Random Acts of Birding

Many of us did not set out to become “birders”.  We typically absorbed the avocation gradually, often following an encounter with a friend or relative who seemed enthusiastic about their experiences.  Sometimes there is an epiphany.  Such was the case with my wonderful wife, Gini.  She became an addict….ummm, avid observer….while we were driving along a highway in west Texas.  She abruptly screamed:  “Stop!  Turn around!”.  Assuming I had just run over a small child, I slammed on the brakes and executed a quick U-turn.  She pointed breathlessly to a Mesquite tree in the median of the road and whispered:  “Look!”.  The sighting of her first male Bullock’s Oriole shall remain one of birding history’s most dramatic moments.

Once “hooked”, birding becomes as natural a process as breathing.  You go to the grocery and scan the parking lot and light poles for gulls.  A stop at the gas station involves inspecting the eaves of the roof for Sparrows and the utility lines for Grackles or Starlings.  Visits to a relative’s house mean dawdling in the driveway to check the front yard trees for passerines.  There are no more picnics, only birding trips with food involved.

Although we usually have a specific destination when we go on an “actual” birding trip, we just naturally observe our surroundings as we travel to and from such places.  Sometimes we even see a few birds along the way.

The following images are of “incidental” sightings we made while heading somewhere else.  Some of these were taken during scouting trips made in preparation for the recent Audubon annual Christmas Bird Count.  Others were taken during one of those “non-picnics” mentioned above.  Still others were made for such reasons as:  “I wonder what might be in that retention pond behind the church/factory/store/mall?”.

You get the idea.

 

The Osprey is abundant in Florida and I certainly seem to take a lot of pictures of them.  This one was just finishing a snack near the coast as we were on the way to dinner.  I think I like them so much because we’re so much alike.  We both love seafood and are incredibly good-looking.

Osprey

Osprey

 

A Florida Red-bellied Turtle was still shimmering with water as he crossed a path in front of me.  He was about 24 inches (610 mm) long and simply beautiful.

Florida Red-bellied Turtle

Florida Red-bellied Turtle

 

Purple Gallinules brighten up the marsh with their iridescent plumage.

Purple Gallinule

Purple Gallinule

 

During breeding season, the adult Ring-billed Gull’s head will become pure white.

Ring-billed Gull

Ring-billed Gull

 

We found a stream flowing from a marsh into a larger creek which provided a nice feeding area for a group of Least Sandpiper and Greater Yellowlegs.  The small sandpipers blended in very well with the rocks.  The Yellowlegs flew a short distance upstream when we first approached and the calls helped confirm them as Greater.

Least Sandpiper

Least Sandpiper

Greater Yellowlegs

Greater Yellowlegs

 

Hooded Mergansers winter in our area and often seem to prefer small retention ponds for feeding during the day.

Hooded Merganser

Hooded Merganser

Hooded Merganser

Hooded Merganser

 

A Forster’s Tern dives headlong into a local lake to snag a small fish.  Seems like they need helmets!

Forster's Tern

Forster’s Tern

 

This Great Egret has captured an Armored Catfish for lunch.  This species of catfish may be the Vermiculated Sailfin Catfish (Pterygoplichthys disjunctivus), a non-native species probably introduced accidentally during the past several decades by aquarium owners and/or the pet trade.  I could find no evidence this fish is harmful except for possibly causing erosion of banks due to their habit of digging out holes for nesting.

Great Egret

Great Egret

 

Strong morning light made a detailed photograph of this Eastern Bluebird impossible but I liked the way he was looking back at us.  He was up early in a local cemetery we were scouting for the Christmas Bird Count.

Eastern Bluebird

Eastern Bluebird

 

Also in the cemetery was a female Downy Woodpecker cleaning out an old nest cavity.  She was hauling out sawdust and expelling it.  I think she intended to use the hole as a warm resting spot as the weather had turned quite cold.

Downy Woodpecker

Downy Woodpecker

Downy Woodpecker

Downy Woodpecker

 

A Blue-headed Vireo posed very briefly and took off when the camera clicked.

Blue-headed Vireo

Blue-headed Vireo

 

Yes, I know, a face only a mother could love.  But there’s a beauty in the vulture that just can’t be ignored.  To see this creature up close is to marvel at its flight feathers and unique head design, knowing how effective it is for its intended purpose.

Turkey Vulture

Turkey Vulture

 

The event was a water-side supper while enjoying the sunset.  The reality was another one of those birding trips involving food.  I just “had” to peek down the shoreline and this is what I saw.  Mostly Least Sandpipers.  The more you look, the more you’ll see.  It resembled “moving rocks”.

Shorebirds

Shorebirds

 

The Ring-billed Gull towers over a group of feeding Dunlin.

Dunlin, Ring-billed Gull

Dunlin, Ring-billed Gull

 

A Dunlin in non-breeding plumage.

Dunlin

Dunlin

 

Comparing sizes of Dunlin, Long-billed Dowitcher and Black-bellied Plover.  Shhh!

Black-bellied Plover, Dowitcher, Dunlin

Black-bellied Plover, Dowitcher, Dunlin

 

A meeting of the local Storks Club.  This was during another pre-Christmas Bird Count scouting foray.  A small cattle pond hosted over 80 Wood Storks.

Wood Stork

Wood Stork

 

Again while scouting a potential spot for Sparrows a few days ahead of the Christmas count, a pair of Red-tailed Hawks appeared directly overhead doing a little scouting of their own.  I think this is a juvenile as it lacks a strong dark trailing edge to the wings which is characteristic in adults.

Red-tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk

 

If you have any interest in observing birds, you will understand the process of continually being in “birding” mode.  If you do not yet consider yourself a birding enthusiast, beware!  Just by looking at this blog you are in danger of becoming one of us!  Then you, too, will be committing random acts of bird watching – just because you can.

Enjoy your search for a natural place and come back for a visit!

 

See more birds at:   Paying Ready Attention   (Check out Wild Bird Wednesday.)

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 48 Comments

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48 thoughts on “Random Acts of Birding

  1. Wonderful photos all. The blue gray gnatcatcher a favorite of mine. The woodpecker making the chips fly reminds me of a shot I was lucky to capture last year of a Pileated Woodpecker doing the same. Thanks for visiting my site and I look forward to visiting again for viewing your past and future work.

  2. Wonderful bird photos. We used to visit Florida to catch specks on Okeechobee when my in-laws lived there. All the images I have seen so far are grand. My favorite I spose’ would be the Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher. We have them in warmer months. Thank You for visiting my blog.

  3. Greetings from Lanzarote. It’s a little warmer than UK but still not Florida temperatures.
    Hey the car hire gave us an Alfa Romeo. My Sue says it’s the only Romeo in her life.
    Women!

  4. I’m always amazed at the shots you get–like the tern in the headlong dive, the red-tailed hawk–and I hope you don’t hold your seafood with your feet when you eat it. 😉 You not only got the Great Egret, you were able to identify what it was having for lunch!

    • But if I don’t hold that mullet still it will wriggle away!

      Thank you, Patti, for your very nice remarks! We sure appreciate it. It’s pretty neat to capture an image of a bird catching its meal.

  5. Carole M.

    …I find it a little difficult to ‘find’ you sometimes Wally when I click on your link it takes me to G+ which then only has posts you have plussed. However, going for a search in your ‘about’ page, I find “Our Florida Journal” – sorry I have missed some of your posts because of this.

    I DO really love your writing style and the epiphany moment you wrote of for Gini; it’s really lovely to see this coming home moment. Also “there are no more picnics, only birding trips with food involved” …. you write so much that just ‘brings it home’ to those of us who think so much about the birds. Of course to ‘get the evidence’ with your camera is another sweet-spot, alongwith then, finally, being able to pass it along to others, online. So I have just found I can follow your blog via email so have just initiated that…I shouldn’t be so slow next time! Wow – the Osprey, what a beaut photo; I like the reminder as to the likenesses (of course I already knew that). Purple Gallinules here are referred to as Purple Swamphens. Gosh your shot of the gull in flight, I don’t know how you manage to track and snap so perfectly! And you topped it up with the speedy momentum of the Forster’s Tern. Your posts, as always are such a good read Wally; well done. A gold star on your forehead….

    • Carole, I apologize for the difficulty you’ve had in getting to the blog. I confess, I pay no attention to Google + (please don’t tell them!) so I guess I’m creating a linkage problem. I’ll see what I can do from here. If you continue to have a problem, let me know and I’ll write myself a strongly worded memorandum!

      Thank you so much for being so persistent in finding us and then making such complimentary remarks!
      Enjoy the rest of your weekend.

  6. Ron Dudley

    Wally, you’ve absolutely NAILED how many of us became “birders” (or bird photographers) with your description of Gini’s experience. I loved the Osprey and Great Egret shots particularly and really enjoyed the flying sawdust with the Downy Woodpecker. As always, your text is as interesting as your photos!

  7. With the wonderful array of birds that you have in your region, Wally, I don’t see how one could live there and not be interested in avian matters!

    This is another beautiful post from you, with mouth-watering illustrations. However, without a shadow of doubt, my favourite is the Osprey image. I’m involved with Ospreys here in UK but have never managed an image that is one tenth as good as this!

  8. Love this post, Wally! Incidental birding describes a large portion of my birding! What a fantastic series of post! The Osprey is outstanding and your comments made me chuckle; the downy hard at work is very cool! Hope you and Gini have a great weekend!

  9. Gosh I’ve always been a fan of accidental birding, but I don’t have quite such spectacular accidents as you do (especially as far as the photos go). I think I got started in a similar way to Ginny — Bill always says ‘please tell me WHY I’m stopping and turning around?” as he does it!

  10. lovely set of birds and their photographs. Thanks for sharing. .

  11. Hooded Merganser…..dream bird!

    Superb series, love the initial birding stop for the Missus…. Great narrative too

    Cheers
    Dave

  12. I was interested to read how like an Osprey you are Wally. Such fabulous eyesight and diving in for a fishy meal huh? Shame about standing on road side poles though – don’t get yourself arrested now. Wonderful self portrait though.

    You’re dead right about passing shots though as it is amazing how many good sightings and pictures come from keeping those raptor’s eyes peeeled for opportunities rather than planned outings. That’s what makes birding so exciting.

    I agree with you about vultures, such ancient and magnificent species.

    Never seen dowitcher and Dunlin side by side so your photo is very instructive in showing not that much difference in actual size.

    • Now, if I could just waterproof my feathers…..

      Hope you have a wonderful Spanish interlude, Phil! Looking forward to reports of lots of unique birds.

  13. Fantastic photos! I can’t choose a favorite, but the osprey and vulture would be right there at the top! Very nice!

  14. Wow, what a fantastic series! It’s hard to pick a favourite, but, I’m going with the Osprey, or the Tern, and the Heron is beautiful, love the little Vireo too. Oh gosh, they are all terrific!

    • Good news, Karen! You don’t have to pick a favorite! I like watching all of them, so you can like looking at them too, if you want. 🙂

  15. Some very awesome photos of awesome birds;

  16. What a magnificent shot of the tern making that dive go get his fish…and the shot of the egret is amazing, too. They have to be my favorites. All of the series is beautiful.

  17. Fantastic photography!

  18. Wally, your first paragraph made me laugh! Our first sighting wasn’t nearly as exotic as the Bullock’s Oriole (I saw one this year in Oregon). No, it was the common Cardinal that got hubby and me started. We are taking a birding class together at LSU next month and I’m so excited about that. Your photos are always stellar. Truly enjoyed the osprey (still waiting to see one) and the wood storks. Amazing how those shorebirds blend into the rocks by the water. Beautiful post! Keep ’em coming!

  19. Great collection of birds, there are so many beautiful shots. It is hard to pick a favorite. But, I do have to say the first Ospery shot is awesome! Enjoy the rest of your week!

  20. The sheen on the Purple Gallinule is very beautiful and I am envious of all those shorebirds which I don’t see down here – Yellowlegs, Dowitcher, Dunlin, and most of the Sandpipers.
    Very interesting to read your thoughts on how to become a birder. I think there must be as many different ways as there are birders – and although I am definitely “hooked” on shorebirds I have yet to develop a similar fixation on all those Little Brown Jobs that flutter through the bush too fast for me to ID them!

  21. Splendid photowork!
    Well done!

  22. Wow!!! They’re all super images, but I do so love the close up of the purple gallinule!!

  23. You are right Wally, it can become an addiction, but a very satisfying one.
    This is an awsome set of pics, love the Osprey and the Gallinule, too many to mention all, they are just great.
    All the best, Gordon.

  24. loved your photos. 🙂 the sweet bluebird is always a favorite. but so is the fine looking turkey vulture. great water birds, too!

    • We’ve had Bluebirds show up in odd places but not consistently. I can’t help liking the vulture – sort of like looking in a mirror for me! 🙂

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