September 20, 2018
Here are a couple of photos from my hike in Saint Sebastian River Preserve State Park, earlier this month.
September 20, 2018
Here are a couple of photos from my hike in Saint Sebastian River Preserve State Park, earlier this month.
September 4, 2018
September is a month of continued change. Early migrants and shorebirds are starting to arrive and stop over on their way south for wintering grounds. The weather is very slowly starting to cool off in Florida, making longer outings less uncomfortable.
This past weekend I used these opportunities to check out the early season action in St. Sebastian River Preserve State Park [map]. A Red-headed Woodpecker – a relative rarity for Brevard County – had been reported off and on in the park this summer, and I wanted to find it.
Despite the late summer season, there were still Bachman’s Sparrows singing in the northwest and northeast sections of the park, and several small flocks were flushed out of the palmettos and wiregrass as I walked the Green Trail in the northwest quadrant.
Barn Swallows have been moving through the area for a couple of weeks now, and there were several large groups working various open areas and resting on wires. Quite a number were juveniles, of course.
As I hiked part of the Turkey Link Trail, I heard some calls that sounded very much like a Red-headed Woodpecker, some distance to the east. Eventually, I looped back to my car (at the visitors’ center) and drove along the dirt road a bit farther east, near the park service building. After walking about 100 meters north, I could not go any further due to standing water, but I heard some more of the same woodpecker calls not too far away. I decided some judicious audio recordings might help me definitively identify the bird. I played 3 or 4 Red-headed Woodpecker calls and immediately got a reply in some pine trees just about 50 meters away. Unfortunately, I could not locate the bird visually, and eventually the bird moved further into the park and to the east.
While on the Green Trail I encountered some of the area’s non-avian friends, like some understandably skittish deer and a very cooperative and beautiful Luna Moth species.
I was also surprised by a loose aggregation of Peregrine Falcons a couple of hundred meters overhead. I have seen falcons (Merlins) migrating south (along the beach) in relatively close proximity, but never the larger Peregrines.
After making my way back to the car, I drove over to the Yellow Trail at the Northeast Quadrant. The nearby canal had a few wading birds and even a small flock of Wild Turkeys.
I was anticipating a long walk along the Yellow Trail before seeing any Red-cockaded Woodpeckers, but I was pleasantly surprised by an overflight of two of the woodpeckers, only a few hundred meters from the trailhead. A few Brown-headed Nuthatches also popped by for a quick hello.
In the aftermath of both Hurricane Matthew in 2016 and Irma in 2017, many of the longleaf pines in Florida have been getting further decimated by the Southern Pine Beetle. For example, at Turkey Creek Sanctuary as many if not more trees are being lost to the beetle than to Hurricane Irma. The beetles take advantage of weakened or diseased mature trees, so the affects of recent hurricanes have helped intensify the current infestation. I did not notice too much in the way of damage in the Northwest Quadrant, and most of the Northeast Quadrant seemed healthy until I ran into a couple of clusters of dead and dying pines on the Red-cockaded Woodpecker Link Trail. Luckily, there didn’t seem to be many affected trees (at least that were within my visual range).
As I made my way along the Red-cockaded Woodpecker Link Trail the weather, which had been slightly threatening all morning, started to worsen a little and some light rain began to fall. Besides some Pine Warblers and a few other birds, it became quiet as I made my way across a drainage feature around a cypress dome and finally back out onto the Green Trail. I misjudged the distance and wound up walking over 9 kilometers (over 5.5 miles)!
St. Sebastian River Preserve State Park is a nice gem at the southern end of Brevard County and northern end of Indian River county. It is bisected by Interstate 95, running north-south, and the channelized Saint Sebastian River (essentially a canal), running east-west. I find myself wondering if a set of elevated wildlife corridors spanning these features could benefit the park and local environment. Such corridors have been widely successful in many places here in the U.S. and around the world. Something to think about.
Here are my eBird lists for those so inclined.
Northwest Quadrant, partial Green Trail/Turkey Link Trail:
Northwest Quadrant, partial Green Trail (east of previous):
Northeast Quadrant, partial Buffer Preserve Road section:
Northeast Quadrant, partial Yellow Trail/Red-cockaded Woodpecker Link Trail:
Summer is the slow season for birding, in most of Florida. As the Springtime migration ends, the local breeders raise their broods and then the region sort of hangs there for a while, in the heat and humidity, pausing for the Fall. With the high humidity and temperatures, as well as other non-birding obligations, there’s not much going on here at Lonely Birder Central. But not nothing. At one of the neighborhood ponds in Palm Bay’s Sandy Pines subdivision, there have been occasional Wood Ducks and even a Killdeer nest with hatchlings.
I made a quick trip to Canaveral National Seashore [map] and Black Point Drive [map] at MIWR with Camille in July. Despite the heat, we managed to get just about 30 species one morning, including some Brown-headed Cowbirds, Northern Flickers, and Least Bitterns.
Other interesting sightings so far this Summer include a Peregine Falcon in my own neighborhood, some Ruby-throated Hummingbirds at Turkey Creek Sancturary.
I had a fun excursion with my friends Sarah and Bella, with Sarah’s father and Bella’s sister. We drove down to the Moccasin Island Tract [map] and walked to the Bald Eagle’s nest (which was unoccupied), and got some good looks at Eastern Meadowlarks, a couple of Loggerhead Shrikes and some Black-necked Stilts that were nesting in the still-flooded grass, north of the parking area.
As we made our way back to the car, we had an overflight of about a dozen or so Swallow-tailed Kites – the most I’ve ever seen at once in that area. They were sharing the airspace with a very different bird. Just one of many hazards our birds have to navigate every day.
We ended that adventure with a nice visit at the Viera Wetlands parking area by a Crested Caracara.
Visit our eBird list to see a couple of Bella’s photos and a complete accounting of our species there:
There’s been one small change to the blog. If you look at the top of the right-hand sidebar, you’ll see a button that says, “Buy me a coffee”. This is a link to my Ko-fi page, which allows you to send me a few dollars (the equivalent of coffee you probably pay too much for) if you like what I’m doing here with the blog, or whenever you find a particular post you connect with.
I’m not looking to make a lot of money, just some extra cash to defray the cost of gas or food, or a festival registration fee, etc., when I go on a birding adventure. Thanks for reading what I have to say and looking at my photos, whether you donate or not.
Stay cool, everyone!
May 20, 2017
I had a quick visit out to Cedar Key last weekend, along with Mrs. Lonely Birder and some of her family. As they are not known to be early birds, I took the opportunity for some solo adventuring out to the wildlife management areas near Cedar Key [map] at dawn. The map is a little confusing, because the signage around the park said I was in the Lower Suwannee River National Wildlife Refuge but the Suwannee River is almost 10 kilometers (6 miles) northwest of where I was. If any readers have an insight into the parks situation at my location, please enlighten me! These few hours of solitude were just what I needed after the trying events of the past couple of months.
I started out by walking around and onto Shell Mound, an ancient pile of shells left by generations of the area natives, from neolithic times to the early European colonization/imperialistic era. The woods more mostly quiet, but for the calls of some White-eyed Vireos, some Clapper Rails in the adjacent salt marsh, and some Carolina Chickadees.
Near the boat ramp and fishing pier/observation deck, a pair of Great Crested Flycatchers were making a ruckus watching me as much as I was watching them!
There was a scattering of few shorebirds on the mudflats, but otherwise the more numerous flying things were the thousands of mosquitoes and midges swarming around me. The bug repellent held its own, though, and I only suffered a few bites before making for the shelter of Shell Mound and back to the car.
I then stopped at the Cedar Key Scrub State Reserve and walked a short distance, listening to and watching the Eastern Towhees, Common Yellowthroats, and White-eyed Vireos. I had a nice fly-over of a Wood Duck pair, as well as some “mystery” bird calls I never really deciphered.
I picked up Mrs. Lonely Birder and the Lonely-In-Laws back at our motel and we made our way to Cedar Key “proper” for a nice afternoon of walking, shopping, and art galleries. Cedar Key is pretty and the tourist traps are a lot less “in your face” compared to many of Florida’s beach towns or keys.
Even though we didn’t venture out into the more “natural” areas, there were birds tucked around here and there, particularly off shore where there were some people fishing and kayaking. But even along the more built-up parts had visitors.
A handful of Barn Swallows were swooping along through the area, but only one landed anywhere that I could see and paused long enough to get a good look (and a few photos).
As with most of Florida, the usual resident water birds were there in large numbers. This handsome Brown Pelican (along with many of its friends) was patiently waiting for scraps from a man that was “preparing” some fish he had caught.
Also waiting for fish scraps were a bunch of Laughing Gulls. Almost all the adults now have their characteristic black hoods and white eye-arcs. This bird seemed to be having some trouble balancing on an old piling.
After a nice lunch and a bit more shopping (mostly of the “window” variety), we headed back east toward home.
For the curious reader, here are select eBird lists from the day.
Lower Suwannee NWR – Shell Mound:
Cedar Key Scrub State Reserve (part):
Perhaps next visit I will get out to the less developed keys and poke around, but for this past weekend, some strolling, shopping, and yes, birding, was just right.
May 13, 2018
I thought you all might enjoy some photos from Global Big Day 2018. If you don’t know, the goal of any “big day” is to see as many species of birds in a single day as you can. With that in mind, as well as a few rare targets species to find, Camille and I visited several locations on Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge (Brevard County) and then made our way to Joe Overstreet Road and Landing (Osceola County), totaling about 80 species for the day.
We were hoping for Whimbrels and a reported American Golden Plover, but came up empty on both counts. There were still plendy of good birds to see, though! Here are the Brevard area eBird lists:
East Gator Creek: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S45283989
MINWR Visitor Center: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S45286447
Pumphouse Road (cut short by rain shower): https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S45288223
Black Point Wildlife Drive: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S45294821
Incidental list in Titusville: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S45295462
River Lakes Conservation Area: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S45306422
Another incidental list: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S45307554
A final list before ending the day: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S45323725
After lunch, we made our way into Osceola County and Joe Overstreet Road and Landing. The sod fields seemed mostly empty of shorebirds, but both sides of the road were ringing with Eastern Meadowlark songs. Down at the lake, we had a surprise Pectoral Sandpiper, a good look at a snail kite, and a Yellow-billed Cuckoo that gave us a bit of a chase around the picnic area. On the way out, we stopped to see a Pygmy Rattlesnake that had to be coaxed off the road by another wildlife watcher. Pygmy Rattlesnakes are the smallest species of rattlesnake, as their name suggests. This adult was barely 30cm (1 foot) long!
Osceola Count eBird lists:
Incidental list: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S45309854
Another incidental (after a wrong turn!): https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S45311261
And another incidental list: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S45312009
Joe Overstreet Road & Landing: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S45319072
More incidentals: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S45320012
That was the extent of our Big Day, which was tiring but rewarding. Even “missing” the hoped for birds at the start of the day, there wasn’t much to complain about, with great weather and good birds for all.
May 8, 2018
“Old growth forest” is a term that for many of us, especially those from the northeastern USA, conjures up images of impassable, dark tangles and massive roots waiting to trip up anyone foolish enough to enter. Something straight out of Tolkien’s Fangorn Forest or the Fire Swamp from The Princess Bride. But that kind of forest exists mostly in our imagination. Real old growth forests are more ordered and open than you might imagine, and almost every forest has been managed to some extent by humans since there have been humans.
In the southeastern US, fire has historically (and prehistorically) played the primary role in managing the landscape, and an old growth forest is much different than you might imagine.
When the so-called pioneers first started moving through the vast pine forests of the southeastern US, they commented on the openness of the forests and how it was relatively easy to transport their carriages and carts through the forest. The way trees compete for resources, such as sunlight and water, combined with regular burning, results in a landscape such as you see in these photos.
Unfortunately, nearly all the old growth forests in the US are gone, reduced to parcels like the Wade Tract, in southern Georgia (managed by Tall Timbers Research Station) [map]. I was fortunate enough to visit this landscape the day after the Florida Ornithological Society’s Spring meeting.
Of course, being an old growth forest isn’t about dense growth or tall growth. It’s about being old. This has serious implications for plant and animal communities that normally exist in various symbiotic and complementary relationships. It also extends into the soil and the microbial and chemical processes that go on there.
If you want to learn more about old growth forests, and southern pine forests in particular, visit the Tall Timbers website or have a look around the internet.
As far as birdwatching, the Wade Tract was full of birdsong and surprises. For one thing, there were no migrant birds sighted on the property. While late April is normally past the peak for songbird migration in Florida, I had expected at least some warblers or thrushes to still be making their way through the panhandle. Despite this, there were plenty of resident birds around. I’ve never seen so many Red-headed Woodpeckers in one place.
With so many trees of various sizes, you’d think there’d be no cause for squabbles for nest sites, but birds are nothing if not competitive. I saw a Red-headed Woodpecker chase a Red-bellied Woodpecker from a tree. They bickered and fluttered at each other and then the Red-bellied quickly flew into a nest hole. The Red-headed watched, perturbed, for a couple of minutes, making little annoyed calls, and eventually flew away. The Red-bellied stayed holed up for the remainder of our time by this tree and poked his head out every once in a while!
The understory of the forest is open enough to provide suitable habitat for some birds that we more commonly associate with scrub and edge habitats, like Eastern Towhees and Blue Grosbeaks.
The frequent burning keeps the palmettos at bay, encouraging native wire grasses that Bachman’s Sparrows favor. Other birds that could be seen and heard throughout the tract were Indigo Buntings, Eastern Wood-pewees, Pine Warblers, and even some Red-cockaded Woodpeckers. In fact, I saw my first natural Red-cockaded Woodpecker nest holes. Other nesting areas for this bird use artificial nest boxes to compensate for the lack of old trees with heartwood fungal decay these birds otherwise require.
Here are the eBird lists for the day, including Tall Timbers as well as the Wade Tract:
Tall Timbers Research Station (dawn):
Wade Tract list 1:
Wade Tract list 2:
After making our way through some more amazing forest vistas, we made our way back to Tall Timbers Research Station and said our goodbyes. It’s been hard to convey the awe-inspiring beauty of these spaces and what they have meant throughout history, so I hope you’ll take the time to find more information.
May 3, 2018
Last weekend was the Spring meeting of the Florida Ornithological Society. The was our first “light” meeting; previously, we had two large meetings per year, each with scientific paper presentations, keynote speakers – the works. Starting this year, we decided to have one large meeting in the Fall and a smaller Board and buisiness oriented meeting in the Spring. We met at Tall Timbers research station, just north of Tallahassee [map].
Tall Timbers is a center for the study of fire ecology – essential to the health of many southeast US ecosystems, including pine flatwoods and scrub communities – and forestry. With several plots or tracts under management, Tall Timbers is a key resource for conservation and environmentally sound land use practices.
The lodge grounds, where the meeting was held, has a good diversity of bird life, including Purple Martin families, many singing Indigo Buntings and Blue Grosbeaks in the adjacent forests, House Finches and Brown Thrashers that hunt on the broad, open lawn between buildings. I’ve never seen thrashers so exposed. Dave Goodwin jokes and calls them “Lawn Thrashers”.
The woods were full of birdsong, with numerous Indigo Buntings, Blue Grosbeaks, Red-headed Woodpeckers, Eastern Wood-pewees, Brown-headed Nuthatches, Pine Warblers, Eastern Towhees, Bachman’s Sparrows, and more.
I was surprised by two things on this trip. One, there were no almost no migrant species on this trip. Late April is near the tail-end of migration, but I expected at least some warblers to be making their way through the forest. I don’t know if it was a combination of the lateness of the season and the weather, or if these woodlands don’t support the kinds of food migrants would be looking for, but almost all the birds we saw on both days were residents.
The other surprise was the paucity of raptors. We saw no falcons or accipiters, and only a few glimpses of any buteos (one Red-shouldered Hawk that I did not see, and a Red-tailed Hawk that made a brief appearance). We also had a distant look at a lone Mississippi Kite.
The highlight of the field trip was watching Jim Cox band some Brown-headed Nuthatch chicks. Bird banding helps scientists keep track of population trends and the health of individual birds and has a long history in ornithology.
The day wound down with some good looks at White-breasted Nuthatches – a Florida first bird for me – and a few Carolina Chickadees in the mix. Then it was time to head back to the lodge for our dinner and to get rest for the morning field trip to an old growth forest just over the Florida-Georgia line.
Here are the eBird lists for Tall Timbers Research Station.
April 27, 2018
Along with the almost, but not quite entirely indefatigable Camille, I spent the day with Sarah and Bella Muro at the park, and one epic drive home.
In addition to our first Scarlet Tanagers in the Mulberry Tree Area (or “MTA”), we had a nice flock of Indigo Buntings, an Orchard Oriole or two, quite a few Gray Catbirds, and even a male Ruby-throated Hummingbird.
The surprise of the day was seeing at least two Western Tanagers, a male and female. We may have seen and third later on in our hiking around, but it could have been the female we saw with our first group of birds when we arrived.
At the East Beach turnaround, we had a small collection of shorebirds, including Short-billed Dowitchers, Dunlins, Least Sandpipers, Black-bellied Plovers, and Sanderlings.
We searched in vain for a reported Blue-winged Warbler in the East Beach Woods, but did get a collection of Hooded Warblers, as well as Worm-eating, Cape May, Palm, and Prairie Warblers. In fact, Hooded Warblers were well sprinkled through the park, and one or two were pretty friendly, getting close to the picnic tables we took our lunch break at (you can see some more Hooded Warbler – and other – photos that Camille took in the eBird list for the park, linked further down)
There seemed to be more Nanday Parakeets around the park than I recall the last time I was there, and they were making quite a ruckus.
We had a few more various species through the park, but did not manage to find any Great Horned Owls or many raptor species at all.
The final action of the day came with our epic ride home. We took a slight detour to drop of a jumping spider that had stowed away in the front seat. To get back on our route home, we ended up on Gandy Bridge. Ultimately, this slight delay and change in route wound up getting us jammed in rush hour traffic out of both Tampa and Orlando. Combined with an implausible string of accidents along our route, and our trip home took nearly 5 hours!
But looking out over the water as traffic crawled along Gandy Bridge, we saw some unexpected flocks of Lesser Scaups, a few Common Loons, and even a Red-breasted Merganser. While not the rarest birds to find in April near Tampa, most of these birds would normally be well on their way north by this time. But winter has been slow to let go in parts of the Midwest and Northeast, so perhaps these birds knew to be a little patient.
Here are our eBird list of the day, staring out as we approached Ft. De Soto Park and including places along our ride home.
Duck Ponds & Tierra Verde:
Fort De Soto Park:
Ibis Walk Pond (apartment complex):
Gandy Park South:
All of us got at least some life or Florida birds for our personal lists, but Bella and Sarah really got some good birds for their life lists – Bella with 6 and Sarah 7!
Like most day trips out to Tampa from here, it was a long and tiring day, but Ft. De Soto is a true gem of a park, and I give a lot of credit and gratitude to Pinellas County for keeping it running so well with so many competeing uses (beach, cycling, birding, fishing, etc.). In fact, all the Pinellas County Parks are pretty well run and maintained, and you can’t go too wrong visiting any of them.
April 23, 2017
It’s past the middle of April, and that means MIGRATION for us here in Lonely Birder Central. Waves of migrants have made their way north, despite the wintry weather holding on for a good part of the USA.
At the start of April, Camille and I took a car trip to Stormwater Treatment Area 5/6 (STA 5/6) in Hendry County. Neither of us had birded that area of Florida yet, and it seemed a good idea to get over there before the really hot weather sets in.
STA 5/6 is quite reminiscent of the North Shore Restoration Area and the Wildlife Drive at Lake Apopka. There are large cells of open or semi-open water with vegetated levees and berms, providing diverse habitats.
Various water and wading birds ruled the day, although several dozen Northern Rough-winged Swallows was a nice surprise. In addition to the expected Black-bellied and Fulvous Whistling-Ducks, there were some “hangers on” Northern Shovelers and Blue-winged Teals. Black-necked Stilts seemed poised for nesting, and other shorebirds were making good use of the muddy edges to the treatment cells.
A bold Loggerhead Shrike took a liking to Ken Spilios’ vehicle!
We also got a nice look at a Crested Caracara, which let us loiter around its chosen post for quite some time. It’s likely it was serving as a lookout for a mate somewhere in the vicinity. While we watched it, we saw Peregrine Falcons and Snail Kites nearby, too.
As a last minute treat as we wound our day down, Camille and I went with trip leader Margaret England one last time to find a reported Tropical Kingbird, and met with success! It was a wonderful excursion with over 60 species identified.
It was a good adventure, and it added a couple of counties to my Florida birding lists (Hendry and Glades).
Closer to home, there have been a few weather systems bringing moderate fall-outs here and there, and I was lucky enough to catch some migrant action at Turkey Creek Sanctuary over the last couple of weeks.
Upon arriving at Turkey Creek on one of the days, I bumped into Bill Haddad and we stuck together for a good chunk of the morning. It was among the more impressive days at the park in recent memory with a good variety of warblers activity, including a sizable number of Prairie and Black-and-White Warblers.
As the winter resident Blue-headed Vireos depart, the Red-eyed Vireos are heading through on their way north as well (White-eyed Vireos are year-round residents here).
During a rain shower on one of the mornings, I finally managed to get a photograph I’ve been trying to get for a long time: a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher singing! Their song is so soft and easily overlooked that it took me years to even recognize it for what it was.
April 11th was the best migrant day at Turkey Creek in some time, with over sixteen warbler species recorded, some in large numbers. I had my first-of-year Black-throated Green, Bay-breasted and Magnolia Warblers, as well as rare Canada Warblers and a Summer Tanager!
Here are the two successive Turkey Creek Sanctuary eBird lists:
Coming next, a few photos from a day-trip to Fort De Soto Park!