Posts Tagged With: long-billed dowitcher

Fall In The Outfall

Once more I swiped the lenses of my binoculars in a futile attempt to dry the moisture of our early morning humidity. They immediately fogged up again. I was scanning the marsh before dawn hoping to spot a light-colored shape coasting just above the reeds. Two years ago a Barn Owl had materialized from a fog bank and just as quickly disappeared. To say they are uncommon in this area is a gross understatement.

Our last visit to Lake Hancock Outfall Wetlands was in mid-September (Doldrums) and it was hot and humid. There was an abundance of mosquitoes. Now it’s late fall, winter is almost here. It’s hot and humid. There is an abundance of mosquitoes.

Although the weather was very similar, the birding was quite different. In September our total species tally was 40 and this time it increased to 56. Much of the difference was due to fall migration. Ducks, raptors and warblers really like the marsh habitat. I didn’t see the Barn Owl this morning, but was amply rewarded with six duck species, stilts, avocets, harriers, eagles, warblers, sparrows and a speedy falcon.

Enjoy the marsh.

 

Even the Black-necked Stilts had a hard time opening their little red eyes this morning. That blanket of warm fog was really comfortable.

Lake Hancock Outfall Wetlands

Black-necked Stilt

 

Nothing like having unexpected guests for breakfast. This poor stilt had Long-billed Dowitchers drop in – literally – to his dining room.

Lake Hancock Outfall Wetlands

Black-necked Stilt, Long-billed Dowitcher

 

The dour dowitchers paddled around noisily and stabbed at the water a bit and flapped off into the marsh. They didn’t even offer to wash the dishes.

Lake Hancock Outfall Wetlands

Long-billed Dowitchers

 

A dainty American Avocet is either wading up to her waist or floating or swimming in water deeper than that to which she is accustomed.

Lake Hancock Outfall Wetlands

American Avocet

 

I didn’t do very well at photographing a Peregrine Falcon cruising the shore for bagels and ducks. Any hints on how to slow these bullets down a bit for a portrait?

Lake Hancock Outfall Wetlands

Peregrine Falcon

 

This is not the only bare tree in the whole marsh, but it sure has something attractive to Anhingas and Double-crested Cormorants. I had the impression this might be Mother Nature’s version of a Christmas Tree.

Lake Hancock Outfall Wetlands

Anhinga, Double-crested Cormorant

 

Open water areas of the wetlands were filled with ducks today. Well represented were Northern Shovelers. This female trio kept a nervous eye on the skies. A good idea, what with falcons and eagles darting about.

Lake Hancock Outfall Wetlands

Northern Shoveler

 

American White Pelicans gather on and around Lake Hancock during the winter and some years can number in the thousands. I counted about 80 this morning as they flew in small groups from their roost within the wetlands to the lake for a day of fishing.

Lake Hancock Outfall Wetlands

American White Pelican

 

It seems everywhere we go this year, we see high numbers of Eastern Phoebes. It’s warmer than normal so far this fall so many may be lingering here instead of continuing on to South America. Hope they don’t get caught in a sudden freeze.

Lake Hancock Outfall Wetlands

Eastern Phoebe

 

Large size and bright red bill are diagnostic for the Caspian Tern, largest tern in North America.

Lake Hancock Outfall Wetlands

Caspian Tern

 

A bit of shade is provided to a Black-necked Stilt by a Great Egret. He isn’t called “Great” for no reason!

Lake Hancock Outfall Wetlands

Black-necked Stilt, Great Egret

 

One of the only moths in Florida to be active throughout daylight hours is the brightly colored Bella. It’s a challenge to find one perched in the open.

Lake Hancock Outfall Wetlands

Bella Moth (Utetheisa ornatrix)

 

Another fall visitor is the Northern Harrier. Their characteristic low flight over the marsh and lazy wing flap, along with an owl-like face, make them easy to identify. This female headed straight for me as I lay in the grass.

Lake Hancock Outfall Wetlands

Northern Harrier – Female

 

Mottled Ducks have interbred so widely with Mallards that it’s difficult to identify a truly wild one. Most will show some mallard trait. This one flew by too fast for close examination so we’ll just call it a probably, possibly, maybe actual Mottled Duck. And that’s final!

20151206 Lake Hancock Outfall Wetlands 00232.jpg

 

A pair of Blue-winged Teal abruptly lift off the surface as a Bald Eagle passed overhead. Hundreds of ducks in the adjacent pond followed suit.

Lake Hancock Outfall Wetlands

Blue-winged Teal

 

The hunters. An immature and an adult Bald Eagle. It takes an eagle about four years to achieve totally white feathers on its head and tail.

Lake Hancock Outfall Wetlands

Bald Eagle – Immature

Lake Hancock Outfall Wetlands

Bald Eagle

 

Palm Warblers do not breed in central Florida but they certainly do like to spend the winter here! Every yard, field and tree is covered with the little bug eaters. This one has claimed a rock for his throne.

Lake Hancock Outfall Wetlands

Palm Warbler

 

The Hooded Merganser is a really good looking tourist which loves our quiet ponds. The male with his large white crest usually gets the attention, but the female exudes her own special beauty.

Lake Hancock Outfall Wetlands

Hooded Merganser – Female

Lake Hancock Outfall Wetlands

Hooded Merganser – Male

 

A pair of Great Blue Herons have selected a nesting site among the colorful (but invasive) Brazilian Pepper bushes along the lake shore.

Lake Hancock Outfall Wetlands

Great Blue Heron

 

It’s good to see sparrows return for the fall. This Savannah Sparrow blends in quite well with the brown reeds of the wetlands.

Lake Hancock Outfall Wetlands

Savannah sparrow

 

The Double-crested Cormorant doesn’t usually get mentioned in a discussion of beautiful birds. Until you get to those eyes. Wow.

Lake Hancock Outfall Wetlands

Double-crested Cormorant

 

 

No Barn Owl. Humidity at 100%. Temperature 92 F (33.3 C) at noon. Mosquitoes. It’s fall in the Outfall! It just doesn’t get any better than this. (Until winter.)

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, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 44 Comments

Random Acts of Birding

Many of us did not set out to become “birders”.  We typically absorbed the avocation gradually, often following an encounter with a friend or relative who seemed enthusiastic about their experiences.  Sometimes there is an epiphany.  Such was the case with my wonderful wife, Gini.  She became an addict….ummm, avid observer….while we were driving along a highway in west Texas.  She abruptly screamed:  “Stop!  Turn around!”.  Assuming I had just run over a small child, I slammed on the brakes and executed a quick U-turn.  She pointed breathlessly to a Mesquite tree in the median of the road and whispered:  “Look!”.  The sighting of her first male Bullock’s Oriole shall remain one of birding history’s most dramatic moments.

Once “hooked”, birding becomes as natural a process as breathing.  You go to the grocery and scan the parking lot and light poles for gulls.  A stop at the gas station involves inspecting the eaves of the roof for Sparrows and the utility lines for Grackles or Starlings.  Visits to a relative’s house mean dawdling in the driveway to check the front yard trees for passerines.  There are no more picnics, only birding trips with food involved.

Although we usually have a specific destination when we go on an “actual” birding trip, we just naturally observe our surroundings as we travel to and from such places.  Sometimes we even see a few birds along the way.

The following images are of “incidental” sightings we made while heading somewhere else.  Some of these were taken during scouting trips made in preparation for the recent Audubon annual Christmas Bird Count.  Others were taken during one of those “non-picnics” mentioned above.  Still others were made for such reasons as:  “I wonder what might be in that retention pond behind the church/factory/store/mall?”.

You get the idea.

 

The Osprey is abundant in Florida and I certainly seem to take a lot of pictures of them.  This one was just finishing a snack near the coast as we were on the way to dinner.  I think I like them so much because we’re so much alike.  We both love seafood and are incredibly good-looking.

Osprey

Osprey

 

A Florida Red-bellied Turtle was still shimmering with water as he crossed a path in front of me.  He was about 24 inches (610 mm) long and simply beautiful.

Florida Red-bellied Turtle

Florida Red-bellied Turtle

 

Purple Gallinules brighten up the marsh with their iridescent plumage.

Purple Gallinule

Purple Gallinule

 

During breeding season, the adult Ring-billed Gull’s head will become pure white.

Ring-billed Gull

Ring-billed Gull

 

We found a stream flowing from a marsh into a larger creek which provided a nice feeding area for a group of Least Sandpiper and Greater Yellowlegs.  The small sandpipers blended in very well with the rocks.  The Yellowlegs flew a short distance upstream when we first approached and the calls helped confirm them as Greater.

Least Sandpiper

Least Sandpiper

Greater Yellowlegs

Greater Yellowlegs

 

Hooded Mergansers winter in our area and often seem to prefer small retention ponds for feeding during the day.

Hooded Merganser

Hooded Merganser

Hooded Merganser

Hooded Merganser

 

A Forster’s Tern dives headlong into a local lake to snag a small fish.  Seems like they need helmets!

Forster's Tern

Forster’s Tern

 

This Great Egret has captured an Armored Catfish for lunch.  This species of catfish may be the Vermiculated Sailfin Catfish (Pterygoplichthys disjunctivus), a non-native species probably introduced accidentally during the past several decades by aquarium owners and/or the pet trade.  I could find no evidence this fish is harmful except for possibly causing erosion of banks due to their habit of digging out holes for nesting.

Great Egret

Great Egret

 

Strong morning light made a detailed photograph of this Eastern Bluebird impossible but I liked the way he was looking back at us.  He was up early in a local cemetery we were scouting for the Christmas Bird Count.

Eastern Bluebird

Eastern Bluebird

 

Also in the cemetery was a female Downy Woodpecker cleaning out an old nest cavity.  She was hauling out sawdust and expelling it.  I think she intended to use the hole as a warm resting spot as the weather had turned quite cold.

Downy Woodpecker

Downy Woodpecker

Downy Woodpecker

Downy Woodpecker

 

A Blue-headed Vireo posed very briefly and took off when the camera clicked.

Blue-headed Vireo

Blue-headed Vireo

 

Yes, I know, a face only a mother could love.  But there’s a beauty in the vulture that just can’t be ignored.  To see this creature up close is to marvel at its flight feathers and unique head design, knowing how effective it is for its intended purpose.

Turkey Vulture

Turkey Vulture

 

The event was a water-side supper while enjoying the sunset.  The reality was another one of those birding trips involving food.  I just “had” to peek down the shoreline and this is what I saw.  Mostly Least Sandpipers.  The more you look, the more you’ll see.  It resembled “moving rocks”.

Shorebirds

Shorebirds

 

The Ring-billed Gull towers over a group of feeding Dunlin.

Dunlin, Ring-billed Gull

Dunlin, Ring-billed Gull

 

A Dunlin in non-breeding plumage.

Dunlin

Dunlin

 

Comparing sizes of Dunlin, Long-billed Dowitcher and Black-bellied Plover.  Shhh!

Black-bellied Plover, Dowitcher, Dunlin

Black-bellied Plover, Dowitcher, Dunlin

 

A meeting of the local Storks Club.  This was during another pre-Christmas Bird Count scouting foray.  A small cattle pond hosted over 80 Wood Storks.

Wood Stork

Wood Stork

 

Again while scouting a potential spot for Sparrows a few days ahead of the Christmas count, a pair of Red-tailed Hawks appeared directly overhead doing a little scouting of their own.  I think this is a juvenile as it lacks a strong dark trailing edge to the wings which is characteristic in adults.

Red-tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk

 

If you have any interest in observing birds, you will understand the process of continually being in “birding” mode.  If you do not yet consider yourself a birding enthusiast, beware!  Just by looking at this blog you are in danger of becoming one of us!  Then you, too, will be committing random acts of bird watching – just because you can.

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: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 48 Comments

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