Posts Tagged With: muscovy duck

Oh Dark Thirty

We have all heard the sage advice of experts, professionals, spouses and others who know a lot more than we do. All the good stuff happens early. A photographer is only able to take decent images an hour before sunrise and up to two hours afterward. The remaining hours are left over for amateurs to amuse themselves. Wildlife is only active immediately before and after the sun peeks over the horizon. All of nature apparently lapses into a coma once the sky becomes illuminated. This special time even has been assigned an official designation: “The Golden Hours”. There is probably an International Bureaucracy Of Properly Naming Things somewhere which is responsible for providing us a convenient label for the rare item which does not already have one.

Ahh, “The Golden Hours”! The mere sound of it makes you want to participate in whatever it has to offer. Who doesn’t like gold? And to think, you can enjoy actual hours of it! What you don’t know is that in order to take part in an activity during this anointed time means getting out of your comfortable bed at an early hour. Very early. The further away your objective, the earlier it will be when you must awaken. From a deep, pleasant sleep. One must be truly dedicated. Or a bit nuts.

There I was, standing on a dirt road in the middle of a VERY DARK forest a full three hours before the sun was scheduled to make an appearance. Wait a minute. Why so far ahead of those “Golden Hours”? I could have had more sleep! The awful truth is, if you want to discover what night birds are active in an area, you must be in that area, well, at night. On this occasion, we made three such stops in the space of a half-hour and were rewarded with hearing the calls of Barred Owls, Eastern Screech Owls and Chuck-will’s-widows. For me, the angst of setting the alarm for such an unheard of time faded completely and reminded me why I do this over and over again. The booming hoot of the large owl dwelling in the swamp, the soft gurgle of the diminutive Screech Owl, the piercingly clear whistled name of our largest Nightjar – each now a wonderful memory.

Satisfied for the moment, we headed down the road to explore a few new places to see what they might offer. As the day progressed, we once again were amazed at the amount of life we discovered active outside the “Golden Hours”! Critters were everywhere! It was obviously Spring and we enjoyed blooming flowers, greening trees, beautiful butterflies, birds building nests, creatures of all types going about the daily business of surviving another day. We didn’t see all there was to see nor did yours truly take any spectacular photographs. We decided to leave such things to the experts.

Check out Additional Information below for some really neat places to explore if you’re in the area . Visiting during the “Golden Hours” is not required.

 

Grab a cuppa and come along to see what’s happening during the “Other Hours”!

 

Swallow-tailed Kites have returned to our area to begin the breeding cycle. They will be in Florida (and a few other scattered areas in the southeastern U.S.) until mid-August when they’ll migrate to South America for the winter. These striking birds grab a weed or branch for nest construction and during flight will transfer the item from talons to beak, probably to make landing easier.

Swallow-tailed Kite

Swallow-tailed Kite

 

Swallow-tailed Kite

Swallow-tailed Kite

Swallow-tailed Kite

Swallow-tailed Kite

 

Swallow-tailed Kite

Swallow-tailed Kite

 

At Dade Battlefield Historic State Park, this Carolina Wren used an overhanging eave at the rear of a building to shelter her nest. Her mate was busy bringing her insects to eat. We backed away quietly so they wouldn’t be disturbed.

Carolina Wren and Nest

Carolina Wren and Nest

 

Speaking of nests, we saw a White-eyed Vireo flying with nesting material and managed to discover the nest. Males are singing loudly just about everywhere right now. (Full disclosure. The photo of the bird is from a different time and location. Just wanted to show what the species looks like in case there are those who aren’t familiar with them.)

White-eyed Vireo

White-eyed Vireo

Nest - White-eyed Vireo

Nest – White-eyed Vireo

 

Migratory Sandhill Cranes which enjoyed our relatively warm winter have departed for their breeding grounds. Local Florida Sandhill Cranes (a sub-species of Grus canadensis, G.c. pratensis) are typically monogamous and begin laying eggs in late winter through early spring. These two either haven’t started a family yet or are “just friends”.

Sandhill Crane

Sandhill Crane

 

Most “birders” tend to give short shrift to domestic fowl. The Muscovy Duck is usually ignored but once in awhile they can be intriguing to watch. This one kept dipping its head underwater, shaking vigorously and kept repeating the process. It may have been trying to rid itself of mites or perhaps was just having fun.

Muscovy Duck

Muscovy Duck

 

The Yellow-throated Vireo is pretty solitary. They sing their “conversational” song from atop a tree for all to hear. Once breeding is complete, they return to being loners.

Yellow-throated Vireo

Yellow-throated Vireo

 

Black-and-White Warblers have the feeding habits of a Nuthatch, running down a tree trunk head first and dangling upside-down from a branch in pursuit of insects. This female lacks the black cheeks of the male.

Black and White Warbler

Black and White Warbler

 

Another songster that seems to be heard all over the place in Spring, the Northern Parula is a beautiful mix of blue-gray and yellow.

Northern Parula

Northern Parula

 

A Burrowing Owl stands next to the entrance of a burrow and contemplates a Bumble Bee passing by. He didn’t go after the big insect, maybe due to a past unpleasant experience?

Burrowing Owl

Burrowing Owl

Burrowing Owl

Burrowing Owl

 

This pair of Burrowing Owls fixed their large yellow eyes on me as soon as the camera clicked. They didn’t seem to be agitated and probably felt they were sufficiently hidden in the grass. If it weren’t for those eyes, I probably never would have spotted them.

Burrowing Owl

Burrowing Owl

 

Back near home, we’ve been keeping an eye on a Great Horned Owl who made a nest in an old Osprey nesting platform. This platform is about 20 yards from the local fire department training tower. Sirens, fire, smoke, spraying water. No problem. She raised two healthy owlets who recently left the nest. This is what the family looked like two weeks ago.

Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl

 

Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl

 

 

 

If you’re able to take advantage of those “Golden Hours”, by all means, do so! However, it seems there is an awful lot going on out in Nature at all hours of the day and night. So, don’t worry about getting out of that warm bed at Oh-Dark-Thirty. Just get up when you’re ready. Seriously, get up! Now!

 

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

 

Additional Information

Dade Battlefield State Park

Flying Eagle Preserve

Withlapopka Community Park

Withlacoochee State Forest – Croom Tract

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 29 Comments

The Lemonade Glass Is Half Full

This time of year in central Florida is hot.  And humid.  And rainy.  There are freshly hatched batches of mosquitoes ready to infect you with a myriad of deadly diseases.  No-see-ums are minuscule insects which attack en masse and you won’t know you encountered them until the next morning when your skin is on fire and covered in small red bumps.  The beaches are covered with lobster-colored creatures visiting from northern climes whose primary purpose is to impede traffic when one wants to travel to the coast.  Did I mention it’s hot?

Given the above facts, the sensible thing for native Floridians to do in mid-summer is remain indoors and sip ice-cold lemonade in air-conditioned coolness.  So you know where I’ve been.

The shore at sunrise is special.  Waves lapping at the edge of the land, the glow of the horizon before the sun actually appears, birds waking to begin the daily chore of survival and my wife and I holding hands while we breathe it all in.  Life is good.

This is an interesting time of year for birds.  Young ones are growing rapidly and demand a lot of attention as they learn to fend for themselves.  Some of our local birds are gathering in flocks in preparation of heading to South and Central America for the winter.  Migrants from as far away as the Arctic will begin arriving soon, some will remain and some will continue southward after resting and refueling.  Shorebird identification can be quite challenging any time and even more so as some birds here will be seen still in their breeding plumage while others have already donned their fall coloration and even others are in transition.

We recently visited a couple of beach areas and enjoyed a nice variety of birds.  We began the day at a small beach within sight of the Tampa downtown skyline.  Within about a hundred yards of shoreline, we counted 120 Least Terns, 75 Black Skimmers, 32 Royal Terns, 18 Dowitchers, 8 Ruddy Turnstones, 12 Laughing Gulls, 4 Brown Pelicans and 3 Black Terns.  Another area featured baby ducks, a young Mockingbird, a hungry Great Egret and dozens of Parakeets.

It was another good day of enjoying Florida’s summer.  Yes, it was hot.  And humid.  And we wouldn’t have it any other way!

It doesn’t take long for salt water to erode a wooden sea wall.  In the distance, a metal and concrete structure withstands the elements a bit longer.  Near this sea wall, we saw a White-winged Scoter, a very unusual visitor for this area and a life bird.

Tampa Bay-Seawall

Tampa Bay-Seawall

A Great Egret prepares to enjoy a seafood breakfast.

Great Egret

Great Egret

Monk Parakeets have established colonies along the west coast of Florida as well as other areas of North America.  The birds are almost certainly descendants of escaped caged birds over the years.

Monk Parakeet

Monk Parakeet

Monk Parakeet

Monk Parakeet

A mother Muscovy Duck is rightfully proud of her new family.

Muscovy Duck

Muscovy Duck

We hope the large numbers of dragonflies we’ve been seeing can help hold down the equally large numbers of mosquitoes we’ve been seeing!  I think this is a Needham’s Skimmer, but would appreciate any correction.

Needham's Skimmer (?)

Needham’s Skimmer (?)

The young Northern Mockingbird has already developed an “attitude” as he challenged us upon approach.  Note the spotted breast and yellow gape indicative of a recently fledged bird.

Northern Mockingbird (immature)

Northern Mockingbird (immature)

Gray Kingbirds are large flycatchers with very stout bills.  They are primarily found along the coast and near mangrove trees.

Gray Kingbird

Gray Kingbird

A small Common Ground Dove perches on a deck overlooking the Gulf of Mexico.

Common Ground Dove

Common Ground Dove

Black-crowned Night Herons are common anywhere there may be fish or crustaceans.

Black-crowned Night Heron

Black-crowned Night Heron

Like parents everywhere, this Ruddy Turnstone rushes in response to the cry of the youngster.  Pretty soon, he’ll have to learn to get food all by himself (you know, like when he turns 25 or so…).

Ruddy Turnstone With Juvenile

Ruddy Turnstone With Juvenile

Mama Royal Tern is also responding to her baby who is “begging” for more food.  I think I know that look…..

Royal Tern With Juvenile

Royal Tern With Juvenile

This Sanderling will soon change to its non-breeding plumage of light gray above and white underneath, the palest of the sandpipers.  In the meantime, it’s nice to enjoy their breeding colors.

Sanderling

Sanderling

The Western Sandpiper is only about 6.5 inches (17 cm) in length.  Arrow-shaped spots underneath, black legs, bill shape and the head plumage help distinguish it from other small sandpipers.

Western Sandpiper

Western Sandpiper

We normally see Black Terns in their non-breeding plumage, so it was nice to find a couple of early arrivals still wearing their dark breeding colors.  The first picture shows these terns are only slightly larger than the smallest Least Tern.  The second picture shows them in relation to one of the largest, the Royal Tern.   In the third photo, you can compare one in breeding and one in non-breeding plumage.

Black Tern, Least Tern

Black Tern, Least Tern

Black Tern, Royal Tern

Black Tern, Royal Tern

Black Tern

Black Tern

A Black Skimmer tries to find a spot to land among 75 of his closest friends.

Black Skimmer

Black Skimmer

The next time a birding friend complains that it’s too hot to go birding, just smile and offer them a half glass of cool lemonade, pack up your gear and go see what you can find!

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

 

See more birds at:   Paying Ready Attention   (Check out Wild Bird Wednesday.)

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 36 Comments

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