Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Eagles Have Landed

Before making a complete fool of myself with the cat at Jake's Landing on Sunday (see below), Barbara and I were treated to a fantastic sight on our beach at Ohio Ave:

 Barbara posing with the distant eagles

A closer view of the eagles sitting on the sandbar at low tide

Cropped to see that they are picking at a fish or something

Flying off together

These eagles are often seen sitting on the sandbar that forms at low tide, but only when low tide occurs in the morning before the hustle and bustle of beach walkers and dogs.  They take flight at first sight of people as they did on Sunday. 

Sunday, February 26, 2012

The Owl and The Pussycat

So, what could make me look like even more of a nerd?  Hmmmm.  Let's see. . . What? What? What, could I do?

Oh, I know!  I could take my cat to Jake's Landing to look for Short-eared Owls, that's what.  Yup.  You read that right. Mimi, Roxy and I went to Jake's Landing this evening to look for Short-eared Owls.  My Fiat was the only car in the parking lot when we arrived so I let Mimi out.  Jake's Landing Road winds through woods, then a marsh and ends at a boat ramp.  The gravel road and parking lot are surrounded by wet marsh so I let Mimi out of the car while I searched for the owls.

She circled the car.  Then she circled it again.  Then she started making wider circles to the edge of the grass.  I wasn't worried since I knew she couldn't go far so I focused my attention on finding an owl and hopefully getting a photo or two.  Every so often I would look around for her. Then, I looked around and couldn't find her.  OH CRAP.  Connie will never speak to me again if I lose this cat . . . But really, how far could she go?  She is 20 years old for God's sake. 

It didn't seem that weird - until the other cars came down the road and sent me scrambling to find the cat.  I found her all the way at the far edge of the parking lot and only because I heard the jangling of her tags. Imagine what the other drivers thought when they saw this lone woman with binoculars, a camera and a CAT slung over her shoulders. I looked like the crazy cat lady, that's what.  Needless to say, the other cars left quickly and I put the cat in the car.

The good news is that I managed to find 3 owls sitting in the marsh and also got to hear 2 calling.  The bad news is that none of them ever got closer than this:

And, they only became active after this which rendered my camera useless:

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Sunday Walk and Answer to the Mystery

I'll start by saying that the DVOC gang all agree that they mystery shorebird from the last post is a Long-billed Curlew.  Thanks to all who posted a comment with your thoughts.  The conclusion was based on the thickness of the bill rather than the length and the overall plumage pattern.

Now on to this morning's walk. It is February in Pennsylvania but you wouldn't know it by listening to the singing birds this morning.  It sounded more like spring.  Roxy and I went to Pennypack Trust and had some nice interactions with Bluebirds, Song Sparrows, a flock of Turkeys and a surprise encounter with this Cooper's Hawk.

It is not unusual for a Cooper's Hawk to sit low in the woods watching for his next meal. But it is unusual for it to sit there and let me take a few photos.  I had to use manual focus in order to cut through the obstructions but it is still a pretty good photo that shows the white tip of its rounded tail which is why I am calling this a Cooper rather than Sharp-shinned Hawk.

I am still trying to get a good shot of a Bluebird that shows the stunning blue.

 Here is the male Bluebird singing

Here he is singing again.

Here is a video of the singing birds:

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

ID Mystery

So, let's talk about the rest of our day on Friday.  After a quick lunch we headed over the ($6) bridge to Sanibel Island so that Connie could do some shelling and shopping.  We went to the beach after buying souvenirs to thank our amazing friends who were watching our ancient, disoriented, finicky cat.  The beach was packed with people who were all leaving due to the increasing clouds. 

It was pretty amazing to see all of the birds mingling with the sunbathers.  Royal, Sandwich and Forster's terns; Willets, Ruddy Turnstones, Dunlins, Short-billed Dowitchers and a Red Knot; Pelicans and Cormorants - all basically going about their own business and unimpressed by the hundred or so people stepping around them to collect shells or depart the beach.  I mean it, stepping around and over the birds.  Here are some shots but please keep reading because I need your help with the next section.

See what I mean about the birds and people being so close?  Here is a Red Knot and a guy with a beach chair about 6 feet away.

 Royal Tern - one of about 100 preening on this part of the beach.

 Sandwich Tern - lots of these southern birds on the beach too.  Check out the yellow tip on the bill.  This particular bird hacked something up right in front of me - gross.

After Sanibel, we stopped by Bunche Beach for a quick shorebird scan.  Connie got her dream by letting me out of the car and burning rubber to the outlet stores out on the main drag.  I passed 2 women with binoculars who asked me if I "was here to see the curlew".  I casually said "Of coouurse" as if I knew there was a Long-billed Curlew on the beach. The women pointed me toward another couple with a spotting scope who graciously let me look at the bird.  They said that it must be 5:15 because they were told that the bird lands on the beach every day at 5:15.  It was certainly 5:15. 

The couple left and I noticed a guy with a metal detector walking really close to the bird and the bird wasn't leaving, so I moved in for a closer look and photographs.  Wow, a curlew on the east coast.  I have only seen them in California.  I took a dozen photos that came out pretty good considering the terrible lighting. The trouble is that I don't think this is a Long-billed Curlew.  The name implies that it has a really long bill.  While this bird has a long bill, it isn't REALLY long. It's more of a Whimbrel kind of long.  I think this is a Whimbrel.  Still a good bird, but not as rare as a curlew.

 Whimbrel or Long-billed Curlew?

This is a cropped photo which shows a nice warm brown color with marbled pattern on the wing and back.  The Sibley guide states this marbled pattern "like Marbled Godwits" as a field mark for the Long-billed Curlew.  But still that short bill. . . and although I did not get any shots of the bird's head, it appears to have some pattern and possibly a central stripe which is the field mark of the Whimbrel.  Marbled Godwits in the distant background, Short-billed Dowitcher in the near background (I think) and Least Sandpipers in the foreground all indicate the relative size of this bird.  Long-billed Curlew size states 23". Whimbrel size states 17.5".  Godwits state 18".  While the bird never got that close to the Godwits, it did appear a bit larger than them. 

So, you see the conundrum? What do you think?  Write a comment and give us your opinion. 

Monday, February 13, 2012

Great Day, Lousy Light

Connie and I had a great day of birding on Friday around Ft Myers Florida.  We spent Thursday evening with her aunt and uncle who live in Ft Myers Beach. It was lovely.  We watched the sunset, ate great home cooked meal, talked and saw a slide show of their recent trip to Morocco.  Aunt Gloria reminded us that Ding Darling NWR is closed on Fridays - a lesson that we have learned the hard way in the past - so we decided to spend Friday scoping out new birding locations.  We started the day at 6 Mile Cypress Slough which was about 5 minutes from our hotel and had a great boardwalk through cypress swamps very much like Corkscrew Swamp. This place was interesting due to the Barred Owl report on Birdseye.  One of the volunteers told us that the bird was seen most often "in the old cypress tree" near Wood Duck Pond.  Dude, look around. The place is a cypress swamp.  "You know, the cypress tree near Wood Duck Pond" does not help when the place has about a zillion cypress trees!  Anyway, I got these shots of Ibis and a pig.  We also saw tons of Palm Warblers.
 White Ibis
Feral Pig

I had 2 target birds on this Florida trip:  Snail Kite and Short-tailed Hawk.  We got Snail Kite(s) at our next stop - Harnes Marsh which is just east of Ft Myers.  Snail Kites was reported for at least a week there.  The marsh is located smack in the middle of a suburban neighborhood.  You actually access the marsh from 38th street, but once you are there, it is a pretty big space.  You have to walk the dirt road which surrounds the marsh. Birds were everywhere.  We immediately saw a Bald Eagle, lots of Egrets, Herons and Coots and an Osprey.  We ran into a group of senior citizens who were obviously on a bird walk.  We asked about the Kites and were told to ask the tall guy in the baseball hat.  He knows this place like the back of his hand.  Great! He'll give us the lay of the land and hopefully guide us to the Snail Kites. 

We caught up with the leader and informed him that he was recommended as the expert.  "You see that dead tree there?" he asked.  Yes, the tree was about 200 yards down the path. We could clearly see the tree.  Then he said "We have never made it past that tree, ever. You see these people?  They are hot and tired and returning to their cars."  He wasn't kidding.  He really had never been past the tree.  He did tell us that they saw 2 Snail Kites through the scope. Both immature or females. He also gave great description of what to look for and we did see the kites.

Of course, passing the tree became a goal that we had to meet and we did indeed go past the tree.  We didn't have to go far past the tree before seeing the kites. At first, I thought it might be a Harrier due to the size and white rump patch, but it was indeed a female Snail Kite.  She was quickly joined by the male who put on a show for us hunting, well, snails.  These are really bad photos due to sun glare and heat shimmer but you can clearly see the kite's markings.  Look hard to see the orange hooked bill that it uses to pull the snails from their shells.

 Male and female Snail Kites. Male is the dark gray bird on the right.

Male Snail Kite soaring

Male Snail Kite soaring - you can see the profile of his hooked bill here.

The object of the Snail Kite's desire.  

As if that wasn't enough, Connie yelled "Lin, look at that big hawk that just took off next to us".  It wasn't a hawk at all - it was a Crested Caracara!  Right next to us.  Lousy photo since I was surprised and the light was still really bad.

Crested Caracara

 Here is a better photo of one from our trip to Belize a few years ago.

All of this, and it wasn't even lunch time yet.  I'll post the rest of the day next.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Gators! With Video

The new camera shoots high definition video as well as photographs.  Here are a few that I shot in Florida.

The first one show all of the alligators basking at the end of the boardwalk trail in the Everglades National Park.  Double click to start the video. 

I counted over 30 gators in this group. That didn't include the dozen other gators that I had to walk past on the trail. Here are some photos of those:

Check out those teeth!
Here is a Momma with babies. They just laid around right off of the main path.

Close up of a few babies

 Momma and babies

These gators are so tame that they just lay around next to the path.  This next photo is the bottom of one of the gator's "paws".
Gator Paw

The next video shows an Anhinga that spent a good 20 minutes trying to swallow a fish that was too big for it.  Don't worry, the video is only a minute or so long but you should get the idea:

More later.  We are at The Villages now without too many birding opportunities.  Going to Fort Myers tomorrow afternoon, so we should have something then.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Whatta Hoot

This is an owl weekend for us nerds.  Lori saw a lifer Long-eared Owl in Pennsylvania (not allowed to tell you exactly where due to birding ethics) while and Connie, Tara and I saw nesting Great Horned Owls AND Burrowing Owl in the same day in Florida!  Good day for owls.

The Great Horned Owl pair took over the local Bald Eagle nest after the eagles abandoned it.  The sad story is that the baby eagle died after eating bad food, so the eagles had no more use for the nest this year.  The owls saw a great location in move-in condition and did just that.  The female is sitting on eggs now while the male sits in a nearby pine tree and keeps watch. Here is the female in the nest:

She is only visible because the resident squirrel just ran around the nest to harass her.  You may be wondering why a squirrel would take it's life into it's hands by harassing an owl - because the owl nest is actually built on top of the squirrel's nest!  Apparently, it is a daily show.  She is NOT amused.

Here are a few shots of the male owl preening in a nearby tree:

I call this one "Fur Ball".  This is actually the back of the owl. He is preening his back on this shot.

I call this one "Pew, Is that me?" because it looks like the owl is smelling his arm pit.

I call this one "Wink, Wink".  The owl is still all fluffed up from preening. 

Finally, if an owl could moon you, this is what it would look like - "Moon Shot"

About 5 minutes after leaving the Great Horned Owl nest, we ended up at the Burrowing Owl's well, burrow.  The sad story here is that this guy had a family that ended up dead.  Different stories tell the story as lawn mower accident, angry real estate agent murder, and cat attack. Any way you slice it, its sad to know that this guy is alone for the season.  Here is the little guy sitting outside of the burrow today keeping tabs on the local crows:

There are no photos of the Long-eared Owl.  Lori was lucky enough to see it let alone photograph it.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Can You See Me?

I'm an American Bittern.  Can you see me?

How about now?

Now that I turned sideways?

How about when I'm eating a fish?  Can you see me now?

American Bitterns (the subject of the photos above) are VERY secretive.  They live in reeds and tall grassy areas in marshes and are notoriously difficult to see.  Not this guy/gal.  This bird was mingling with all of the other very tame animals at the Everglades National Park yesterday.  Get ready for a flurry of posts about my trip there and the tame animals that I encountered.  But for now, I thought that I would focus on just this species. 

Notice in the first photo how difficult it was to spot the bird?  (Bonzi, are you still having trouble?)  That is due to the incredible camouflage plumage and the bird's defensive posture - which is to point it's bill skyward in order to blend into the grass.  The second photo is zoomed in to see the bird better but it is still pretty hidden.  The third photo shows the side view and still the bird blends into the background.  I probably have 100 photos of this bird - none of which are cropped.  The photos above are full frame. That is how close this bird was to the path where about 1,000 visitors walked past, oggled it,  and photographed it.  Alligators and other birds walked and swam past the bird and yet it just went about it's business.  I was lucky enough to watch it catch a garr fish and try to eat it which is shown in the last photo.  The fish ended up back in the water and gone after the Bittern dropped it.

Anyway, I guess you figured out that I'm in Florida. I'll be here for the next week and will be posting more.  Stay tuned. . .