Posts Tagged With: bufflehead

Scouting For The Count

“I’ll be happy to help you do some scouting”, said Gini The Naive.

This year will mark the 118th year of the annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count. (Yes, as a matter of fact I WAS at the first count over a hundred years ago. Smart alecks.) At that time, a genius birder (okay, that’s redundant) had a novel idea. “Hey, how about we just COUNT the birds instead of seeing who can shoot the most?” A movement and a tradition were born. The data from each year’s count is compiled by Cornell University in New York and makes available a treasure trove of research material for scientists as they attempt to understand the status of our avian friends.

In order to help our team operate as efficiently as possible on the actual count day, I spent the prior week searching out known bird haunts and seeking new ones. Knowing which birds are present helps us concentrate on locating less common species. Part of this process involves listening for owls. They call when it’s dark outside. Therefore, we must be outdoors in potential owl habitat when it’s dark outside. Sunrise is about 7:00. The sky begins to lighten about 6:00. Yep, Gini The Naive deduced we needed to set the alarm clock really early! No complaints from her. Not even a whimper. That’s a good thing. She’s the one with the keen hearing.

After all was said and done, we had a very good official count day of birding and tallied a few more species than last year. The weather was great with a cool morning, warm day and gentle breeze. For me, highlights of this year’s efforts include:  a single Bufflehead (not common in our area), a flock of 18 Wild Turkey (unusual in our dense suburban environment), a relatively high number of Blue-headed Vireo and an immature Sharp-shinned Hawk (a winter visitor in small numbers).

Gini The Naive was, as expected, simply fantastic during scouting week as I took her to all the great birding locales:  the aforementioned pre-dawn owling forays, a cemetery, muddy marshes, dusty dirt roads and the ever-popular city dump. Once again, she proved she is, and shall ever be, Gini My Beloved!

Since you asked, I did take a couple of snapshots.

 

As the morning fog began to lift from the marsh it revealed one of the local fishermen already on the job. The Great Blue Heron paid no attention to my clumsy efforts.

Itchepackesassa Creek Wetland

 

A pair of Anhinga patiently wait for a bit of sunshine before they begin diving in the chilly water.

Lake Gwyn Park

 

Another hunter of the wetlands, a Great Egret, has his eye on a frog and doesn’t acknowledge my presence.

Lake Gwyn Park

 

Morning commute. A River Otter pushed up a wake under his chin as he headed for his office across the lake.

Banana Lake Park

 

I wasn’t sure if this Osprey was curious, territorial or ticked off.

Lake Gwyn Park

 

After watching a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker chase a Red-bellied Woodpecker around a clearing and in and out of the trees, the pair landed briefly on an oak before taking off on their game of tag again.

Crooked Lake WEA

 

A dapper looking Black-and-White Warbler probes a hole in a branch for breakfast.

Crooked Lake WEA

 

Golden Silk Orb Weavers craft very strong webs across paths to catch all manner of prey during the night – and occasional birders during the day who are constantly looking up instead of where they’re going!

Crooked Lake WEA

 

I don’t know if the feathers under the talons of this Red-shouldered Hawk are from preening or left over from a morning snack.

Lake Gwyn Park

 

This year I seem to have found more Blue-headed Vireos than in the past. That’s okay with me!

Crooked Lake WEA

 

Pine Warblers can vary from very drab to very bright. This is one of the brighter variety and I chased after him quite awhile before he sat still for a picture.

Crooked Lake WEA

 

Another bright yellow fellow, this Yellow-throated Warbler has found a hairy white caterpillar for brunch. Yum!

Crooked Lake WEA

 

North America’s smallest falcon, the American Kestrel, is quite colorful. I was lucky to find one that remained on a perch while I was less than a mile away.

Lake Streety Road

 

There I was, head up searching for warblers in the tree-tops, when I had the feeling I was being watched. One picture and this White-tailed buck sprang across the path in one leap and disappeared into the forest.

Gator Creek Reserve

 

A cold morning and a fluffed up Yellow-rumped Warbler. We don’t often get to see the bit of yellow in their crown.

Mount Olive Primitive Cemetery

 

Speaking of beautiful. The majestic Turkey Vulture. The other birds are beside themselves with envy.

Mount Olive Primitive Cemetery

 

During the winter, a few sparrows hang around and challenge us to identify them. Head pattern, diffuse streaks on the breast and a nice rufous wing patch tell us this is a Swamp Sparrow.Banana Lake Park

 

Soft mud is a magnet for shorebirds. This Killdeer characteristically ran a few steps, probed the mud, ran a few steps, probed. Fun to watch!Bartow Medical Center

 

A small stream in the middle of a pasture is not where I expected to spot a Bufflehead!

Rolling Woods Lane

 

The back of an Eastern Meadowlark blends perfectly with the dried grasses where they live. That bright yellow front and loud, clear song, however, make it impossible for it to hide!Rolling Woods Lane

 

One of those little brown birds again. This Savannah Sparrow walked (quickly) from one clump of grass to another in a field before I caught him in the open long enough for a photograph.

Rolling Woods Lane

 

Reaching for the latch to a corral gate, I spotted a Monarch Butterfly chrysalis. Every bit as beautiful as its contents.

Rolling Woods Lane

 

Winter migration brings us an influx of Eastern Phoebes.  These small flycatchers stay busy all day sallying forth from an exposed perch to capture any insect foolish enough to be out in the open.

Lake Hancock Tract

 

Not to be outdone by his Blue-headed cousin, this White-eyed Vireo sang and posed for several minutes.

Banana Lake Park

 

This is the closest I’ve been to a Sharp-shinned Hawk. They only visit during the winter and I normally see them as a brown blur as they speed after a little songbird in the woods.

Lake Hancock Tract

 

 

This year’s Christmas Bird Count was a success for our entire 50+ person effort, my own 5 member team and was immeasurably enhanced by the participation of the one and only Gini My Beloved. She and I wish each and every one of you the best Holiday Season ever!

 

MERRY CHRISTMAS AND HAPPY NEW YEAR

 

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

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 18 Comments

Downtown

“You can forget all your troubles, forget all your cares –

So go downtown” (Tony Hatch, sung by Petula Clark)

 

In America, we enjoy two types of migration each year. Birds travel thousands of miles south to escape severe winters which they could not survive. Here in Florida, we have an opportunity to observe birds we would not otherwise be able to see without traveling to their breeding areas. Most migrants fly to Central and South America for the winter but a few remain in our area all winter.

The second type of migration involves what have become endearingly known as “snow birds”. Although they do not sport feathers and may not face actual extinction if they remained in their northerly abodes, we welcome them each year just as warmly as we do our avian guests. Some have even evolved over time and adapted to our summer heat and humidity and have not returned to their ancestral breeding territory. I have not been able to locate a decent field guide for identifying individual snow birds and must rely on attempting to catch them in their traveling apparatuses which are conveniently marked with their geographic origin.

Winter visitors as well as year ’round residents enjoy our downtown area. It offers unique architecture, diverse dining, an open market, art venues, parks and lakes. The officials of our fair city, in their infinite wisdom and never-ending search for methods to lure folks to local businesses, have purchased exotic waterfowl over the years to populate a couple of downtown lakes. Because Florida doesn’t have enough attractive native waterfowl of its own for folks to enjoy dont’cha know. Sigh.

Most bodies of water will encourage a variety of wildlife to visit, even if the lake is located in a bustling city’s downtown business district. And once the critters discover the two-legged animals are quick and generous with tossing them stale bread and bits of hamburger bun, well, that’s a hard thing to keep secret in the animal world! As a result, our downtown lakes are usually very active with waterfowl of all types. In the winter, several hundred ducks enjoy the shallow water, warm weather, the company of other birds and the aforementioned abundance of free food. It also doesn’t hurt that the city keeps the lakes cleared of alligators and other would-be predators.

This past winter, we had a couple of visitors which, although not rare, are not seen every year. The diminutive Bufflehead can look quite small next to a resident Mute Swan, but three females evidently felt secure all winter. The much larger Redhead quickly learned successful panhandling techniques and also remained with us all season. The usual large numbers of Ring-necked and Ruddy Ducks were represented and most have now departed northward to make more ducks.

Our snow bird population has also diminished but we know they, too, will return come fall. Snow to shovel and ice to scrape – or a bit of sun and moisturizing humidity? No contest.

 

The Redhead surely is one of the most handsome ducks I’ve ever seen. In the right light, it’s easy to see how it came by its name.

Lake Morton

Redhead

Lake Morton

Redhead

 

I still have not been able to produce a decent photograph of a male Bufflehead, but the ladies are quite beautiful and I was happy to see them.

Lake Morton

Bufflehead

Lake Morton

Bufflehead

 

You can be forgiven for calling the Ring-necked Duck a Ring-billed Duck (as I have done) because the ring around its neck is not nearly as obvious as the one around the bill.

Lake Morton

Ring-necked Duck

Lake Morton

Ring-necked Duck

Lake Morton

Ring-necked Duck-Female

 

A stiff, fan-shaped tail makes it easy to identify the small Ruddy Duck. Soon the males’ bodies will turn deep chestnut and their bills bright blue as they change to breeding plumage.

Lake Morton

Ruddy Duck

Lake Morton

Ruddy Duck

 

Our locally abundant White Pelicans like to roost along the walls around the lake. In the background, a Mute Swan looks longingly at the pelicans, wishing she could be as lovely.

Lake Morton

American White Pelican

 

 

Now that Spring is here, we’re trying to run around and locate migrating warblers, returning Swallow-tailed Kites, nesting Crested Caracara and such things. But we know that when the snow birds begin to fill the hotels again in November, it will be time to make another trip -downtown.

 

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

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 31 Comments

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