breath-taking. It is too much to try to photograph. We just kind of stand there and watch.

Phoebe - quick rest
After a while, we headed to the fields to see individual birds. We saw alot of sparrows, kinglets and Yellow-rumps. And then, a birding friend, Larry, pointed out a Blue-headed Vireo - one of my favorites. This bird put on a show devouring a praying mantis.  It had the head decapitated and eaten by the time I could start shooting.

Blue-headed Vireo - with Praying Mantis
 It tried to gulp down big pieces of the bug. You can see it had a hard time.

Blue-headed Vireo
 Birds have something called a nictating membrane on their eyes - kind of like a translucent eyelid which they use to protect their eyes. You can see it here. The bird uses the membrane to protect the eye from any stray body parts that might scratch it while they gulp down bugs. It makes total sense since the bird would not be able to survive if anything went wrong with it's eye.

Blue-headed Vireo - nictitating membrane
There is a whole group of finches that they call the "winter finches" which include Pine Siskins, Purple Finches, Crossbills, and some Grosbeaks. This is going to be a good year for Purple Finches - so says the "Finch Forecast" which is based on seed production of pine trees in Canada. Some guy looks at the cones of each species of pine/spruce tree and then predicts that some finches will travel south due to not having enough seeds for them to remain in Canada for the winter. It is proving to be true. We saw a dozen Purple Finches today alone. We usually see one or even none in a given winter.  Here is one chowing down on some berries at Higbee beach. This is a young male or female that isn't purple yet.

Purple Finch
We had a terrific morning, then headed out to breakfast at our regular joint - Villas Diner - and then headed back to the field. The day definitely quieted down. We stumbled upon 2 Pectoral Sandpipers at the State Park. The first of the season for me. I struggled with the ID on this one and had to ask Harvey for help. He is the shorebird expert.

Pectoral Sandpiper
More to come. The weekend is only half done.