Monday, February 25, 2019

No Regrets?

My impromptu Florida trip started with that gorgeous Flamingo and got better when I headed across the state to Key Biscayne in hopes of seeing two rare birds that were reported at Crandon State Park. One of the birds is pretty rare in the US - Thick-billed Vireo. I arrived at the park at 7:30 AM and found the bird immediately. It was sitting in the bushes along the path to the Nature Center. Honestly, this is one of those birds that could easily be overlooked as just another White-eyed Vireo until you hear the song and look closely at the bird. Here is a photo of the Thick-billed Vireo.

Thick-billed Vireo
Now compare with a photo of White-eyed Vireo taken on the same day at the same park.

White-eyed Vireo
Tough right? You can notice a split eye ring and thicker bill on the Thick-billed Vireo but that is about it. The second rare bird is easier to identify but proved more difficult to find at the park. I looked and looked. Other birders showed up and searched too. Finally, I found the bird moving along in the trees with some other birds. Yay! Female Western Spindalis.

Western Spindalis
By 10 AM, I had found the 2 rare birds and headed back across the state feeling pretty satisfied with the trip. Of course some of the fun of birding is "bragging" about it to my friends. I sent the photos above to some friends. Later that evening, Steve emailed back asking if I had also seen the Bananaquit. What Bananaquit? I quickly looked online and read that a Bananaquit had been seen at the same park at 2:30 in the afternoon. THE SAME PARK where I was on THE SAME DAY.  AAARRRGGGGHHHH! I could have let that ruin a perfectly good day but I didn't. Bananaquits, like the Spindalis, show up in Florida almost every winter. I'll have another chance to see one. Right? Please say yes. . . . #noregrets.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Pretty in Pink

You might think that Flamingos are easy to see in Florida. Many residents have plastic pink flamingos in their yards which makes me think that the flamingo is the Florida state bird. They are not - the state bird or easy to see. American Flamingos are not common and where they are regular, they are difficult to see. Most of the Flamingos in Florida are seen at the bottom end of the Everglades by people who are kayaking in the back country. No roads can take you there. And most boats cannot access the area either. I've tried to see Flamingos in the Everglades in the past. I drove all the way to the end of the road and asked the people at the campground. They just giggled and told me that I needed a boat. I slinked away. That was years ago.

Fast forward 15 years and now there is a single Flamingo that has been hanging around in a wildlife refuge up on the Florida panhandle near Tallahassee. The bird has been there since December but I haven't been able to get there to see it. That all changed on Sunday when Connie agreed to make a quick road trip this week to see the bird. Truth be told, she really wanted to visit her sister who lives in Florida. A compromise seemed like the best solution. We left Pennsylvania at 6:30 PM on Tuesday and drove straight through arriving at St. Mark's NWR at 9:30 AM on Wednesday. 15 hours of straight driving.

I probably didn't do enough research because we arrived at the spot and found a vast area of impoundments to search. As we stood there wondering where to start, a Vermillion Flycatcher flew out to the road. WOW! Totally unexpected rare bird.  We have seen this bird in Mexico, Costa Rica and Belize. I saw one in another spot in Florida a few years ago but this guy put on a show searching for bugs along the road and perching on low sticks at the water's edge.

Here he is looking for a bug to pluck from the water.

Luckily, we found a birder who had seen the bird a few times. He was taking his friend/wife/? out to the impoundment to look for the bird. We walked ahead of the couple trying to cover a lot of ground quickly. Peanut LOVED the walk. We went about a mile out on the dike road. I heard someone yelling and looked back to see the couple frantically waving their arms. They found the Flamingo. We headed back to meet them with our spotting scope. Donna aimed the scope out into the marsh and viola, we had the bird!

In the scope
Happy dances ensued.

Flamingo! The bird is back there somewhere
Seeing the bird through the scope was great but I needed a better view so I headed out for another mile to get a closer look. It was quite a hike but totally worth it. The Flamingo was right there!  He/she didn't care a bit about me or Peanut.

Me and the Flamingo
I spent another 20 minutes watching and photographing the bird as he/she was feeding in the impoundment. Flamingos are much taller than I imagined.
He/she would stomp around in circles searching for food.

You can see how the bird uses his foot to search and stir up the water for food.

What a great experience.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Winter Raptor Survey

My friend Barb Bassett asked for help in completing a Winter Raptor Survey in Salem County NJ a few weeks ago. I've read about these surveys but never had the chance to do one. The survey is conducted in a specified area using a very detailed "route". Here is a map of our route: 

Route #7 Map
Each number represents a turn on our driving directions. We start at #1, then go to #2 and so on until we reach #53. We are supposed to record any raptor (hawk, eagle, falcon or vulture) that we see. We were supposed to start at 8:00 AM and end around noon. Our group had 4 people:
Barb driving, me navigating, and Marty and Jayne staring out of the car windows watching for any raptor. 

We had a pretty good day tallying 20 Bald Eagles, 40 Red-tailed Hawks and a high count of 14 Red-shouldered hawks along with a few other species. The eagles were a highlight for me since we really never had any in our area until recently. Here is a photo of a juvenile eagle sitting on an electric pole. 

Bald Eagle
We also had a neat encounter with several eagles along the Delaware River. An eagle flew right over our car and perched in a tree at the Church Landing Historical Museum. Then another eagle landed on the same branch. 

Bald Eagle pair
I was on the phone with my mother at this point and got so excited that I dropped the phone under the car seat and had to hang up! What happened next was even more incredible. A third eagle came in and tried to cut in on the action. 

He chased the other 2 off of the branch and sat there screaming. 

Banded Bald Eagle
On closer look, we noticed that the interloper had metal bands on his legs. You can see a green band on the right leg in the photo above. Zoom in and you may be able to see the numbers 74 etched into the band. I reported this to the federal banding website and hope to get some information back shortly. 

We had a great time on the day and contributed to citizen science project. I look forward to participating next year. 

Monday, February 11, 2019

Hey Loon, You Are On the Wrong Ocean!

As far as Loons go, we have 2 species that hang around our area in winter - Common Loon and Red-throated Loon. Occasionally, a loon from the west ends up on the wrong ocean for the winter. This year, a Pacific Loon has been spending time at Manasquan Inlet in NJ. I am old enough to remember my parents having a weather radio. Back in the day, we didn't have the Internet or mobile apps giving us up-to-the-moment weather alerts. Back in the 60's and 70's, we had a special radio that only provided weather information. Why is this relevant? Because the weather alerts included tide information "from Manasquan Inlet to Cape Henlopen" and I always wanted to know where Manasquan was. Now I know.

Marty and I decided to head down to the inlet in hopes of seeing the Pacific Loon. We have both seen Pacific Loons before. I saw one waaaaaaayyyyyy off of the beach in NJ a few years ago and we both saw them in Alaska flying past St. Paul Island. We wanted to see this one because reports were that the bird was swimming the inlet and giving everyone a close-up "show".

Of course, we headed down and encountered 20 mile per hour winds with strong gusts and 20 degree temperatures. That didn't deter us from standing along the inlet waiting. And waiting, and waiting for the Pacific Loon to make an appearance. We passed the time by photographing Common Loons and found one that had leg bands. You can see the red band in this photo and maybe even make out the light blue band on the other leg if you look closely.

Banded Common Loon
 At long last, the Pacific Loon popped up across the inlet. We had brief views before it dove under again searching for a meal. This frustration continued for 20 minutes or so until finally, our perseverance paid off and the bird popped up right in front of us!

Pacific Loon
The field marks to look for on this bird are darker back, thinner bill, smaller overall, and the "chin strap" which is that dark line under the chin. You can see the chin strap in both photos.

Pacific Loon - shaking it off
Once we had our fill of the Pacific Loon, we headed down the coast through the seaside towns of Tom's River and Seaside Heights to Island Beach State Park. This park is on the other side of Barnegat inlet. I've never been to this side before and wanted to explore. There was a report of a Snow Owl on the dunes. We stopped to have a quick look.

Snow Owl
I noticed a falcon out of the corner of my eye. He was on the beach tearing the feathers off of his lunch. We couldn't tell what species of bird was on the menu but we were able to get pretty close. We initially thought it was a Peregrine but after review, the falcon is a Merlin.

We walked the entire beach to the inlet which was over a mile. The wind was at our back on the journey. Now for the unpleasant walk back to the parking lot with the wind in our faces. Yuck. The state park allows vehicles on the beach. A guy stopped to ask if we needed a ride. We must have looked really bad. LOL. He alerted us to a seal on the beach. What a treat. This Harbor Seal could care less about the people or the trucks. She just lounged there occasionally looking around.

Harbor Seal
Then we said goodbye. She waived. 

Bye Bye
Peace out!