UK 2019 Day 11: Birding Day at Slimbridge Wetland Centre

Posted August 19, 2019

May 19, 2019

Since my planned birding day near Plymouth didn’t work out, I took Darren’s advice and checked out the Slimbridge Wetland Centre (also referred to as “Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust”) in Gloucestershire [map]. There’s a lot going at this remarkable place, but for birders (particularly out-of-country ones!) it was a bit confusing. The first part, near the visitor center, is a series of exhibits showcasing birds from around the world, including local birds! And although these birds are ostensibly “clipped” to keep them from flying free, I observed on a few occasions these birds making short flights that could carry them out of their “enclosure” habitats. I’ll post my eBird link after the photos (presented without commentary beyond captions), but take some of the duck and geese species with a grain of salt. I tried to weed out the “captive” species, but there may be a few of the ambiguous sightings that got left in.

Black and white duck with a dark purple head.
Tufted Ducks were not rare during our entire visit, but photo opportunities of this species were. This one was at the visitors’ centre, but should be representative of the many I did see out in the wild.
Small white gull with a dark brown head.
Black-headed Gulls are possibly the only – um – black headed gulls without black heads. It is actually a dark chocolate brown. I’ve seen this species as a vagrant in the USA, but this is a native, free-flying bird.
Mostly white duck (with some black on face and back).
The Smews at the visitors’ centre seemed captive, but a few of the birds flew to adjacent pools, so I listed these, but perhaps I shouldn’t have. I’ve not heard anything from the eBird reviewer on the matter. This one is a drake.
Grey duck with a white throat and russet head.
Female Smews are much different looking than the drakes (males).
White duck with a black back and greenish head, a brown headed duck behind it.
Common Goldeneyes are also seen in the USA, this pair were at the visitors’ centre, but I saw some flying out in the marshes later in the morning.
Mostly white duck (with black face and back) standing just behind a gray duck with white throat and russet head.
A Smew couple on land.
Large black bird with a gray face and bill.
Rooks are common enough around the UK, and the ones throughout the park were quite photogenic and accommodating.
A orange-red duck with a white head and black bill and tail.
Like some of the other duck species, Ruddy Shelducks were at the visitors’ centre pools (like this) and out in the wetlands, too.
Brown bird with cream belly perched on reeds.
Waterfowl dominated the visitors’ centre, but once out in the park and on the trails, there were more songbirds, like this Reed Warbler.
Small brown bird sining, perched atop twigs in a dead tree.
The tiny Eurasian Wrens made up for their size with loud, ringing voices. The song is reminiscent of Song Sparrows in North America. This caused me a deal of confusion throughout the trip.
Brown, black and white shorebird with 2 head streamers, walking on a mudflat.
Photos out over the marsh and meadows from some of the blinds were tough. This shot of a Northern Lapwing and many of the upcoming shots are heavily cropped.
Black and white wading bird with an up-swept bill.
One of about a dozen or so Pied Avocets feeding in the shallow water.
White wading bird with a spoon-shaped bill in front of tall marsh vegetation.
While not listed as particularly rare, this Eurasian Spoonbill seemed to be causing quite a stir among the other birders at the blind.
Small gray bird with a red-orange face and breast.
In the wooded area near one blind, I saw this one-legged European Robin. It seemed to be managing fine, but I wonder what happened.
Small turquoise bird with orange breast and belly and long bill.
At the next blind, it took some patience to wait for one of the Common Kingfishers to arrive back at its mud bank cavity nest site.
Large black bird with gray face and bill.
Another handsome Rook. This one was near some picnic tables, looking for an easy snack from the park patrons.
Close of of a black bird with gray face and bill.
A close-up of a Rook. It’s thought that the partially naked face is due to Rooks being opportunistic omnivores, not ones to pass up carrion. Like vultures, this avoids facial feathers being fouled by blood and such.
Black and white goose sitting among daisies.
Back at the visitors’ centre, this Barnacle Goose flew in and landed on the lawn to rest.
An adult swan keeps one eye on a nearby coot while watching its little gray cygnet swim along.
Many of the birds at the park (including the visitors’ centre) are breeding and had chicks, like this Mute Swan and its cygnet. This is one reason it is difficult to completely exclude the exhibit birds from lists. They are obviously breeding and some are flying about.

I’ve left off photos of some of the more exotic birds – like the Nene, a South American bird called a screamer (for good reason!), and some others that are clearly not UK or European birds. I may post them as bonus or extras in the future.

Here’s the somewhat confusing eBird list for the day. Ruth and Mrs. Lonely Birder came to pick me up after shopping in nearby Gloucester.

https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S56496450

UK 2019 Day 7: Birding Day at Chew Valley Lake

Posted July 5, 2019

May 15, 2019

My first proper “birding day” was about 1/2 the day spent at a reservoir called Chew Valley Lake [map]. I had a chance to scout it out briefly on the way back from one of our previous day’s adventures, and it looked promising.

View of a lake with a tree covered island in the middle ground.
Chew Valley Lake.

Chew Valley Lake is named as a premiere birding spot in several places online, and it did not disappoint. The species diversity was high and added a sizable amount to my life list, as you might imagine.

The lake fills part of Chew Valley, forming a reservoir that provides much of the drinking water for Bristol and nearby locales.

View looking down a low dam with lake to the left and roadway to the right.
The dam along Wally Lane demarks the northern edge of the lake.

The morning started off cold, with temperatures around 40 degrees Fahrenheit (4.5 Celsius), but the sun warmed things up nicely as the day progressed. I walked along the dam first, but there was no public access around the west side of the lake from there.

White-Wagtail_01
One of several White Wagtails around the lake.

There are well defined trails and paths around the lake and adjacent woodland, some with boardwalks, and a couple of wildlife blinds to make access to some of the shier birds a little easier. Unfortunately, this did not keep the Tufted Ducks from being skittish. I was unable to get any photographs even though I had targeted this species  before leaving for the trip.

Chew-Valley-Lake_03
Much of the path around the north side of the lake has a high bank separating the path from the nearby road.

Although the Tufted Ducks may have been skittish, other water birds were not. I saw several Great Crested Grebes, a few Common Shelducks, and several dozen Eurasian Coots. There were also plenty of Mallards, Canada Geese, and a pair of Mute Swans.

close up of grebe swimming on surface of the water
Great Crested Grebe

The southern eastern and southern edges of the lake have areas of thick reeds and some scrub vegetation. There areas had active and vocal birds, like Reed Warblers, Eurasian Wrens, and Reed Buntings.

Small songbird perched in a bush.
A Reed Bunting making a brief appearance out of the reed bed.

The Eurasian Wrens have a loud song, for their size. The song is very reminiscent of a Song Sparrow here in North America, so it was confusing at times to orient my ears to what kind of bird I should be looking at.

Tiny wren perched among foliage.
A Eurasian Wren pausing between songs. Tiny body, mighty sound!

Similarly, the Eurasian Blackcaps and European Robins have some sounds in common and have thrush-like calls, which was confusing as there were typically Eurasian Blackbirds nearby.

Songbird singing within shaded branches.
Eurasian Blackcap male. The females and young have brown caps.

Eurasian coots were scattered out all over the lake close to the shore. I wondered if they form large rafts during the winter, like American coots do. Eurasian Coots are smaller and a bit more streamlined.

Close-up of a coot swimming on water's surface
Eurasian Coot.

Near one of the wildlife blinds, I heard a prolonged and rollicking song in the understory, and spent many minutes trying to get eyes on the bird. I managed a sound recording to use later for identification, but soon after the bird finally did pop into view. Many of the various warblers that live in these habitats are similar looking, and as they are all new to me, I thought having that recording along with my visual would help me nail it down.

According to descriptions of Melodious Warbler songs, “my” bird fit the bill (haha). It is said to have a prolonged song with many doublets and repeated phrases, similar to a Northern Mockingbird. Its song also has elements that sound like House Sparrows. To my ear, this is what I heard and recorded. I duly noted the (rare) bird on my eBird app and continued on.

I reached the end of the trail on the east side of the lake, where the woods abutted some agricultural land. I spooked a large raptor that I couldn’t identify, and then watched as a Eurasian Treecreeper worked its way up a few trees. All the while, more wrens, blackcaps, blackbirds, and robins were singing. I doubled back along the east side of the lake on a more wooded path running parallel to the way I came, which kept me out of the sun. Even 18 degrees Celsius (65 Fahrenheit) can feel hot after a few hours of hiking.

Dirt path with taller trees to the left and some grass and brush to the right.
Woodland path around Chew Valley Lake.

I made my way back around to the north side of the lake. My intention was to relocate the Tufted Ducks and perhaps catch a Common Merganser or two near the dam. I did manage to flush out a couple of Common Sandpipers and Shelducks as I approached the spillway.

Common-Shelduck_01
This Common Shelduck headed off the spillway outlet towards the middle of the lake like he was on a mission.

A few finch-like birds were singing and flying among the small trees alongside it. It took some sleuthing and confirming later that evening, but managed to identify both as immature males, one a Eurasian Linnet and the other a Black Redstart.

Eurasian-Linnet_01
Although not in bright breeding plumage, I think this Eurasian Linnet was a male because it was singing its heart out.

g

Another small songbird perched on a young tree's branch.
Black Redstarts are common birds in the UK, but it took me quite a while, and in some cases outside expertise to identify them. Local knowledge and experience are invaluable in birding.

By this point I was nearing the end of my morning and ready to meet up with my wife and Ruth who had been visiting shops and sites back in Bristol. By the trail head near the dam, I waited at a higher, wooded spot and watched a few European Goldfinches dart in and out of the trees, nearby.

European-Goldfinch_01
This European Goldfinch was last bird of the adventure at Chew Valley Lake.

I walked a total of about 9 km (about 5.5 miles) and had nearly run out of water as my ride showed up and we rode back to Bristol. My species count was 37, and you can see my eBird list below.

https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S56302558

View of a lake with tree reflections on the far shore.
Good bye, Chew Valley Lake.

Addendum

Astute readers will see that my eBird list has only 36 species. After arriving back home in the States, I received an email from an eBird reviewer in the UK, asking about my Melodious Warbler identification. I had posted my sound recording as supporting material. He said my recording was a Reed Warbler and would I please change my list. I have done so, but solely on the idea that a local birder would/should know more and have more experience with the birds I saw and heard. But I’ll link to the sound file below, and if any experienced UK birders can confirm or question the current identification as a Reed Warbler, I’d love to hear from you.

UK 2019 Day 3: Redcatch Park, SS Great Britain, Clifton Observatory

Posted June 17, 2019

May 11, 2019

I had forgotten how much longer higher latitude days are in Spring. Even before the March Equinox arrives, the long twilights running up to dawn and lingering after sunset make for extended daylight. I was up early on our third day to checkout the local park.

Redcatch Park [map] is just a quick walk away from our flat (I’ve always wanted to say that! A flat!) amid  proper football fields, a community center, a community garden, some tennis courts, and a playground. It’s a lovely patch of open space with copses of trees here and there, with nearby houses and gardens (what we’d call back yards, sort of, here in the USA).

As I walked to the park, Bristol’s urban dawn chorus was in full swing, with wood-pigeons, robins, blackbirds, chiffchaffs, and tits all singing and calling. I was happy to encounter most of these species in my walk through the park.

eurasian-blackbird
Eurasian Blackbirds are in the thrush family – similar to our American Robins. They have a melodious, flute like song. This male was singing and defending territory from other males.

It didn’t take long after I arrived for people to start entering the park to walk or play with their dogs. Most were on leashes, and those that were not seemed to ignore the birds and the birds, no doubt used to the canine interruptions, gave the canines a slightly wide berth but generally went about their business.

Dunnock_01
This tiny brown bird is a Dunnock. It was hard to get one framed up and standing still for any length of time.

As the sun grew stronger and the temperature rose up from 4 Celsius (40 degrees Fahrenheit) more of the smaller birds became active, including Great, Blue, and Long-tailed Tits, and House Sparrows. Robins were already singing their beautiful thrush-like songs. Common Chaffinches started singing from treetops, the males’ rosy-chestnut plumage brilliant in the sun.

Common-Chaffinch_01
A male Common Chaffinch atop an evergreen tree. His song dominated the park for a while.

I got some looks at birds I couldn’t immediately identify, but determined later to be Black Redstarts (a bird in the same taxonomic family as the European Robin). There were also Eurasian Jays, Common Starlings, and Carrion Crows flying or walking about the park.

european-robin
Another European Robin, watching me as I watched him. 

It seemed to me most of the birds were foraging – probably for nestlings or fledglings – or defending territory. This makes sense, given the time of year. The only courtship behavior I saw was between two Common Wood-Pigeons.

common-wood-pigeon-couple
A Common Wood-Pigeon couple, nuzzling and grooming each other.

I made my exit and walked back to the flat to get ready for the day’s further adventures in and around Bristol.

The eBird list for Redcatch Park: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S56112419

I went back to the flat to meet with the others for our next day around Bristol. This time our focus was at the harbor and in particular to see an important piece of maritime and engineering history: The SS Great Britain.

It’s hard to underestimate the importance of this ship. It was the first large ocean liner and the first to be powered by a propeller (or ‘screw’) as opposed to paddles, as had been the case before. This ship performed many functions over the years after it’s luxury cruising days were over. Perhaps one of its most important was to help lay the first transatlantic telegraph cables.

ss-Great-Britain_01

Designed by engineering genius (and by many accounts, jerk boss) I. K. Brunel, the ship is a linchpin in the design history of maritime transportation and the turning point for how ocean travel would progress from that point. You can read about her history at the official SS Great Britain website.

The ship, abandoned and scuttled on the Falkland Islands was recovered, towed back to Bristol, and restored and rebuilt more or less to its days as an ocean liner. Important original pieces of the ship – including hull plates, rivets, railings, and masts – are cataloged and stored in the adjacent museum.

ss-Great-Britain_06
SS Great Britain sits in a dry dock originally built in the 1830s.

A clever bit of engineering makes the ship seem to float in water up to its waterline, but this is an illusion. Several centimeters of water is sandwiched between two layers of glass plate. This boundary is actually part of the preservation method for the ship’s hull.

On the outside, the ship’s detail are exquisitely recreated, including the stern decorations, and even the English coat of arms with unicorn and lion. “God And My Right” had been the English monarch’s motto since probably the 12th century. It signified the King (or Queen’s) divine right to govern.

ss-Great-Britain_02
Windows and decorations a the top of the stern, just above the nameplate. 
ss-Great-Britain_03
A goose (I think) over a cornucopia and some curtain effects.
ss-Great-Britain_04
Lion, with the first half of the English coat of arms motto, “God And…”
ss-Great-Britain_05
Close up of the lion. Those are some serious canine teeth!

 

ss-Great-Britain_08
Second half of the motto, “…My Right”. I think it’s ironic that “My Right” is on the port, or left, side of the ship’s prow.

Above decks, the ship is colorful has several access points to the cabins and stateroom below. I didn’t get any photos belowdecks, though. I think I was too busy experiencing the ship and kind of forgot about my camera! Sorry!

ss-Great-Britain_17
Even though the ss Great Britain is a steamship, like most early vessels of the type, it had supplemental sails. The rigging is simpler than that found in earlier sailing vessels.
ss-Great-Britain_19
The masts were collapsible and could fold up flat on deck. 

Great Britain is a long ship, and quite narrow in its cross-section. This was done on purpose to reduce drag and increase efficiency of the propeller drive.

ss-Great-Britain_16
View from inside the dry dock looking at the front of the ship. The silver cylinders along the keel are air blowers that put warm, dry air into the space to stop the iron hull from further corrosion.

Inside the dry dock, the environment is controlled to stem corrosion of the mostly original iron hull plating. In addition to “natural” rust and corrosion, there are a series of holes along the hull that were made to sink the ship in the 1930s.

ss-Great-Britain_10
Corrosion on the original hull plating.

The ship was eventually returned to Bristol in 1970 for conservation and restoration. The dry dock dehumidifier chamber is a marvel itself, both functional below and aesthetic above.

ss-Great-Britain_14
Looking up at the glass plate with the water rippling along the ship’s waterline.

The ship was eventually converted to use sails as well, and a winch system was developed to raise and lower the propeller, rudder, and part of the shaft out of the water. That assembly is in the museum building were it is slowly losing a battle against corrosion (the air is not optimal for either the iron fittings or the wooden rudder).

ss-Great-Britain_12
Replica propeller to Brunel’s original design.

The ship and museum are a definite “don’t miss” if you ever come to Bristol or SW England. The exhibits were top notch, and the ship itself is so accessible and present. It seems right at home in Bristol Harbour.

After lunch and a quick drive to the nearby Clifton section of the city to view the Avon Gorge and the suspension bridge that Brunel designed in the 1830s (but wasn’t completed until over 30 years later, with some changes).

Avon-Gorge_01
Part of the Clifton Suspension Bridge over the River Avon. The Avon is part of the Bristol Channel which has the 2nd highest tidal range in the world. You can see the expansive mudflats along the banks when the tide is out.
Clifton-Suspension-Bridge
A full view of the bridge.

The gorge is beautiful, with dramatic cliffs and forested hillsides. There is evidence of old landslides, and the cars and roads below are dwarfed in scale.

Avon-Gorge_02
Old landslide scours, likely from hundreds of years ago.

The area atop the cliffs has a large green-space and people were sitting and laying in the relatively warm sunlight. Birds were happily mingling with the people, mostly Eurasian Jackdaws. A few of the more shy Eurasian Magpies stayed closer to the trees.

eurasian-magpie
The slight fluffiness on the side of this Eurasian Magpie probably means this is a recent fledgling.

A short drive and a walk away is the Clifton Observatory [map]. This building houses a camera obscura that renders a 360 degree view of the surrounding landscape onto a central viewing table.

Clifton-Observatory
The observatory’s camera obscura uses a small opening and mirror at the top to project a clear but dim image inside. Such devices could be used for aids in drawing or even to observe celestial events or objects, like a solar eclipse. The were popular in the 17th through 19th centuries.

Beneath the observatory is a long stairway down part of a cave system that opens up on the side of the cliff, about mid-way. A balcony has been constructed to give brave souls an amazing view of the bridge and gorge.

Giants-Cave
Dubbed the Giants’ Cave (nominally St. Vincent’s Cave), the open-grate floor can be intimidating for some.

 

Clifton-Suspension-Bridge_closer
A closer view of the Clifton Suspension Bridge from the Giants’ Cave balcony.

After the observatory and cave we drove around Bristol a little and then made our way back to the flat and settled in for the evening, ready for more adventures.

Catching Up Is Hard To Do: Part 2

June 8, 2019

The title of this and the previous blog proved to be much more prophetic than I dreamed! It’s been a long hiatus, brought on by a conspiracy of circumstances. Let’s close out the previous year before we delve into some new and exciting adventures!

Toward the end of last year, as I was planning to meet with Annie and getting ready for another holiday season, I got an invitation from Mitchell Harris to help lead a team for the Cocoa Christmas Bird Count! This was exciting for me, and it felt good that someone with the birding caliber of Mitchell Harris wanted me to help out.

I assembled a team – Camille, Sarah, and Bella – and got my maps and lists organized. The dry run Camille and I did with Mitchell beforehand helped hone our plans and we were more than ready for the CBC day.

A shopping mall seen across a still pond.
The Cocoa CBC circle includes some build up areas, like the Merritt Square Mall, but park space is still often close by.

Our section of the CBC circle was mainly urban and high-density suburban, with a few parks. Getting the timing right for the birds we wanted to “get” was a little tricky, but we managed to work out a reasonable route with time enough to spend at high-probability sites like Rotary Park, Veteran’s Park, and a roadside rookery. The Merritt Island Rookery had so many hundreds of birds streaming in as the sun set, it was one part comical and one part awe inspiring. Bella was cracking herself up trying to call in the flocks upon flocks of species coming in, as I struggled to keep up the count on eBird!

A Savannah Sparrow perching among sparse Mangrove leaves.
I didn’t have a lot of opportunities to take photos, but I thought this Savannah Sparrow posed nicely!

I’ll post the checklists below. Feel free to map out where we went and how we did.

Rotary Park at Merritt Island (at dawn):
https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S50673168

Courtenay Pkwy including vacant lots:
https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S50674223
https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S50674280
https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S50674354
https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S50674560

Merritt Square Mall:
https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S50674624

Veterans’ Park:
https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S50677314

Merritt Island Airport:
https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S50678160

Merritt Island Causeway:
https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S50678299

Crooked Mile Road:
https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S50680287

Georgiana Cemetery:
https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S50681013

Rotary Park at Merritt Island (afternoon):
https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S50683421

Osteen Park:
https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S50683421

Waterway Park:
https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S50686162

Kenzel Court:
https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S50686421

Sawyer Avenue:
https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S50687824

Abandoned Development, Tropical Trail:
https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S50688634

Lewis Carroll Avenue:
https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S50690381

Merritt Island Rookery:
https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S50691754

Our final count was 78 species for our section. The final circle count was 145 species. Not bad. It was an exhausting day, but we managed to work well together, help out with a long running (119 years!) bird census, and see parts of the county I’d not had an opportunity to visit.



Catching Up Is Hard To Do: Part 1

December 13, 2018

Hello friends! It’s been a while since my last post, so I’ll try to catch us up! Perhaps the most interesting happening (at least in my birding world) was the sighting of an American Flamingo in Brevard County in late October . The overall status of the American Flamingo in Florida is still being debated, but whatever fruits that argument bears doesn’t alter how rare a wild flamingo is for the Space Coast. But of course, that’s the real question, isn’t it? Where did this bird come from? It was non banded, but that’s hardly a foolproof indication of a wild bird. It’s possible it was stirred up from our southern neighbors by Hurricane Harvey and was taking an extended tour, or maybe someone had it as a “pet’ and “lost” it. There’s no way to know.

This severely cropped photo was the best shot I could get of the distant bird (it was seen much closer by others, but seemed to prefer to feed well away from the road to Playalinda in the afternoons it was with us).

An American Flamingo stands far away against a distant backdrop of mangrove trees in shallow water.
Not a lawn ornament.

In any case, it was a good reason to get out with Sarah and Bella Muro again and find this bird, as well as checking out part of the Buck Lake Conservation Area [map] with them. The birding was a little light, but we had a few good looks at the recently arrived Eastern Phoebes and a few warblers sprinkled in for good measure.

An Eastern Phoebe perched on a branch surrounded by spare foliage.
Eastern Phoebes started arriving in October and will be our guests until Spring.

Here’s our Buck Lake eBird list (I’ll spare you the Merritt Island lists – the American Flamingo was the star of that show):
https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S49694824

There was little time to rest before the Fall Florida Ornithological Society (FOS) meeting in Davie, FL the first weekend in November. I’d been looking forward to the weekend for months.

The sessions and keynotes were good, and it is always great to catch up with birding friends I haven’t seen in a while. I didn’t take too many photos, but the field trips were pretty good. Dave Goodwin, Jim Eager, Charlie Fisher, and I went out on our own on Saturday to Evergreen Cemetery in Fort Lauderdale [map]. We were hoping for some late migrants, but those were few and far between.

Wide shot of a cemetery with a large tree on the right side. There are a few Muscovy ducks wandering among the graves.
Evergreen Cemetery has some mature trees and is an important green space in the middle of urban south Florida.

You can see our eBird list below:
https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S49640385

From there we went to Markham Park [map], which borders the Everglades. We were hoping for Spot-breasted Orioles, but after getting distracted at the canal overlooking the Everglades, we spent most of our time there, scanning the grasses for Grey-headed Swamphens and Purple Gallinules. We got a distant but long look at a White-tailed Kite, too.

The golden and green grasses of the Everglades, with some patches of open water, stretch out to the horizon under mostly overcast skies. Powerlines cross the foreground between the horizon and top of the photo.
The vast expanse of the Everglades never ceases to impress, even with the closeness of the power lines and a major highway (off to the left).

The next day, I went to the soon-to-open Fran Reich Preserve [map], in Palm Beach County. It borders the Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge. They are separated by a canal and levee system, preventing any meaningful ecological continuity, however. Primarily scrub and open habitat, the main draw was the hope of some early wintering sparrows. It took some careful stalking, but eventually we managed to flush some Lincoln’s Sparrows, of which I got a good look at one!

Perhaps the bigger stars of the show were the non-avian friends we came across! First was a magnificent Green Lynx Spider, staking out her claim on a goldenrod plant (Solidago stricta, according to botanophiles).

A Green Lynx Spider sits, head pointing down, on a yellow flowering plant. A person's lower leg and athletic shoe are slightly out of focus in the background.
Lynx spiders are good at insect control and seldom bite people. She probably has spent her whole life on this one plant.

The biggest oohs and aahs, particularly from the students we had along with us, were directed at a praying mantis. It was comfortable enough with being handled, that it even stopped to groom it’s legs, relatively unperturbed by all the humans crowding around.

praying-mantis-cleaning
Some of the students speculated that this was a female praying mantis, given it’s slightly distended abdomen, possibly indicating eggs developing inside.

The remainder of the FOS meeting was informative and entertaining, but it was good to get back home after a weekend away.

Later in November, I finally got to meet up with my friend Annie Otto and hike and bird one of her favorite places, Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve (GTMNERR, or “Guana”) [map]. It was a beautiful day, if a bit windy (although the trees protected us from the brunt of the gusts).

Wooded trail in the foreground curving to the left with some mixed deciduous and coniferous trees in the middle and background.
The climate and land cover at Guana is just sufficiently different from east-central Florida to make for a good change of scenery.

The bird of the day had to be the Yellow-rumped Warblers, which had arrived with succeeding cold front in the previous weeks. Dozens of them would seemingly fall out of the sky into the trees, along with Ruby-crowned Kinglets, some Eastern Phoebes and even some late season migrants, like Blackburnian, Black-throated Blue, and Cape May Warblers.

Annie is the manager of the Tomoka Marsh Aquatic Preserve, and was fun to talk to about the area and some of her personal history as a conservationist and outdoors enthusiast.

Here’s our e-bird list:
https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S49867781

Just before my adventure with Annie, I did get an e-mail from Mitchell Harris, and that will be the focus of the start of Part 2!

 

Headed Back Down South

September 28, 2018

The month of September is waning, and the best chance for songbird migration is ramping up. During this continuing lull (it has still been HOT), it seemed like a good opportunity to scamper to Miami and try to get a few species that are endemic or established there that we generally can’t find elsewhere.

I met up with Camille and we set out before sunrise to get to our targets. We were hoping for two species, both that have become sort of  “nemesis birds” for both of us: the Mangrove Cuckoo and White-crowned Pigeon.

Our first destination was Black Point Park and Marina [map], where some Mangrove Cuckoos had been seen recently. This species is notoriously secretive, and though this time of year isn’t necessarily the best time, having a recent sighting in an accessible hotspot made it irresistible to attempt.

a row of fishing and pleasure boats in a marina on calm water with a blue sky.
It was a clear and beautiful morning at the marina.

Unfortunately for our information regarding the birds’ location was a bit sketchy, and being unfamiliar with the area, we wandered a bit before finding the right spot. That meant the morning had worn on quite a bit. While we did see other birds, we never got so much as a hint of Mangrove Cuckoos.

A Loggerhead Shrike sits perched, facing left, among the leaves of a mangrove tree.
Not a cuckoo, but it’s always nice to see Loggerhead Shrikes.

In our wanderings around the marina, we took a paved path, closed to vehicles, that paralleled a canal. There were several heron and egret species, including several young Yellow-crowned Night Herons, like the one below. Like their cousins, the Black-crowned Night Herons, this species’ young are brown and streaked, which helps keep them camoflagued in the grasses and other vegetation near their nests. These birds were fledged, and will soon molt into their gray and black adult plumage.

An immature Yellow-crowned Night Heron stands, facing right, on top of a wooden post (only the very top of which is in view) with an out-of-focus background of green leaves.
Yellow-crowned Night Herons are less stocky than the Black-crowned, with a yellowish or orange eye, instead of red.

Our first migrant of the day was a lone American Redstart in some trees near a small bridge, by a flood control structure. The same area had a huge amount of Black Vultures both on the ground and swirling above in a large kettle, probably due in part to the row of nearby dumpsters.

An adult male American Restart, perched in a mangrove tree, facing left. It is partly obscured by branches.
American Redstarts should become more numerous across the region in the coming weeks.

By the time we found the (likely) actual spot the cuckoos had been seen, the morning had well worn on, and it was getting hot. We hung around for a few minutes but to no avail.

We broke for lunch before making our way to the Baptist Hospital of Miami [map] and cruised around its grounds for any parrots – there were none – before heading into the Kendall area neighborhoods to find White-crowned Pigeons.

Predictably, bird activity was low in the heat of the day, but we did get a few pockets of birds as we worked westward through and past some parks and ball fields. We finally ended up at Indian Hammocks Park [map].

As we drove through the entrance and into the park, a female Scarlet Tanager flew into a tree on the right side of the car, and some small birds could be seen and heard in the tree tops. Camille pulled us over and we got out and scanned the vicinity, taking note of some Blue-grey Gnatcatchers and Red-bellied Woodpeckers. After a few more minutes, Camille drove to park the car while I stayed to investigate (this turned out to be somewhat unfortunate, as I left my camera in the car).

I tracked down a Yellow-throated Warbler and some more gnatcatchers before checking out the family of Red-bellied Woodpeckers, further from the entry road. Some movement high in a tree, under some dense canopy caught my eye: a White-crowned Pigeon! Happily, it stuck around (and another joined it in the same tree) until Camille made it back from the parking lot. This species has given us both fits over the past few years. It’s not uncommon, and any eBird search for it results in hotspots and personal spots peppered all across the Miami area with sightings, but until then the bird had eluded us.

After some high-fives, a couple of lifer dances, and a quick look at a Baltimore Oriole, we made our way further west to see if we could find the Zenaida Dove (and some shorebirds) reported over the previous week in some agricultural fields (known as the “West Kendall Agricultural Area” [map]).

Zenaida Doves are Caribbean endemics; they are rare vagrants to south Florida (though their similarity to Mourning Doves might cause some to have been missed in suburban settings). The bird hadn’t been reported for a couple of days, but it was worth our while to check it out. The only shorebirds in attendance were a great many Killdeer and several Least Sandpipers probing some muddy puddles for whatever morsels they could find.

Two Least Sandpipers, probing their bills in dirty water as they wade through water a couple of inches deep.
Some birds are quite flexible in finding food. These Least Sandpipers were feeding in a dirty puddle in very disturbed sand and dirt near a small airport, adjacent to some agricultural land.

There were a few Mourning Doves present, but as we walked over to the farthest “puddle” in the immediate area, a slightly redder dove, with white in its wings, was flushed up and quickly flew to the west – a Zenaida Dove! I was able to follow it a ways in my binoculars, getting a very good look. Unfortunately, Camille’s attention had been elsewhere and she never got a good look. We scanned for a while longer, and even after a Killdeer-filled ride further into the agricultural land and back, the dove was never relocated.

From there, it was off to the last stop of the day: the “Tamarac Exotic Duck Pond” in Palm Beach County [map].

For some reason, most of the ducks, geese, and swans found on this urban pond are countable on eBird, though not for ABA lists. It fairly obvious these birds were introduced, but they are still beautiful and were a treat for the end of the day. Here are a few of the birds we saw.

A male Mandarin Duck, on the water swimming, facing right.
There was one male Mandarin Duck that seemed to be paired up with a female Wood Duck (who was largely ignoring the male Wood Duck).

A Red-crested Pochard swims alongside a Redhead on the water, both facing left. The pochard is in the foreground.
A Red-crested Pochard (foreground) with a more mundane Redhead (background) it was seemingly paired up with.

A White-cheeked pintail, facing left, swims on the water in full sun.
White-cheeked Pintail

A Ruddy Shelduck, standing in grass with some tree roots behind it. The bird is facing right.
A Ruddy Shelduck on the bank of an urban water retention pond. It was hanging out with some Egyptian Geese.

With the sun starting to sink low, we decided to end the day and head home. Getting several lifers (including the ducks) made for an exciting day.

Here are the eBird lists for our adventure:

Black Point Marina and Park (2 lists):
https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S48690065
https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S48691763

Kendall-Baptist Hospital Area:
https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S48694878

K-Land Park:
https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S48695139

Kendall Indian Hammocks Park:
https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S48696682

West Kendall Agricultural Area:
https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S48698554

Tamarac Exotic Duck Pond:
https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S48702014

Hopefully this coming weekend will see some local areas “heat up” with migrants as the days cool down (again, hopefully)!

A Little Extra from September

September 20, 2018

Here are a couple of photos from my hike in Saint Sebastian River Preserve State Park, earlier this month.

pine-lilies
Pine Lilies are native to Florida and the US southeast coast. You can find them in places with acidic, moist soils. They are heat tolerant, too. Very Florida. This species is “Threatened”.

bobwhite
I flushed a covey of Northern Bobwhites from the ground. The male and most of the females took off out of sight.  This remaining female flew into a nearby pine tree and tried to become invisible. When it became clear that the wildlife paparazzi (me) had found her, she lept into the air, flew over my head and landed somewhere in the wiregrass.