Posts Tagged With: killdeer

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

Riding In Cars With Birders

A long time ago, in a land far, far away, a Bullock’s Oriole landed in a mesquite tree and my lovely, but excitable, bride grabbed me by the arm (which at the time was engaged in steering a fast-moving vehicle) and shouted all in one breath: “STOPDIDYOUSEETHATTURNAROUNDGOBACKITWASALLORANGEANDBLACKITWASGORGEOUS!!!!”.

The coming of age of a birder is a beautiful thing.

In that far away land of west Texas, there were few “birding venues”. It was so long ago, in fact, we didn’t even know we WERE birders, as the quaint reference to those engaged in the hobby was still simply “bird watcher”. (I still cling to that term as “birder” has come to infer a more competition-oriented personality and I’ve never been much of a score-keeper.) Since the nearest state park was a half-day’s drive, we were very content to simply drive the back roads and marvel at how vibrant and diverse the seemingly barren landscape could be. It was our first experience in a near-desert environment and we loved every minute of our several years there. That pattern has persisted over the eons.

“Why are there likenesses of Sandhill Cranes on all the street light poles?”, Gini asked. Being extremely cognizant of such matters concerning engineering and urban planning, I advised her in my usual condescending, scholarly manner: “I dunno”.

We were driving through the town of Wauchula, Florida a couple of months ago doing our “drive around looking for birds” thing. Wauchula is the seat of Hardee County, adjacent to our home in Polk County. Hardee County is smallish in size, consisting of 638 square miles (1650 sq. km). Of this area, only 0.6 sq. mi. is water – a bit unusual for central Florida. The county was named for Cary Hardee who was governor of Florida from 1921 to 1925. Settlement of the area began in 1849 when an Indian Trading Post was opened on a bend in Paynes Creek. Eventually, the city of Wauchula was established and the area became a center for cattle ranching. The name “Wauchula” is from a Mikasuki Indian word meaning “call of the Sandhill Crane”. AHA! Mystery of the light poles solved.

Today, Hardee County is lightly populated (about 27,000 in 2012) and has an agricultural-based economy. Annual citrus production has about a half-billion dollar market value, the county ranks 9th in the United States for beef cattle and phosphate mining plays a major role in employment and fertilizer production. In 2004, Hurricane Charlie swept across the county from the Gulf of Mexico with winds of 149 mph (240 kph) and almost every building in the county suffered some sort of damage with many being completely destroyed. Most renovation has been completed and the resilient population continues to enjoy their rural lifestyle.

Although the scarcity of open shallow water limits the presence of many water birds, the county is full of a wonderful variety of other birds. Most of the cattle ranches have small ponds which the cattle keep churned into mud holes which attracts shore birds. Burrowing Owls nest in the pastures, Crested Caracara roam the open spaces, fall and winter crops attract migrants, timberland is full of vireos, warblers and woodpeckers and, of course, Sandhill Cranes abound all year and large populations of the big birds spend the winter here. We like driving around in Hardee County!

Our most recent visit included over 45 different species (yes, I know, it’s sorta score-keeping) and we were treated to some really nice wildflower displays.

 

The Great Crested Flycatcher is a cavity nester and can be very aggressive about chasing woodpeckers from suitable nesting sites. For some reason, many of their nests have been found lined with shed snake skins.

Great Crested Flycatcher

Great Crested Flycatcher

 

Killdeer love the fact that cattle keep the mud stirred up which makes insect and worm hunting a little easier.

Killdeer

Killdeer

 

Florida has an abundant Gray Squirrel population but Fox Squirrels – not so much. We have three species of Fox Squirrel. One is found mostly in the northwestern panhandle, another in the Everglades. Sherman’s Fox Squirrel, although found throughout the state, is a “species of special concern”, primarily due to loss of habitat.

Sherman's Fox Squirrel

Sherman’s Fox Squirrel

 

A Red-bellied Woodpecker is hunting for a house. I think he found one he likes.

Red-bellied Woodpecker

Red-bellied Woodpecker

Red-bellied Woodpecker

Red-bellied Woodpecker

 

Leavenworth’s Tickseed is nearly endemic to Florida (a few grow in southern Georgia) and belongs to the Coreopsis family.

Leavenworth's Tickseed (Coreopsis leavenworthii)

Leavenworth’s Tickseed (Coreopsis leavenworthii)

 

It looks like grass which has been touched with white paint – Star Rush.

Star Rush (Rhynchospora latifolia)

Star Rush (Rhynchospora latifolia)

 

This Lesser Yellowlegs looks like the main course in a pot of broccoli soup. The thick Duckweed hides all sorts of food items wading birds love.

Lesser Yellowlegs

Lesser Yellowlegs

 

Such a beautiful bloom seems like it should have a more attractive name, but no matter what it’s called, Pickerelweed is lovely.

Pickerel Weed (Pontedaeria cordata)

Pickerel Weed (Pontedaeria cordata)

 

You just never know what you’ll find riding around the countryside. For instance, a hot-air balloon cruising over an orange grove!

Balloon

Balloon

 

Okay, time out for a test shot. New camera and new lens. The moon, 600mm hand-held. Now, if I could just find a bird —-

Moon

Moon

 

A field of Black-eyed Susan brightened the landscape.

Black-eyed Susan  (Rudbeckia hirta)

Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta)

 

Black-eyed Susan  (Rudbeckia hirta)

Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta)

 

Vivid purple and yellow of the Pale Meadowbeauty are hard to ignore.

Pale Meadowbeauty  (Rhexia mariana)

Pale Meadowbeauty (Rhexia mariana)

 

Such an unfriendly plant with its spikes and thorns! Such a striking flower! Nuttall’s Thistle can be purple, pink, white or pale yellow.

Nuttall's Thistle  (Cirsium nuttallii)

Nuttall’s Thistle (Cirsium nuttallii)

 

Although I don’t know how this wonderful bloom got its name, I’m very happy it grows along the roadside in Hardee County! The Carolina Desert-chicory.

Carolina Desert-chicory  (Pyrrhopappus carolinianus)

Carolina Desert-chicory (Pyrrhopappus carolinianus)

 

A gang of five Swallow-tailed Kites put on an aerial display as they swooped low over a pasture and snatched flying insects which they ate in flight. A couple of Red-winged Blackbirds tried to chase them from “their” territory, but were largely ignored by the sleek kites.

Swallow-tailed Kite

Swallow-tailed Kite

 

Swallow-tailed Kite

Swallow-tailed Kite

Red-winged Blackbird, Swallow-tailed Kite

Red-winged Blackbird, Swallow-tailed Kite

 

This Wild Turkey was pretty sure I wouldn’t spot him as he tried to slink through the underbrush. He was wrong.

Wild Turkey

Wild Turkey

 

No specific birding destination can sometimes provide surprisingly good birding! Grab your favorite birder. Get in a car. Drive around. Now.

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

 

See more birds from around the world at Paying ReadyAttention for

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography, Wildflowers | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 28 Comments

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