Posts Tagged With: breeding bird atlas

A Census For The Senses

“For Better Or Worse.” She had no idea.

From braving blizzards, sleeping on rocky ground, suffering heat exhaustion on a small boat 30 miles from land, being lost in the forests of Germany, dodging hailstones in the desert – to being my constant companion no matter the adventure – to raising two perfect children – my wife has no equal. Her positive spirit continued to manifest itself when our bird watching hobby was elevated to a new level recently.

The second Florida Breeding Bird Atlas project began in 2011 and will continue through 2016. When completed, scientists will have data on which species of birds breed within Florida and can compare trends with the first atlas from 25 years ago. Volunteer birders have spent countless hours attempting to sample portions of every county in the state. An ambitious undertaking. As a fellow birder put it, it’s “birding with a purpose”.

A couple of things have happened along the way as I’ve tried to contribute to the atlas effort. I have become a better birder. Although I had an awareness of which birds are residents, this has really fine-tuned my sense of the rhythm of the seasons. My knowledge of the natural history of birds has increased substantially. In addition to just trying to identify a bird, I’ve learned to actually “observe” birds – are they carrying nesting material, where do they nest, when do they breed, how long does it take a chick to fledge, will they have a second (or third) brood during the year – all fascinating stuff! Habitat is everything for attracting birds and I’ve learned about trees, flowers, grasses and unique ecosystems.

The best part has been more of what made it so easy to start this avocation in the first place. We are outside a lot and have enjoyed spectacular sunrises and sunsets, explored new natural areas, marveled at how many stars are packed in a pre-dawn sky, seen a triple rainbow, watched bobcats, coyotes, deer and discovered hosts of flora, fauna and natural happenings we never could have imagined. Oh, and we saw a few birds along the way, too.

We’re looking forward to the final year of the atlas coming up but the experience has added a new dimension to our bird-watching adventures. All of our senses are more alive and each trip is a new learning experience.

The following images are from a couple of trips specifically intended to locate breeding birds in specific areas to add to the atlas data bank. As usual, I can’t resist including some “non-birding” material as well.

 

We live within a few minutes’ drive of the Green Swamp, the second-largest swamp in Florida after the Everglades. Encompassing over 870 square miles (2253 sq km) the swamp includes headwaters of four major rivers and is a vital source of filtering water which eventually enters Florida’s underground aquifer system. This field of recently rolled hay is on the edge of the swamp and is seen here just at dawn with a bit of typical fog lingering.

Morning Hay

Morning Hay

 

What the atlas is all about: babies! A Sandhill Crane chick can walk and swim within eight hours of hatching. This youngster will lose its buffy plumage and look more like Mom and Dad by the end of the summer.

Sandhill Crane

Sandhill Crane

 

Black-necked Stilts find plenty of shallow water in our area for hunting and use the plentiful mud shorelines to nest. Below you can see the size of the stilt relative to a Sandhill Crane and a Glossy Ibis.

Black-necked Stilt

Black-necked Stilt

 

Black-necked Stilt, Sandhill Crane

Black-necked Stilt, Sandhill Crane

Black-necked Stilt, Glossy Ibis

Black-necked Stilt, Glossy Ibis

 

Mottled Ducks may be in danger of disappearing due to extensive inter-breeding with Mallards. These two appear to be “actual” Mottled Ducks as they don’t seem to show any Mallard traits but it is becoming increasingly difficult to be certain.

Mottled Duck

Mottled Duck

 

A small island in a pond in a pasture provides a protected rookery for a couple hundred Cattle Egrets. Also present were a few Anhingas, Great Egrets, Great Blue Herons and Snowy Egrets. Most of these birds were sitting on nests and several had young in the nest.

Rookery

Rookery

 

Many Bald Eagle nests are monitored by different groups in the state, but this one had not yet been recorded when we found it late last year. Bald Eagles in Florida usually breed from November through May. We continued to drive by the newly built nest periodically and finally spotted this young eagle, almost ready to fledge. One of the parents flew in with a fish, deposited it in the nest and kept an eye on junior from a nearby branch.

Bald Eagle - Juvenile

Bald Eagle – Juvenile

 

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

 

A pair of Red-bellied Woodpeckers had young in this cavity and the adults constantly flew back and forth providing food delivery for the kids. Here, the female had to lean to one side as the male exploded out of the cavity. Sorry for the blurry photo, it’s the birds’ fault.

Red-bellied Woodpecker

Red-bellied Woodpecker

 

This Brown Anole had a close encounter of the predator kind not too long ago. Fortunately, they are designed with a “break-away” tail which allows them to escape such attacks. The replacement may not be an exact match but it sure beats the alternative! This male is displaying a throat fan, or dew lap, which is used to attract attention during courtship and for territorial defense.

Brown Anole

Brown Anole

 

We spotted a Wild Turkey hen with 12 chicks. She stood watch as all the youngsters struggled to cross a fallen log.

Wild Turkey

Wild Turkey

Wild Turkey

Wild Turkey

 

Great Blue Skimmers love our wooded swampy areas. They are one of our larger dragonflies and are distinguished by a white face. The males are powdery blue and the females, as seen here, are brownish/orange.

Great Blue Skimmer - Female  (Libellula vibrans)

Great Blue Skimmer – Female (Libellula vibrans)

 

Many homeowners erect elaborate houses and gourd complexes in the hope of attracting Purple Martins each year. In the event of a housing shortage, no worries, the resourceful birds will find shelter. In this case, the end supports of utility line structures are hollow and make a fine place to raise little martins.

Purple Martin

Purple Martin

 

Whether we’re bird-watching, birding, atlasing or just out for a drive, Gini and I continue to be truly blessed to be able to enjoy what Nature has to offer – together. When you have a chance, take your own census of your senses and know that Life Is Good.

 

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

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 16 Comments

Census Stimulates Senses

Knocking on doors to gather information about individuals and families can be a challenging and sometimes thankless task. Especially if the residents have no doors. And can’t speak. And try to peck your eyes out. The second Florida Breeding Bird Atlas project continues apace and is producing some interesting results. Effects of the expansion of human habitation have, predictably, altered avian habitation. Some species appear to be adapting to the changes, others not so much. The Atlas will attempt to catalogue bird species breeding within Florida from 2011-2016. The first Atlas was conducted 25 years ago and the update will hopefully provide scientists with important data which might be used to enhance resource management for future bird populations.

Happily, I am not a scientist. (Surprise!) Therefore, the heavy thinking is left to those qualified and I am free to saunter about the countryside watching birds and making a note if I happen to see a nest, courtship (between birds!) or maybe a baby bird. Pretty much what Gini and I do anyhow.

I am quite fortunate to occasionally team up with a pair of Florida’s better birders and I always learn volumes from these two gentlemen. Recently, we covered portions of three counties (Hardee, Highlands and Polk) and by the end of the day had sighted over 90 species of birds and added significant breeding information to the current Atlas.

For me, birding is about so much more than just birds. Nature always seems to have something special to show us. All we have to do is show up. This day began in the dark, on a dirt road bordering an orange grove and small wooded area. The soft trill of an Eastern Screech Owl a few yards away is far more stimulating than any cup of coffee to start one’s day. From the grove came the sharp, clear announcement that Chuck-Will’s-Widow was looking for love. An hour later, the eastern sky displayed colors impossible to duplicate by any artist and it seemed the whole world was suddenly awake. The day was filled with sights, sounds and scents only Nature could produce and I am better for the experience.

A small sample of what we encountered follows but my poor images cannot provide anything close to the real thing. If you get a chance, step outside for awhile soon. Drink it all in. Life is good.

 

Nature has a way of giving spectacular notice when a day begins and ends. A simple field and a few trees are transformed into an ethereal artistic masterpiece with the addition of a multicolored sky and a bit of fog.

Sunrise

Sunrise

 

A Crested Caracara made several low passes overhead. No doubt he was curious what these strange-looking creatures were doing in his neighborhood.

Crested Caracara

Crested Caracara

 

Roseate Spoonbills preen in the morning mist, using the water’s surface as a mirror to ensure they look their best to greet the day.

Roseate Spoonbill

Roseate Spoonbill

 

Mud can be very attractive to a large variety of insect life. A large variety of insect life can be very attractive to Dowitchers and Yellowlegs looking for breakfast.

Dowitchers and Yellowlegs

Dowitchers and Yellowlegs

 

Raucous calls from above directed our attention to a pair of Great Crested Flycatchers attempting to evict a Red-bellied Woodpecker from her nest cavity in a utility pole. Mrs. Woodpecker objected. Loudly. Mr. Woodpecker showed up and convinced the interlopers they should look elsewhere for lodging.

Great Crested Flycatcher, Red-bellied Woodpecker

Great Crested Flycatcher, Red-bellied Woodpecker

 

This critter may be a bee belonging to the Megachilidae family (leafcutters and mason bees). I think it’s of the Osmia species but if anyone knows, please chime in!

Osmia spp. (Mason Bee?)

Osmia spp. (Mason Bee?)

 

Ebony Jewelwing is a damselfly and is incredibly beautiful. One day, I’ll have a macro lens and go insect hunting.

Ebony Jewelwing (Calopteryx maculata)

Ebony Jewelwing (Calopteryx maculata)

 

Florida’s tropical climate is conducive to a proliferation of air plants, epiphytes. These special plants are not parasites so don’t harm their host trees.

Epiphyte

Epiphyte

 

I’m trying to not include too many photographs of poor quality, but will continue to make exceptions for stuff I like. This is my first sighting this year of a Prothonotary Warbler and it’s high on my list of stuff I like.

Prothonotary Warbler

Prothonotary Warbler

 

Given Florida’s tropical environment, it seems a bit surprising that a cactus would grow well here. The Prickly Pear is quite prolific and produces outstanding yellow flowers. The fruit is delicious, too!

Prickly Pear

Prickly Pear

 

The colors of the Ornate Pennant blend well with the habitat and allow it to ambush unsuspecting prey.

Ornate Pennant (Celithemis ornata)

Ornate Pennant (Celithemis ornata)

 

Red-headed Woodpeckers are one species which has not adapted well to man’s destruction of their preferred habitat. When I was young, they seemed to be everywhere and I took them for granted. Now, I get very excited about spotting one at all.

Red-headed Woodpecker

Red-headed Woodpecker

 

Sandhill Crane families are showing up everywhere right now. This “colt” (young crane) appears to have reached “teenager” size and is busy talking back to Mom. Dad’s looking the other way pretending not to hear.

Sandhill Cranes With Colt

Sandhill Cranes With Colt

 

Two juvenile Killdeer blend in with the surrounding landscape and we could have easily missed them if they hadn’t been so noisy. Mom and Dad were nearby and kept telling them to “shush”! Which, of course, they didn’t.

Killdeer (Juvenile)

Killdeer (Juvenile)

 

The mottled shades of brown show why the Wilson’s Snipe is so easy to walk right past. They’re confident in their camouflage, too, and will often wait until the last second to burst into the air to make an escape.

Wilson's Snipe

Wilson’s Snipe

 

If you look carefully, you can spot the beak and eye of a second Great Blue Heron chick in this nest. She’s to the left and below her sibling.

Great Blue Heron Chicks

Great Blue Heron Chicks

 

On the campus of a local university, we found non-native Egyptian Geese with a new family. Several of this species have bred in the wild around the state over the past few years. Native to North Africa, they were introduced into local parks and zoos. I’m not so sure about the grown-ups, but babies of most species sure are cute!

Egyptian Goose

Egyptian Goose

Egyptian Goose

Egyptian Goose

 

 

The day was almost an overload of my senses, but I’ll take that overdose any time! If you happen to be out and about in our Sunshine State and observe birds engaged in the process of creating or raising a family, let your local Breeding Bird Atlas coordinator know about it. Some bird’s future may be counting on you! (To find your area’s coordinator, send an email to the state coordinator, Rick West at: RickLWest@aol.com.)

 

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: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 38 Comments

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