Friday, March 30, 2012

Tax Time!

I am writing today to remind you to do a few things. Some before it is too late and some earlier than normal.

Every year I use tax season as a marker for a few things. Yes, taxes is one of them but luckily I have Connie and an accountant (mostly Connie) to help me with that. But I'm not going to discuss taxes on a bird blog, don't worry.

Tax season happens to occur right at the brink of migration season.  An interesting thing happens at the bird feeders in our yard each year on or around April 1st: 

  • Chipping Sparrows arrive - those tiny, sprite birds with rufous caps and huge trilling songs.
  • Juncos - start to get agitated and annoyed with each other even though they spent the whole winter in gregarious harmony. You should appreciate these black and white beauties until you file your return because that is when they leave us and head north for the summer.
  • Towhees arrive - these giant sparrows are beautifully colored with black, white and rufous.  You may not see them in your yard but you know they are there when you here them tell you to "drink your teeeeaaaaa".
  • Flickers return - these woodpeckers act like Robins hopping around on your lawn looking for bugs but when they take off, you can see the beautiful yellow under their wings.  Flickers will be looking for nest holes now.
  • Goldfinches are actually turning gold after being dull dudes all winter. They will start returning in force to the thistle (niger) feeders for awhile.
  • Pine and Palm Warblers -- look and listen for these early migrants in your yards even though they don't actually go to the bird feeder.  Pine warblers sound like slower, louder Chipping Sparrow.  They are really yellow breasted with 2 wing bars.  Palm warblers are also really yellow right now and they pump their tails constantly.
  • Eastern Phoebes - speaking of tail pumpers, the Phoebe is a black, gray and white bird that also pumps its tail constantly.  They are named for their song which is a harsh sounding "Fe Bee!" emphasis on the Bee.  They will nest around buildings so don't be surprised to see one in your neighborhood.

If you like to look at ducks, now is the time to get to a lake, river, bay or ocean to see all of our wintering ducks with their new beautiful breeding plumage before they head north too. 

I normally hang my hummingbird feeder until after tax deadline day - April 15th (17th this year because the 15th is a Saturday) but not this year.  I have mine hung at home and at the shore already this year.  Ruby-throated Hummingbirds - the only type of hummer that is normal for our area - have been arriving all across the east coast since early March.  Here is a link to the migration map showing dates of first arrivals.  Get your hummingbird feeder hung.  Remember the formula is 1 cup of boiling water with 1/4 cup of sugar mixed in. No dyes or food coloring.  Also remember to clean the feeder and use new food every week until it gets warmer, then clean and change every 3-4 days.  Failure to clean and change may result in giving your hummer fungal disease.
Oh, and file your taxes on time.  That's it for now.  I will be posting from the left coast next week.  I will be at a conference in San Francisco, then heading down the coast with Di to Los Angeles.  I hope we have good weather.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Circle of Life in Florida

Warning - these photos are not for the faint of heart. They are probably not suited for vegetarians.  They made my stomach turn a little bit and I was the photographer.

23 years ago, Connie and I had our first apartment together.  We were not allowed to have any pets, so we got a lizard from a carnival.  Then we got another one to keep the first guy company.  We kept those 2 in a 10 gallon fish tank and expected them to last maybe a year.  Well, 4 years later, they were still going strong.  We named them Herby and Skippy and fed them live crickets (not fun).  One of them developed a tumor on the side of his head and still didn't die.  We started calling him Lumpy.  After 5 years, they finally died and we got rid of the tank and got a dog (Daisy, the best dog ever) and a cat (Mimi, who as you know is still alive and travels to the shore with us).

Why am I chronicling our pet history for you?  First, to take up room on your computer screen so that you don't see the photos if you don't want to.  And second, because here in Florida, those lizards are wild.  They are called Anoles and they run around everywhere.  And, they become the food for Herons and other birds.

I happened to be photographing a Little Blue Heron from the boat dock the other day when he snapped this little guy up from the grass.  It is heartbreaking to see the lizard struggle, but I guess the heron has to eat too.

 Here is the heron just after he plucked the lizard from the grass.

 Here is a cropped photo.

 This poor lizard looks like he is yelling for his life.

Now he is biting the heron's beak trying to escape.  Aaagghhh.

With one quick gulp, the lizard was no more.  Wah!  There was nothing I could do but witness the circle of life in action - and get a little queasy while doing it. 

Thursday, March 22, 2012


March is an interesting time for watching birds molt their feathers from winter to "breeding" plumage.  The best example that I can show you today is with Common Loons.  Here are photos of a few different Loons taken on our trip this week. It is like one of them just doesn't want to go north while another is trying hard and yet another is almost ready. Click on the photos to enlarge them.

 Still dressed in winter feathers. Dull as dull can be.

 This bird is really in the middle between winter and summer.  He is getting that "checkerboard" back but still doesn't have the black head or "necklace".

 Almost ready to head north for summer with the necklace and checkerboard.  He is just waiting for a few more feathers to turn black on his head.

The famous "snorkeling" posture where the loon looks underwater before diving. 

It was really amazing how tame this last loon was.  He just floated around while Di positioned the boat between him and sun so that I could get decent photos.  This bird was truly content even though we were only 20 - 30 yards away from him.  It makes me wonder if he summers on a pond that has lots of people and boats like his winter home in Charlotte Harbor FL.

I wonder where these birds go for the summer home.  Maine? Canada? Minnesota? Upstate NY?  Where ever they go, they will be a real treat for anyone who is lucky enough to see them in their summer finest.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Another Lifer, or Two

We went to Babcock Webb WMA twice this week searching for some birds that we needed for "lifers".  3 of us got lifers -- Barbara got Brown-headed Nuthatch, Di got Red-cockaded Woodpecker, and we all got Short-tailed Hawk.  We all want to believe that we heard the Bachman's Sparrow, but we didn't actually see the bird so we are not counting that one as life bird. 

 Here is the female Red-cockaded Woodpecker digging out a nest hole.

Here is the best photo that we could get of the Short-tailed Hawk.  We didn't even positively ID the bird until we blew up the photo.  We determined Short-tailed Hawk based on the - well, short tail - and the overall color of the bird.

You didn't think we could leave Punta Gorda without checking in on those owl babies again did you?  Of course not.  What kind of bird nerds would we be if we didn't see how they were doing?  Well, in only one short week of being here, the babies are now big enough that they are out of the nest and hanging out on a nearby branch.  Mom and Dad are still very close by keeping an eye on their brood.

Connie, Barbara and I also got another life bird on this trip - the Monk Parakeet.  These noisy, social birds colonize city parks including Punta Gorda, Miami and NY City.  These birds were building nests in the palm trees down by the wharf.
 Here is a parakeet eating the fruit from the palm tree.

 Here is another one picking up sticks for the nest.

 Here is one of the happy couples in their new palm condo nest.  There were many nests in each palm tree.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Better Kite Photos

I showed you some really horrible photos of Snail Kites from last month when Connie and I went to explore Harnes Marsh.  We decided to take the girls over to see if we could get lucky again. We got pretty darned lucky!  Barbara spotted a hawk on a telephone pole before we even got to the marsh.  We turned the van around and "Viola!" a Snail Kite - with a snail.  It took off before we could get close but we all got to see it.

Still lousy, but you can see the snail in the Kites talons as it flies off to feast.

We headed off to the marsh and didn't see another Snail Kite.  We saw a lot of other birds.  Then, on our way back out, we saw the Kite back at the same location.  This time the Kite was hunting along the canal. 

 I think this is a pretty good shot of the Snail Kite hover-hunting along the canal. 

Here it is perched on the wire over the road.  Check out the hook on his bill.

 Here is the Kite flying up the canal.  

I guess this bird isn't afraid of people either.  That is a good thing since they are endangered due to loss of habitat. 

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Like Shooting Fish in a Barrel

You know how I wanted to see more owls this year?  Well, the girls and I certainly got our fill of owls yesterday at Corkscrew Swamp.  Barred Owls are resident birds at Corkscrew.  Connie and I have seen them a few times before.  They seem not to be bothered by the hundreds of visitors that walk the boardwalk every day.  Yesterday, they seemed even less concerned than normal.  Here are some photos to show you what I mean.  These are 3 separate individuals - each seen a few yards from the boardwalk.  Enjoy!

 Barred Owl Pair - Preening each other and nuzzling

Forming the shape of a heart.  Cute.

 One of the owls flew down to another perch and played peek-a-boo with my camera.

The other stayed up higher and preened her (or his) talons.

 This is Peek-A-Boo up close and personal.

 This is the owl that we saw sitting by himself on another part of the boardwalk. Also preening.
Here is a close up of Sweetheart.

It really was like shooting fish in a barrel.  Finding owls doesn't get easier than this.

Monday, March 12, 2012


I just found out what a TimberDoodle is - its another (cuter) name for the American Woodcock - a small shorebird that lives in the woods rather than by the shore.  TimberDoodles were all over the electronic airwaves last week.  I received emails, other blog posts, text messages, and photos about them.  Why?  Because its that time of year again - TimberDoodle Dance time. 

Woodcock dancing time starts and peaks during the first 2 weeks of March.  This is when you will hear them in the fields near your house or local woods "peent"ing.  It really sounds like that.  Go ahead, make that sound - "PEEENT" and you have just done a spectacular imitation of a TimberDoodle! 

Now, drive to a field nearby that has some woods close to it at dusk and listen.  "PEEENT!" means that you should get out of the car and stand in the field to witness the "dance".  Listen for whistling sounds above your head.  This is the TimberDoodle actually doing the "dance".  The male TimberDoodle will PEENT a few times, then fly into the air circling the field going higher and higher until he is completely out of sight.  Then he plummets back to earth.  All of this to impress his lady friend who generally sits hidden in the weeds acting uninterested. 

You can hear him doing this more than you can see him since it occurs at dusk.  His feathers whistle during the flight.  You can follow the whistling sound going around and around.  If you are lucky, like Di, Barbara and I were last night at Jake's Landing - you will see the TimberDoodle's silhouette against the dusk sky as he ascends.  If you are really lucky like my friend Patty was at Rancoacas Nature Center - the TimberDoodle will plop right down next to you and have his photo taken!

Male American Woodcock (TimberDoodle) - Photo by Patty

Learn more about the American Woodcock at Cornell University's website - All About Birds

In other news, we worked on the Green House this weekend (link to the photo album) but still managed to see the Bald Eagles sitting on our beach again and got this decent photo of Savannah Sparrow. 

 Savannah Sparrow - Ipswich race

Heading back down to Florida for a quick trip later this week.  Stay tuned. 

Sunday, March 4, 2012

No Snow But Still Snowy

I was holding on to this post in order to have something new for you to read during the doldrums of February and March.  However, I can't hold onto it any longer because there are no doldrums.  The weather is warmer than I can remember for Feb or March and the birds are headed north already from their winter homes.  We are seeing shorebirds on our beach in the Villas such as Dunlin, Red Knots, Piping Plover and Black-bellied Plovers - all of which I just saw a bunch of on Bunche Beach (get it? a bunch on bunche).  We are also getting reports of other birds arriving.

Anyway, all of that to say that Lori, Tara and I got to see a Snowy Owl a few weeks ago at a reservoir in north Jersey.  As usual, the weather was not very cooperative with high winds that numbed our hands.  Here are a few photos. 

 Snowy Owl tucked away in the rocks.  This is the back side of the damn that holds the water into the reservoir at Merrill Creek.

 Cropped to show the owl trying to doze off

Scratching her head.  We are pretty sure that this is a "she" due to the amount of black barring on her feathers.  Males tend to be whiter.

In case you couldn't tell from the recent posts, I am on a bit of an owl prowl lately.  I am hoping to see seven species.  I will post updates as they occur.

Di and I are off to see a vagrant Broad-tailed Hummingbird that apparently spent the winter in someone's yard in Cape May.  This species is rarely seen east of the Rockies and is the first documented record in New Jersey.  It would be a shame if we didn't spend 15 minutes to witness this historic event and wish the little guy well before he takes off for Colorado.