Sunday Doubleheader: Mead Botanical Gardens and Ais Trail Park

October 11, 2017

Fresh from the sea this past Saturday night, I prepared to meet Camille for a trip out to Mead Botanical Gardens in Orlando on Sunday, since we’d heard there was some migrant activity there. I was tired from the previous day’s adventure, but as migration season is short, the promise of warblers was too good to pass up.

I did take my glitchy camera along, just in case I was able to get off a few reasonable shots. Here are the best of what I was able to photograph.

chestnut-sided

Chestnut-sided Warbler. The yellow wing-bars and cap (not seen here) are diagnostic for this species.

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Fall-plumaged Magnolia Warbler, deep in the foliage.

swainsons-thrush

One of several Swainson’s Thrushes.

Don’t let the scarcity of photographs fool you into thinking the day was a bust. I identified 13 species of warbler that morning (Camille had 11)! Earlier in the week, some birders had 16 species in the park! That’s a pretty good variety. Here’s the complete eBird list (with some of Camille’s photos):

http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S39619140

After coming home, I got an e-mail from my friends Sarah and Bella who were hoping to try birding in a new location (for them). I suggested Ais Trail Park, in Palm bay, and met up with them in the late afternoon.

It was pretty quiet to start off, but we had some real teases. One was what appeared to be a Blackburnian male, still in bright breeding plumage. I saw the face and head, while Bella saw the large white wing patch. Between the two of us, we had a sighting, but we decided not to count it, since we didn’t each get a good clear look.

Then a warbler with an olive back, yellow underside and blue-gray head hopped up from the ground into some thick brush. I only saw it for the briefest second, The bird felt most like a Connecticut Warbler. It could have been a Nashville, but I wouldn’t have expected it to fly up from the ground onto a low branch before skulking away. I could not tell if the grey hood extended to the throat.

Neither bird was recovered despite some intensive searches.

But the best news of all was seeing a Peregrine Falcon fly over the park and then over Turkey Creek (near the lagoon) with great lighting. The ID was unmistakable, and this was Bella’s 200th ABA countable bird! Congratulations Bella!

She’s got amazing locating skills, and her birding abilities are as good, if not better, than many more experienced birders I know. But she has been doing this since she was a child.

Here’s our relatively short, but totally worth it list:
http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S39651513

What a great end to an epic weekend.

 

You Belong In A Boat Out At Sea

October 10, 2017

The much anticipated and alway fun pelagic birding trip, run by The Marine Science Center, disembarked from Port Canaveral on board the Canaveral Princess.

boat_canaveral_star

Promotional photo from https://orlandoprincess.com/

I love pelagic trips. Even during the long stretches with no birds in sight, I enjoy the waves and sun (and even the rain, when it’s not been too cold). This trip, we had great weather, and the seas were only moderately rough.

By far, the bird of the day was the Corey’s Shearwater. As a group, we saw over 200 of them (I recorded 77). We perhaps saw more Common Terns, but Shearwaters are obligate pelagic species – that means they are (barring severe weather events, like hurricanes) only found on the open ocean.

coreys-shearwater

A Corey’s Shearwater resting on the ocean’s’ surface. Note the nasal tube, or narnicorn, that some oceanic birds use to help remove salt from their systems.

The initial leg out of the port was very smooth, and it wasn’t until we started passing some of the off-shore buoys that we started to feel the 6-foot (2-meter) seas. Buoys also provide places for birds to roost and use as a look-out.

magnificent-frigatebird2

Magnificent Frigatebird taking advantage of the view.

The majority of the shearwaters we saw were Corey’s, we also did see the Great and Audubon’s species (I’ve seen all these shearwater species on my whale watch in New England, last summer.)

coreys-shearwater-takeoff

Shearwaters run on the water’s surface to get up to take-off speed.

Unlike most of the previous pelagic trips I have been on, we did not have many dolphins visiting us. Just one rode our bow wake as we left the port. We did see a couple of sea turtles, including a large Loggerhead Sea Turtle getting attacked by a Tiger Shark! The shark was unable to get a good angle on the turtle, and gave up as we drew closer. The turtle had it’s front flippers held straight up in the air to keep the shark from being able to grab or bite them. After a couple of minutes, the turtle dove out of view.

We also saw a Leatherback Sea Turtle. It was enormous and attended by several large Cobias and some remoras.

leatherback-sea-turtle

It’s hard to get a sense of scale, but this turtle was over 4 feet long, but still not full adult in size.

Before too long, I did run into some equipment problems. My current camera – a much loved Fujifilm Finepix S990W – has been having some glitches lately. The back-side buttons would activate without being pressed, or when pressed would cycle quickly through various options on their own. This escalated on Saturday, and the camera started changing settings and formats, as well as locking up entirely. I gave up fighting it, especially after taking a spill near the bow when trying to reach for the railing while protecting my camera. There wasn’t much reason to be holding on to a camera that wasn’t working.

The rest of the trip was fantastic. We came upon large flocks of terns, most of which were Common, but interspersed with Black and Sooty Terns. I saw what probably were some species of storm-petrel, but they were gone behind waves before I could really get a good look. Several Peregrine Falcons cruised by, over 30 km (50 miles) from land.

Here’s my complete eBird list for the trip. The “official” list for the trip, via Michael Brothers has a much higher count and some species I missed (and one species not recorded officially).

My eBird list for the entire trip, there and back again:
http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S39610465

“Official” list, via e-mail from Michael Brothers:
Blue-winged Teal 56
Cory’s Shearwater 235
Great Shearwater 5
Brown Pelican 8
Brown Booby 3
Magnificent Frigatebird 6
Parasitic Jaeger 8
Pomarine Jaeger 1
Black Tern 111
Common Tern 419
Royal Tern 41
Sandwich Tern 16
Laughing Gull 9
Sabine’s Gull 1
Short-billed Dowitcher 3
Wilson’s Snipe 1
Red Phalarope 6
Red-necked Phalarope 21
Peregrine Falcon 4
Barn Swallow 1
Black-throated Blue Warbler 1
Warbler sp. 1

Despite the camera glitch and my fall on the deck, I had a spectacular time. I am already looking forward to next year, circumstances willing. I’ll post the few remaining photos that didn’t make the blog, soon.

 

Driving down the Overstreet

September 30, 2017

Joe Overstreet Road and Landing are among Osceola County’s most interesting birding “hotspots”. The road heads down to the northeastern edge of Lake Kissimmee, through ranch and farm lands. At the landing, wading birds are common, and the lake’s resident Snail Kites are usually around. Last weekend was a good opportunity to check them out.

joe-overstreet-road

Joe Overstreet Road.

morning-deer

A White-tailed Deer in the morning mist.

The trees and shrubs along the road edges are often a good place to stop and watch for warblers or other small songbirds. Sometimes the early morning light can be a challenge, especially if the birds are back-lit. But I had some good luck this time around for some White-eyed Vireos and friends.

white-eyed-vireo

One of several White-eyed Vireos, going about morning duties.

common-yellowthroat

This first year male Common Yellowthroat doesn’t have his complete mask, or “domino” yet.

Wherever small birds are (or other prey items, like large grasshoppers or katydids), you have predators. There were Loggerhead Shrikes staking out the road edges, and further out over the fields I could hear Red-shouldered Hawks calling out.

loggerhead-shrike

This Loggerhead Shrike was looking quite interested at the Common Yellowthroats down below.

During Spring and Summer there are usually a large number of Cattle Egrets along with the cattle, but with the advent of Autumn there were very few of any sort of heron or egret species.

cattle

“What are yoooou looking at?”

Barn Swallows were working the open land and pausing in little groups on the wires and fence lines. Many were youngsters themselves, and trying to beg off of the adults who, to their evolutionary credit, were ignoring them. The young birds were certainly capable of feeding themselves.

barn-swallow

This Barn Swallow is nearly in adult plumage.

barn-swallow2

This is a younger Barn Swallow, with some downy feathers still remaining, and a little more tail to grow.

In addition to the Barn Swallows, there were a few Cliff and Bank Swallows in the mix as the birds swooped and darted around, catching insects.

The wet sod fields near the midpoint of the road had produced reports of shorebirds, including some American Golden Plovers and various sandpipers. I did not see any plovers (besides Killdeers) on the way to the lake, but  I did see some Least and Pectoral Sandpipers

least-sandpiper

Quite a few Least Sandpipers were making use of the flooded sod fields.

pectoral-sandpipers

Pectoral Sandpipers are larger than the “peeps”, like Least Sandpipers, and can usually be distinguished by the sharp transition of their breast markings to their bellies.

At the landing, I was almost immediately greeted by a family of Limpkins. The youngsters were almost full grown, and still looking a bit gangly as they ran to catch up with the adults.

limpkins

A pair of “teenage” Limpkins, running by.

One could liken these birds to “teenage” birds, and it won’t be long before they leave the proverbial nest (they left the actual one weeks ago).

limpkin-legs

This bird was legging it, to catch up with its siblings.

A few of them decided to take a rest on a nearby picnic table, fairly unconcerned with the people and boats. They even had a squirrell join in!

limpkin-picnic

Limpkin picnic.

The trees around the boat ramp usually have a Yellow Warbler or two around, and I was happy to see both a female and at least two males. One male hadn’t lost his bright yellow breeding colors quite yet. It always amazes me how a bird this bright yellow can be hard to find in a green tree. But they are.

yellow-warbler-female

Female Yellow Warbler.

yellow-warbler-male2

A male Yellow Warbler, in the sun.

yellow-warbler-male1

In the shade, even these bright birds can blend into the green foliage.

Snail Kites were catching a large invasive variety of Apple Snail that seems to have taken over the lakes in central Florida. At least they (and the Limpkins) seem to be having no trouble with them. Ecologically, the invasive snails can do a lot of harm and are outcompeting the already threatened native snails.

snail-kite

A Snail Kite departing with a large Apple Snail.

One the way back up Joe Overstreet Road, I stopped one more time to scope out for American Golden Plovers. It took a while, and the help of two birders with a more stable and functioning scope (my Audubon “Light” scope had some failures), several of these somewhat rare visitors were seen and identified! This is the best photograph I could obtain.

plover

It’s hard to see here, but this American Golden Plover’s identifying features were clear in a scope.

As a final treat, I made it a point to stop on the “main road” by the Double C Bar ranch, in case a Whooping Crane was in view. My life-sighting of this species was on my first Central Florida Specialties trip with David Goodwin at the Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival, several years ago. Since then, I’ve unsuccessfully tried to find these birds at this ranch (and elsewhere). Fortune favors the prepared, I suppose!

whooping-crane

This crane is one of the last survivors of a non-migratory Whooping Crane flock. The establishment and management of that flock was a failure, with resources now being put into a migratory flock that winters in the panhandle and spends the summer in Wisconsin.

That seemed like the cap on a pretty good birding day. While neither the American Golden Plovers nor the Whooping Crane were life birds, it was a thrill to see them, along with the other resident birds.

Here are the various eBird lists, for those who care.

Joe Overstreet Road (inbound to lake):
http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S39362311

Joe Overstreet Landing:
http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S39363297

Joe Overstreet Road (incidental, outbound from lake):
http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S39365025

Double C Bar Ranch:
http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S39365703

End of Summer 2017 Outtakes

Autumn has “officially” started, at least in the astronomical sense. The effects of Hurricane Irma on our area parks are continuing to be dealt with, and the shorter days will eventually lead to cooler temperatures (although the heat index was near 100 this week). Here are several photos taken the second half of this Summer that never made their way into the blog.

willet

Willet resting on the beach at Indialantic, FL.

young-royal-tern

Immature Royal Tern at Indialantic, FL.

sanderling

Sanderling (and Ruddy Turnstones) at Juan Ponce de Leon Landing.

purple-gallinule2

Immature Purple Gallinule (alternate view) at Orlando Wetlands Park.

roseate-spoonbill

Young Roseate Spoonbill at the Melbourne-Tillman Canal, Palm Bay, FL.

 

I’ve already had my first birding adventure of the Fall. Stay tuned for that, coming soon!

Out in the Open at Orlando Wetlands Park

September 19, 2017

Everything is slowly getting back to “normal” here in Florida, and particularly on the Space Coast, where we managed to get through Hurricane Irma without a major catastrophe. Power has been restored to almost everyone in the area, thanks to the hard-working linemen and linewomen from around the country.

The area parks, sanctuaries, and conservation lands are going to have a bit longer of a time getting squared away. Most of the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge is still closed, and smaller parks, like Turkey Creek Sanctuary are closed as debris is removed and water levels recede.

Out at Lake Apopka the storm damaged infrastructure so severely, there’s no timetable for it to reopen yet. Assessments are still being made there, and at many other public lands. Everyone will need to be patient and work around what’s available as the main part of migration nears.

But some places managed to get through the onslaught relatively unscathed. Orlando Wetlands Park got through the storm with minimal damage and was open within days. I met up with Camille and we headed over to Christmas, Florida for some late-summer birding.

orlando-wetlands-park1

Most of Orlando Wetlands Park consists of very large open cells of water with groves of relatively wind resistant (particularly the dead ones!) palms.

While some early migrants have been through the area since the end of August, most of central Florida is still in between the end of breeding and fledging season and the start of migration. The hurricanes in the region (both Irma and Jose now, and Maria later in the week) have not made for favorable winds to help move birds out from the north, but that will change as Fall begins.

The morning started off comfortable, but the weather would quickly turn oppressive before the end of the morning. We kept our hike short, only doing the main “birding” loop and not the far reaches of the park.

OWP-map

We mainly stuck to the red-dashed route here on the map. You can see how large the park is – just that loop is 4 kilometers (2.5 miles).

There were several Red-shouldered Hawks perched, looking for breakfast. All appeared to have adult plumage, but some were missing tail feathers. This is indicative of molting, and in fact many of the other birds in the park were missing all or some of their tails.

red-shouldered-hawk

The Red-shouldered Hawks seemed unconcerned with our activities and let us get close a few times.

By now, most of the Common and Purple Gallinules have raised their broods and the surviving youngsters are getting their adult plumage as well.

purple-gallinule

This sub-adult Purple Gallinule’s patchy plumage will eventually grow into the beautiful glossy and iridescent colors that give the species its common name.  

Of course there are always late breeders, and there were still a few Common Gallinule pairs that had small chicks, but they were few and far between.

common-gallinule-chick

This chick was probably about a week old. Gallinule chicks are precocious – the hatch with eyes open, covered in down, and able to swim and feed within hours. Any species that shares space with alligators needs to be mobile and alert as soon as possible.

There were not many songbirds present, though several Prairie Warblers (a resident breeder) in fall plumage flew past us a few times, and both Red-eyed and White-eyed Vireos were actively feeding in the woody edges near the park entrance and nature center.

white-eyed-vireo

An adult White-eyed Vireo about to jump out of frame.

All in all it wasn’t too bad of a morning, for mid-September in central Florida. As a bonus, we saw a small flycatcher on the road just outside the park entrance. There seems to have been an influx of Empidonax flycatchers through the state over the last few weeks. I’ve certainly seen more of this genus this year than previous. This particular bird did not vocalize, though it did seem to perk up at a recorded call of a Willow Flycatcher. Unfortunately, that is not enough to identify this bird beyond its genus.

empid2

I apologize for the blurry photo here. I was taking this photo while contorted out a vehicle’s window, bracing against the top of the door while the engine was running! But you can see the essential field marks for an Empid – species unknown.

Here’s the complete eBird list, if you’re interested.
http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S39226562

It was a real treat that this park was open and relatively clear of debris after such a wide-ranging and destructive storm. And of course, just a few years ago this park was closed over the fall and first part of winter. Now it’s open to the public year-round, so it should have a lot to offer as migration gets under way.

[Note: Our friends in the Caribbean, including the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico have been and are being devastated by both Hurricane Irma and Maria. Please donate if you can. Here’s the link to Charity Navigator so you can find somewhere to donate that feels right for you: https://www.charitynavigator.org/]

Battening Down the Hatches

It’s been a tense weekend here at the Lonely Birder Blog. We’ve watched as the forecast track for Monster Hurricane Irma came perilously close to home. While the track is now forecast west of here, this storm is HUGE and impacts will be felt all over the state of Florida. It’s a waiting game now, for most of us in the U.S. mainland. Of course, Puerto Rico and many of the other islands in the Caribbean have sustained major damage and will need help for a long, long time. Here’s a link to Charity Navigator to help you sort out where you might want to give:
https://www.charitynavigator.org/index.cfm?bay=content.view&cpid=5243 

Any time there’s a large storm like Irma or Harvey, the question comes up, where do birds (and other animals) go? Forbes posted an informative article about that yesterday. You can read it here:
https://www.forbes.com/sites/grrlscientist/2017/09/08/where-do-birds-go-in-a-hurricane/
(There is an auto-play, but muted, video/ad that comes up in the upper left, but I promise the article is worth it.)

Once the storm passes and things get back on track, things should return to normal here on the blog. Stay safe and see you soon.

 

Migration Preamble at MINWR

August 27, 2017

It’s been an Empidonax-filled late summer here in central Florida, with reports of the little flycatchers coming in about every day so far in the last week or so. I saw two Acadian Flycatchers near where I work and have seen several unidentified “Empids” in my travels around Lake and Sumter, and Brevard Counties.

On Sunday, I met up with Camille to check out flycatcher and warbler activity reported at Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge’s (MINWR) Pine and Oak Hammock Trails [map].

Yes. Warblers. It turns out that the first vanguard of migrant warblers has already been moving through the state, and we managed to get a nice mixed flock or two along the Pine Hammock trail (the Oak Hammock Trail was closed). We had a couple of dozen (!) American Redstarts, and a good showing of Worm-eating Warblers along with Black-and-whites and Northern Parulas. We did not catch the reported Prothonotary or Cerulean warblers that have been reported, however.

But the star of the day was an Alder Flycatcher (a life bird for me). This species was first reported by Mitchell Harris earlier in the week, and we managed to find the bird on the way out of the trail (well, Camille spotted it and called me back on the trail to her location). At first the bird was quite still and silent (in migration, it is nearly impossible to separate the Empids if they do not vocalize. The visible proportions and field marks overlap too broadly). After watching it fly-catch a few times and change perches, it finally called out a few times, and even answered some limited recordings (yes, I used a recording). The lighting was bad, but I fired off a couple of shots.

alder-flycatcher1

Without vocalization, this bird could almost as easily be a Willow Flycatcher (the most similar) or even any other Empid or an Eastern-wood Pewee. Luckily for us, it did call a few times.

alder-flycatcher2

Here’s a good view of the orange/yellow underside of the bill that is common to most Empids and Wood-pewees.

For those of you interested, here’s the entire eBird list for the trail:
https://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S38847183

We finished up the morning by cruising the open part of Peacocks Pocket [map] and East Gator Creek [map].

Peacocks Pocket:
http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S38848022

East Gator Creek:
http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S38848439

It was a nice little migration preview, but we’ll have to see how the autumn plays out and if any of this seemingly early movement means anything significant.