Posts Tagged With: great egret

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: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 20 Comments

Balancing Act

Watching birds has the potential to generate human interest along many different planes. On a very basic level, the sheer beauty of a bird can cause us to sigh in appreciation, or is it jealousy? Some of us have a more scientific curiosity about how flight is possible or how can a duck float or why does a hummingbird seem to change colors. Birding can be a good fit for other outdoor pursuits such as camping, hiking, fishing, boating or photography. At the extreme edge of watching birds is competition. Back in the days of no computers or cell phones and precious little printed instruction, I would make a pencil mark beside birds I had observed in a pocket version of Roger Tory Peterson’s “Field Guide To The Birds”. I was happy. Then I agreed to participate in my first Audubon annual Christmas Bird Count. The fellow who was our team leader was unlike any “bird-watcher” I had ever encountered. Let’s just say he could have been a very effective sports coach – or military drill sergeant.

The ensuing years have seen the evolution of a relaxing pastime into a competitive obsession for some. With the advent of computer-maintained lists, rare bird alerts, hotlines, locally maintained listservs, guide businesses (with rare bird “guarantees”) – this ain’t Hank Thoreau’s hobby no more!

Of course, chasing birds to add to a “life list”, especially uncommon species, can be expensive (and not just monetarily). Some have spent life savings on optical equipment, travel expenses and specialty gear to add a rarity to their list. Others have done all that and missed a child’s graduation, a daughter’s wedding, sacrificed a marriage. That’s extreme!

Naturally, I have achieved a balance between enjoying bird-watching and keeping track of the species I’ve observed over the years. It’s tempting sometimes to drive six hours in the hope a seldom seen bird will wait for me to arrive, but common sense prevails. Nothing is worth going THAT crazy about chasing!

(UPDATE: I stand corrected. I just wandered by the living room and glimpsed Gini on the love seat. I would eagerly circumnavigate the world and beyond just to smooch the firmament upon which she stands.)

Zero-four-thirty. That’s early. And it’s really dark, too. The email said let’s go see if the Smooth-billed Ani is still at Viera Wetlands. It’s only a two-hour drive. I have never seen a Smooth-billed Ani. Besides, that’s a nice area to go birding even without seeing a Smooth-billed Ani. Gini says, go, have fun. She’ll sleep in. Common sense personified.

Anis are fairly common in the Caribbean and there used to be a small breeding population in South Florida. Burgeoning human development and the accompanying habitat destruction has drastically reduced the species’ numbers, if not extirpated it completely from the state. The ani is in the same family as cuckoos and consumes mostly insects but won’t turn down ripe fruit.

Close examination of the target field yielded no rare bird. No worries, Viera Wetlands is a wonderful place to leisurely drive and walk and find lots of birds! A couple of hours yielded 60 species which included a Limpkin with a young chick, a large flock of American White Pelicans, tons of water birds and as a bonus a Great Horned Owl. As we pulled out of the wetlands, a dozen birders lined the field where the ani had been spotted in previous days. Alas, they reported no sighting this morning. We birded a spot a few miles away and returned about an hour later. The group of birders had grown to at least 30 and they were all standing and pointing to a clump of Brazilian Pepper. There it was! My first Smooth-billed Ani! If only I could wedge myself between the guy with the $10,000 spotting scope and the guy with $20,000 worth of camera stuff. No use. These guys were pros and knew they were in the best spot. I slunk down the road, found a spot to sit in the grass and hoped my puny lens would focus today. Then bird karma intervened. The Smooth-billed Ani fluttered onto a slender limb nearby and spent the next ten minutes preening and watching the watchers. Adrenalin can make your shutter finger shake.

After a lunch of fresh seafood, we wandered around a few nearby parks and found some good birds to round out a special day of birding. A missed turn took us down a road which yielded another rare bird, a Short-tailed Hawk! It’s estimated there are less than 250 breeding pairs of this magnificent raptor remaining in Florida. Talk about icing on the bird-watcher’s cake!

Without further ado, the Smooth-billed Ani (and a few of his closest friends):

 

The Smooth-billed Ani was a very cooperative subject for the dozens of paparazzi on hand. It would occasionally disappear into the dense ground cover to forage but always returned to the only clump of vegetation in the field. Pretty convenient for birders. Judging by the appearance of the tail, I suspect this individual is molting and may be the reason it hasn’t flown away yet.

Viera Wetlands

vIERA wETLANDS

 

The first rays of sun and a lingering ground fog combined to give this female Common Yellowthroat a sort of ethereal look.

Viera Wetlands

 

It’s hard not to gawk at the shocking pink of a Roseate Spoonbill. Of course, be prepared to be gawked right back!

Viera Wetlands

 

Lots of Ring-necked Ducks were enjoying the wetlands and have apparently become accustomed to the busy human presence.

Viera Wetlands

 

A Limpkin keeps a watchful eye on its chick as the youngster learns to find and extract yummy Apple Snails from their not so protective shells.

Viera Wetlands

 

Great Blue Herons flock (pun intended) to this place for breeding as the numerous palm trees make perfect nesting sites.

Viera Wetlands

 

A male Hooded Merganser is really showy with that white hood and bright golden eye. He and his mate spent more time with their heads under water than above.

Viera Wetlands

Viera Wetlands

 

It’s becoming more difficult to find a Mottled Duck which does not have some characteristics of a Mallard. The inter-breeding may eventually wipe out the wild Mottled Duck altogether.

Viera Wetlands

 

I’m used to seeing large numbers of Lesser Scaup in the winter on our larger lakes but in the quiet waters of these small ponds this single bird was content to hang with the above Mottled Duck.

Viera Wetlands

 

I seem to have a knack for photographing peek-a-boo birds. Oh, well. A peeking Marsh Wren is better than none at all.

Viera Wetlands

 

Savannah Sparrows are typically our most numerous winter sparrow. They usually have no problem posing for the patient photographer.

Viera Wetlands

 

Since beauty is in the eye of the beholder and I am the beholder here, I think this plain female Brown-headed Cowbird is beautiful. So there.

Viera Wetlands

 

Early in the morning, we spotted this Great Horned Owl trying to snooze in a palm tree. Later on, as we were ogling the ani, the owl slipped onto the top of a light pole behind the conga line of birders snapping pics of the visitor from the tropics. I wondered if the owl was also ogling the ani?

Viera Wetlands

Viera Wetlands

Viera Wetlands

 

After lunch, we visited a park on the shore of the Indian River (just a few miles from the Atlantic Ocean on Florida’s east coast) and found a manatee who refused to pose for me. I consoled myself with shots of a Great Egret looking for a handout and a very young Brown Pelican. I managed one flight shot of an adult Brown Pelican while still sulking about that manatee.

Viera Wetlands

Indian River

Indian River

 

A missed turn. A red light. A glance upward. Short-tailed Hawk! Find a place to park! Snap 20 quick images! This raptor occurs in dark and light versions. In this light individual, it looks like it’s wearing a helmet.

Brevard County

 

 

Once again I was able to maintain a perfect balance of relaxing bird-watching and common sense. Okay, okay. I went bonkers for a little while and chased a rare bird across the state, sat down on an ant mound, got so many burrs on my pants you couldn’t see the pants, got so nervous about taking a photograph my hands shook – and would do it all again tomorrow. Hopefully, you will soon have the same experience!

 

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

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments

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