Falling Over: Part III

December 21, 2017
[My apologies for the delay in wrapping up my adventures from earlier this month. It’s been a hectic and busy time, as you might imagine]

I’ll wrap up my end-of Autumn posts (as we reach the end of astronomical or “official” autumn) my MINWR adventure with Sarah and Bella Muro. A day after chasing a Brant and Neotropic Cormorant, I met with the Muros late in the morning and we formulated a plan to try and maximize the chances of getting Bella some life birds, namely sparrows and ducks.

We headed to Space Coast Regional Airport [map] first, since there are often various sparrows seen there, as well as the occasional Scissor-tailed Flycatcher. While it was probably early for the flycatcher, it was fun to ride along the perimeter road (imaginatively called Perimeter Road) around the airport, then up Tico road (imaginatively named for TItusville/COcoa – the previous name of the airport).

The fence around the airport was strangely devoid of its usual Loggerhead Shrikes, but there were a few American Kestrels and other birds of prey.

red-shouldered-hawk
A young Red-shouldered Hawk was calmly looking about. Its presence may have been partially responsible for the relative lack of small birds along the fence-line.

We managed to scare up a Vesper Sparrow on the far end of Tico road, but the look was brief, so we pulled off the road to “chase” it down the fence line. In birding terms, chasing doesn’t usually mean actually running after the bird in sight. It means making a concerted effort to find where the bird may have flushed or flown to, using observation and smart conjecture, based on known species or genus behaviors and the available options. In a larger sense, chasing can mean driving or travelling long distances to attempt to see a specific bird species, but perhaps that sort of chasing deserves its own post.

While trying to get another look at the sparrow, we happened on a mixed group of birds, including a couple of American Goldfinches, a Blue-headed Vireo and some warblers. And this bird, from the Valiant Air Command:

b-25
The Valiant Air Command is a local warbird/military plane restoration group and museum with many vintage and historic aircraft on display, with some functional articles, like this B-25 “Mitchell” bomber, named “Killer B”.

In the end, we identified the sparrow as a Vesper, by process of elimination based on field marks and habitat.

Our next stop was Black Point Drive [map], where we finally did get some more ducks, including American Wigeons, Blue-winged Teals, and even some Northern Pintails. Through most of the afternoon, my poor, fickle camera made photographs quite difficult, so I apologize for the relative lack of photos.

We then went into the Cape Canaveral National Seashore [map]. The road toward Playalinda Beach has several pull-offs (called Vistas) that look out over ponds and wetlands. It was along these Vistas that up to 10 species of ducks were reported during the previous week.

The Ruddy Ducks from my adventure with Camille were still there, joined by many Redheads and American Wigeons. But the species we were most interested in seeing were Canvasbacks, which had also been reported there.

It took some serious staring: the larger rafts of ducks were at the edge of comfortable binocular range. I did finally get a chance “fly by” of my binocular field by a female Canvasback, but she landed in the midst of the other ducks before Sarah or Bella could positively identify her. We continued to scrutinize the group until finally, two male Canvasbacks swam out from the edge of the group and turned enough for us to see their unique head profiles. Sorry, no duck photos, but Sarah got this shot off for the moment of Bella’s latest life bird!

bella-canvasback-sighted
Canvasback sighters! (Photo courtesy and ©Sarah Muro)

With the light beginning to fade, we went part way along Bio Lab Road [map], where Bella spotted this slightly odd looking heron. At first glance it appears to be a Little Blue Heron transitioning to adult plumage, but to all three of us it’s size and proportions seemed to be off, and it’s plumage was more muted gray than blue. We may never really know, which is one reason why birding is fun and engaging to me.

 

odd-heron
Mystery heron? Hybrid, or just an “odd duck”?

We ended the day at Pumphouse Road [map], hoping for sparrows in the last light. Sarah did manage to catch a glimpse of a very late season (and perhaps rare winter resident) Yellow Warbler in the mangroves.

pumphouse-road-sunset
As the sun set, the “supermoon” was about to rise behind us, bracketing a beautiful and fulfilling day. (Photo courtesy and ©Sarah Muro)

That evening the year’s only “supermoon” – when the full moon coincides with the Moon’s perigee, or closest point in its orbit around Earth – rose on the way back toward home.

The final cap on the day was a meteor streaking along the sky as I dropped Sarah and Bella off at their home.

What does a self-professed “lonely birder” get out of all this, a busy weekend birding with others? It’s always a pleasure to share a love and passion for birds and conservation with anyone, especially friends. Opportunities to recharge and reset will come. Besides, I also got a hefty serving of some delicious chili from Sarah’s husband, to take home. Sharing food is one of the most powerful and important gestures people can make, so thank you, Chris, for the lovely meal (ok, 3 meals, really).

 

On the Road at MINWR

Some photos from this past weekend’s adventure to MINWR (Both Bio Lab Road and Black Point Drive). I had never been on Bio Lab Road before, but it looks to be a good place for shorebirds and waders, much like a lot of Black Point Drive.

While both locations didn’t offer the best photographic opportunities, the birding was good, and I did finally to manage to get my first Spotted Sandpipers of the year.

There was a duck on Bio Lab Road that was hard to ID at first, but was also maimed, with his right wing partially missing. I had to do some digging and questioning (thank you Brdbrains!) to positively identify him, but it seems this is a Ring-necked Duck drake that had been injured in the early spring and has been cruising around all summer. I was glad he seemed healthy and I am sure he’ll be happy to see his kin in the fall.

Bio Lab Road:
http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist?subID=S24469175

  • Wood Stork
  • Double-crested Cormorant
  • Anhinga
  • Great Blue Heron
  • Great Egret
  • Snowy Egret
  • Little Blue Heron
  • Tricolored Heron
  • Cattle Egret
  • Green Heron
  • White Ibis
  • Glossy Ibis
  • Black Vulture
  • Turkey Vulture
  • Osprey
  • Common Gallinule
  • Black-necked Stilt
  • Semipalmated Plover
  • Killdeer
  • Spotted Sandpiper
  • Least Sandpiper
  • Laughing Gull
  • Mourning Dove
  • Red-bellied Woodpecker
  • Northern Flicker
  • White-eyed Vireo
  • Blue Jay
  • Northern Cardinal
  • Red-winged Blackbird
  • Eastern Meadowlark
  • Boat-tailed Grackle

Black Point Drive:
http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist?subID=S24469169

  • Ring-necked Duck
  • Pied-billed Grebe
  • Wood Stork
  • Double-crested Cormorant
  • Anhinga
  • Great Blue Heron
  • Great Egret
  • Snowy Egret
  • Little Blue Heron
  • Tricolored Heron
  • Reddish Egret
  • White Ibis
  • Glossy Ibis
  • Osprey
  • Common Gallinule
  • American Coot
  • Black-necked Stilt
  • Killdeer
  • Greater Yellowlegs
  • Willet
  • Laughing Gull
  • Least Tern
  • Caspian Tern
  • Mourning Dove
  • Northern Flicker
  • Loggerhead Shrike
  • Red-winged Blackbird
  • Boat-tailed Grackle

As the summer is moving on, some of the early shorebird migration is getting started, and even some larger numbers of gulls and terns are starting to gather. Some of the lists at Fort DeSoto over on the Gulf coast are already getting impressive (at least from these meager Atlantic birding grounds!).