Wednesday, December 31, 2014

We Three Kings

In our area, we only have one type of kingbird - the Eastern Kingbird. We have some that hang out in our yard in the Villas which is really cool. Occasionally, other types of kingbirds show up which gets the birders excited. The story changes when you go south and west where there are several types of kingbirds. Once you get south of the border there are even more choices - and they start to all look the same. Take these three for example.  All three have gray heads, yellow bellies and some sort of light under the chin but they also have some differences.

First up - this bird has a gray bib that extends pretty far down the chest. The tail is partially obscured by the wire but it looks kind of notched.


Something weird is going on with the front of this bird too. Is it the same as the bird above? Not as much white under the chin either. What about that tail? Is is flat or round or notched? 


The final bird also has some smudgy stuff on the chest and definitely has a white chin. It also has a definite notch in the tail.

So, I would guess that #1 is Western Kingbird due to the light throat and breast. Although #2 and #3 are not the same bird, I think they are both Tropical Kingbirds. Of course, I could be wrong. Some of the experts in our area call the vagrant kingbirds "yellow bellied" at first until they have a chance to review their own photos. 

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Boxing Day

What's better than being on a cruise for Christmas? Spending Boxing Day on Grand Cayman - that's what.

Boxing Day is a British holiday which is the day after Christmas. Nothing really happens except a day off of work. The good news is that the tourist industry on the island didn't take the day off. I wanted to go to the Queen Elizabeth II Botanical Gardens since reading about the variety of birds that are seen there. The garden is pretty far out of town and the off the tourist beat which also appealed to me. Di, Barbara, Jay and Brendan agreed to go along. The challenge was finding a way to get out to our destination. 

We found a taxi driver who agreed to drive us around at an hourly rate. She was really terrific and made the trip fun. We arrived at the Botanic Gardens just after 8 AM which was an hour too early. No problem. I had an alternative site picked out - the Mastic Trail which is located just across the road. It also had an impressive bird list so we decided to hike the 2 mile trail and meet the taxi driver at the other end. I'm glad that it worked out this way. The first bird that we ran into was this Smooth-billed Ani. He reminds me of Planet of the Apes.

Smooth-billed Ani
Our next birds were smaller but also really cool including a few Bananaquits which proved difficult to photograph. This Yellow Warbler posed nicely. We have these in our area in summer but they migrate south in winter. This one probably stays in the Caribbean all year. The reason for this is found on this bird's head which has a red tinge to it. We have seen that before in the Caribbean. 
Yellow Warbler
This warbler also looks alot like one that we see often in our area but after looking closely, this is not a Prairie Warbler. It is a Vitteline Warbler which is another resident of Cayman Islands (and probably Cuba).

Vitteline Warber
The next bird that posed for us - literally sat on the branch above the trail looking at us - was this LaSagra's Flycatcher. He/she just sat there like we were not there at all. It is handsome in it's subdued color scheme. 

LaSagra's Flycatcher
The loudest birds of the day were the Cuban Parrots that we heard throughout the hike. The trail was pretty challenging so we didn't look up at every parrot that we heard. This was the best photo that I could get.

Cuban Parrot
The other Cuban species that we saw on our hike was this Cuban Bullfinch. Here is one in "the wild". The identification of the bullfinch is all in the beak which is shaped similar to a grosbeak. 

Cuban Bullfinch
 Here is another that we saw later in the "not-so-wild" - looking at himself in the glass of a pickup truck.

Cuban Bullfinch
Next up - the Loggerhead Kingbird who posed along the road where our taxi driver picked us up. 

Loggerhead Kingbird
Our driver also showed us the endemic Blue Iguana. This dude was as big as a dog and looked pretty mean with slobber running down his chin. Yuck. Let's just say that we didn't get out of the van. 

Blue Iguana
The hiking was terrific but we definitely wanted to get to the tourist spots too before heading back to the boat. Our taxi driver took us to a cool beach which used to have a hotel that burnt down years ago. They didn't rebuild it but kept the pool, tiki bar and beach stuff going. We paid a whopping $2 each for access to a beautiful beach. After a quick swim, we headed to Da Fish Shack for a delicious lunch. We were joined by 2 guests - this Green Iguana who was patrolling the rocks just beneath the deck . . .

Green Iguana
 . . . and this chicken which they call Red Jungle Fowl who was patrolling the deck for anything that fell on the floor.
Red Jungle Fowl
I picked up 10 life birds and 1 life reptile (emphasis on the yuck). I am sure that the others in the group had more than a dozen lifers. Woo Hoo! Back to the ship to get to our next port of call. 

Monday, December 22, 2014

Getting Brighter Now

Good news. Today is 12/22. You know what that means right?  Yes, Santa is right around the corner but that's not what I'm talking about. The good news is that the days are getting longer again. Yay! More daylight can't come soon enough. I have had it with darkness.  And gloom too.

The next step toward brightness is our Christmas cruise to the Caribbean!  Mom and Dave sprang it on us a while ago but now it is finally real. I'm packing as I type.

The final bright spot to speak of is that my friend Harvey lent me his 300mm Canon lens to play around with. My regular 100-400mm zoom lens somehow got dust inside and I think it has been affecting the brightness of my photos lately. Here are a few test shots from the past few days.

First - this fox trotted across the path at Lorimer Park the other morning. The light was dim but I still managed to get the shot.

This Carolina Wren was pretty upset with me and Roxy as we walked past. The sun was bright and this little guy looked like he was enjoying it too.

Carolina Wren
Today, Roxy and I spooked another wren. This one is Winter Wren. It is the only photo that I have ever managed to get of one. They are pretty secretive birds but this one sat on the log in the woods. The lighting was mixed but the bird chose a nice sunny spot.

Winter Wren
Off to pack my camera and the loaner lens for the trip.  I wish for good weather.  Grand Cayman and Cozumel - woo hoo.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

It's That Time of Year Again

It is the time of year when friends and family are bustling getting ready for the holidays and New Year. Dining out with friends, holiday parties, baking and eating are top of the list.

It's the time of year when gifts abound. An early gift arrived at our door on Saturday - a Screech Owl box for the Villas. I told Harvey that I heard one whinnying and then saw one fly across the street. That's all he needed.  I hung it in the yard. We will wait to see if an owl finds it appealing. Thanks Harvey!

Screech Owl Box
And, its the time of year when the Audubon organizes the annual Christmas Bird Count or CBC. I have participated in the CBC for the past few years - mostly counting in Norristown and Pennypack. This year, Paul Guris asked if I could help out in Cape May. Of course I obliged. Not only did I say yes, but I roped Harvey into it too.  HA. That'll teach him to be nice to me.

Harvey and I covered the area around Two Mile Landing and Wildwood Crest. Nothing exciting but it had to be counted. A surprising number of raptors were in our area. this is one of about 5 Cooper's Hawks that we counted. This gal was hunting birds in a bush on the other side of the fence. Just goes to prove - good fences don't always make good neighbors after all. She was unsuccessful in her hunt but put on a good show.

Cooper's Hawk
 This Red-tailed Hawk soared into view very low and landed in a nearby shrub. We saw a few others too.

Red-tailed Hawk
There are a pair of Ross' Geese hanging around the Cape May - Lewes Ferry Terminal that I had to see. The terminal is not part of our area, but I just had to make a detour to see these diminutive geese up close. The only other Ross' Goose that I have seen was waaaaaaaayyyyyy out in a field amongst a flock of other geese (Stupid Contest chasing).  These geese are practically tame. It is a shame that it was overcast which makes the photo not so great but look how cute.

Ross's Goose
We couldn't take Roxy on the count since we were on the Coast Guard base for part of the day so we quit the count and took her for a nice walk at Cox Hall Creek in the afternoon. This Hermit Thrush just sat there while we walked by. Almost like it wanted us to take a photo. I obliged.

Hermit Thrush
Here is a cropped photo. If thrushes use FaceBook, he/she should use this as the head shot.

Hermit Thrush portrait
I'll be doing the Pennypack CBC this coming Saturday. Join me if you can.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Another Contest

This year has certainly been a lot less hectic without having a Big Year contest to win. I didn't chase much, traveled outside of the Delaware Valley area, didn't have to drive like a maniac up and down the NJ Turnpike chasing after birds that I really don't care about, and, well, got bored.  You read that right. It's one thing to not have to chase everything but it is quite another to not have anything to chase - if you know what I mean.

Fear not dear blog readers, I am not about to announce another Big Year but I wanted you to know that another contest is on the horizon. The DVOC has an annual photo contest which I entered a few years ago (got a second place showing) but didn't enter last year due to frantically chasing another bird or whatever. I entered this year.  Friends and family helped me select 4 photos to enter in the "Birds" category:


The Stalker

B-52 Bomber

I Know It's Here Somewhere
There are quite a few good photographers in the DVOC.  I wonder if I have a fighting chance with these. My friend Harvey voted for this one but my version of the photo was much duller than the one he "cleaned up" for me in PhotoShop. What do you think - next year's winner?

Color Me Cape May
I also entered a few other photos in other categories. We'll see how they fair. I think the Ruddy Daggerwing butterfly from the last post is my best chance of a win.  Anyway, contest winners will be announced at the Dec 18th meeting. Please attend if you can. You don't need to be a member to attend a meeting.  7:30 PM at the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philly.  Bonus - we go out for drinks afterward!

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.