Not too long ago, a friend asked about a visit to a local area where I reported observing American Avocets, Black-necked Stilts and over 3,000 American White Pelicans. I confirmed those species and proudly talked about other unique birds I had seen during the same outing. He was quite excited as there were three species he had been striving to find in Florida and had been unsuccessful. I felt like a cad. Now I had to break it to him that this was a trip on land not open to the public. At the time, I felt privileged to be asked to assist in a survey of bird life within this newly developed wetland. Little did I realize how bad I would later feel telling people they couldn’t visit the area.
About a month after the above trip, I noted a report of several Burrowing Owls not too far away. My inquiry was met with, “Sorry, they were all on private land.”
Gini and I have been very fortunate to have traveled a modest amount during our time together. The nice thing about having a partner who is happy and positive all the time (yes, she wakes up smiling), is you just know something good is close by almost all the time. When we moved to a new area, we learned to explore close to home first and gradually expand our adventures. What a happy surprise to discover there are usually wonderful things within a stone’s throw of your front door.
Birding has been like that. It’s really exciting to visit a well-known “hotspot” and it’s not hard to figure out why these places are so popular. Plenty of birds! Also, plenty of birders! So we have tried to remember our early experiences and we seek out local parks to see what they have to offer. What we have found is that there are many birding “warmspots” that are all too easy to drive by as one speeds to the well-advertised “hotspots”! These local parks have something else that is missing from the more popular venues. A slower pace. I’m not worried about rushing to the “third tree on the left under the boat dock crouched under a lily pad” bird and getting in a line of sort-of birders who are more akin to contact sport athletes. Instead, I can leisurely walk around on a nicely constructed pathway, say “Good Morning” to a Mom pushing a stroller, admire the fortitude of runners perspiring profusely, take in the aroma of a grilled picnic lunch and still compile a respectable list of birds and perhaps even take a photograph or two.
Two days last month were spent visiting three such public parks. Relaxing, exciting and fun. What more could a very casual bird-watcher want?
Athletic fields have very tall poles atop which are mounted lights atop which are often found raptors searching for a meal. This American Kestrel has a great view from up there!
A large oak tree branch displayed the remains of what I think was a White Ibis. The lunch buffet was very fresh and a look around revealed a Bald Eagle skulking within the framework of tall utility line support structure. I’m not saying he was guilty, but he WAS near the scene of the dine……..
Anhingas are common in our area and they use any available perch that’s open to the sun and wind to dry their feathers. Unlike other waterfowl, they secrete no oils to help them remain water-proof and could drown if unable to keep their feathers dry.
A Double-crested Cormorant and Peninsula Cooter appear to be exchanging opinions as they share a convenient log.
An important pollinator in our ecosystem, the Sweat Bee is so named for its attraction to the salt in human perspiration. Only the females sting and it hurts less than a Honeybee. There are over 49 species of Sweat Bee, including the one below, a Green Sweat Bee.
For some reason, city planners feel the need to “enhance” local park lakes with exotic waterfowl, often with unfortunate results for native species. Some common city critters encountered are swans of all types. I guess, to a bureaucrat, bigger is better. This is a Black Swan, a native of Australia. The male Black Swan’s red eyes turn white during breeding season.
Mute Swans originated in Europe and Asia and are the most common captive swans in North America.
The Black-necked Swan is from South America and cannot survive very cold weather. They are more likely than other swan species to carry young on their backs.
Widely held to be the ancestor of all domestic geese in North America, the Graylag Goose (Anser anser) is a large bulky bird and it is common to encounter a variety of plumages from all white to mostly gray. Hybrids are frequent. In many areas of the United States it is simply referred to as a “Barnyard Goose”.
Ruddy Ducks visit our area only during migration but can sometimes be seen in fair numbers on larger bodies of water. Occasionally, we’ll see the male still in his breeding plumage of chestnut, white face and blue bill. (Below is a female.)
Larger than the small Ruddy Duck, Ring-necked Ducks also appear in the fall and many remain through the winter. In good light, the male’s head and neck appear iridescent.
For sheer gaudiness, nothing compares to our native Wood Duck! Looks like an artist’s palette gone wild. Okay, gaudy but beautiful.
At the other extreme of the color spectrum is the plain brown Limpkin. Plenty of apple snails in most public lakes attract these ancient-looking waders into the city.
Good looking in its own right, the Common Gallinule is still confused as to why the “experts” changed his name (again) from Moorhen. Me, too.
If you get a chance to look for rare birds on private land, go for it! Visit a popular birding “hotspot” whenever you can. For a relaxing day walking among familiar birds in a comfortable setting, check out the city park. You might be surprised at what you can find.
Enjoy your search for a natural place and come back for a visit!
(Hah! You thought you were rid of me, didn’t you? Not yet.)