Long Walk on the Shortest Day

Sunday morning, I decided to check out Pine Island Conservation Area to see how it’s settling in for the winter. The restoration efforts continue for the southern half, but little has changed for the rest of the park.

I always underestimate Pine Island, and it always ends up taking longer to do whatever I’m trying to accomplish there compared to other birding spots. The main pond is over 1.35 km (.84 mi) long, and I walked a total of 6.5 km (4 miles). Bird densities are usually low, except for the vultures, so you have to work a bit for it.

My day was significant for a couple of reasons. One, was sighting a yellow variant of a House Finch. I’ve seen orange variants described, but never a yellow one. I first noticed a normal reddish individual and then the yellow one nearby. At first I thought it was a warbler with a deformed beak, but after a prolonged look in the binoculars, all the patterns and shapes of a House Finch were there. The call notes from the individual were also in keeping with the rest of the House Finches in the branches close by. The bird came into the light, during a 2nd sighting, enough for two photos, only one of which it wasn’t facing completely away from the camera.

photo yellow-house-finch.jpg
Unusual or “aberrant” plumages, while rare, are normal. There are even occasional reports of yellow cardinals!

Another great find was a flock of American Wigeons sitting at the far end of a secluded pond. I could only see them through some dense understory and they were back-lit, but I’ve included this photo. The glare was so bad in the binoculars that I had to rely on this photo to identify them.

photo wigeons.jpg
I don’t often see American Wigeons, but when I do, I prefer they aren’t back-lit and far away.

Pine Island usually has large groups of both Black and Turkey vultures, but this time as they took to the sky on the first thermal of the day, they had a diverse mix of soaring birds with them. In a single large kettle (that’s a group of birds circling in a thermal together) I saw Anhingas, Ospreys, Wood Storks, Red-shouldered Hawks and even some gulls and terns, in addition to both vulture species.

Nothing says “Good morning!” like a swarm of vultures!

I scared up a number of egrets and herons through the morning, with the Tri-colored Herons being the most vocal and skittish, as usual. There were fewer waders in the main pond than I expected, but there were a few larger alligators around the area, so perhaps they sought out a safer place to be.

photo gator-pan.jpg
“Not if I see you first!” said the 10-foot gator.

There was this nice group of waders, though. A nearby Red-shouldered Hawk had them a little on edge, but they had obviously found a great foraging area, so they stood their ground. Eventually the commotion generated by the Common Gallinules annoyed it enough to fly away, and everyone calmed down enough for me to get this group shot.

photo waders.jpg
A motley crüe…er, crew, of waders!

My morning ended with a nice mixed flock of finches and warblers, including a Prairie Warbler, a very yellow Palm Warbler with some grayer friends, and a few Yellow-rumped Warblers and House Finches for good measure.

Identified birds, in approximate order of confirmation:

  • Black Vulture
  • Bald Eagle
  • Tri-colored Heron
  • Double-crested Cormorant
  • Turkey Vulture
  • Palm Warbler
  • Northern Cardinal
  • Common Gallinule
  • Little Blue Heron
  • Royal Tern
  • Savannah Sparrow
  • Eastern Phoebe
  • Great Blue Heron
  • Cattle Egret
  • White Ibis
  • Roseate Spoonbill
  • Wood Stork
  • Osprey
  • Anhinga
  • Ring-billed Gull
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler
  • Common Ground Dove
  • Pied-billed Grebe
  • American Wigeon (FOY)
  • Boat-tailed Grackle
  • Red-shouldered Hawk
  • Killdeer
  • Carolina Wren (♫)
  • Common Yellowthroat
  • House Finch
  • Red-bellied Woodpecker
  • American White Pelican
  • Great Egret
  • Snowy Egret
  • Glossy Ibis
  • Prairie Warbler
  • Green Heron
  • Pileated Woodpecker

Merry Christmas, Happy Chanukkah, and Happy whatever holiday you choose to celebrate!

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