Parrots Plus in South Florida

October 21, 2017

Camille and I headed to Miami last Sunday to see what parrot species we could get. Using Bill Pranty’s “A Birder’s Guide to Florida”, we hoped to beef up our life lists with some “easy” to get exotic birds.

On our way, we couldn’t pass up an opportunity to visit Evergreen Cemetery in Ft. Lauderdale [map]. This cemetery is a lovely spot for migrants and the occasional vagrant or exotic. This is where many birders flocked to see the Variegated Flycatcher a couple of years ago.

Evergreen Cemetery is a beautiful green space and a known migrant trap. As an aside, Leslie Nielsen is buried here.

The place was hopping with warblers, including American Redstarts, Black-and-White, Bay-breasted, Cape May, and Black-throated Blue Warblers.

Black-and-White Warbler hanging out on an oak tree.

When there are small birds concentrated in an area, you can bet small raptors aren’t far away. This Cooper’s Hawk was trying to hide from mobbing Blue Jays.


A young Cooper’s Hawk learned a lesson in patience and camoflage after getting chased around by angry Blue Jays.

A small Peregrine Falcon was also cruising over and around the cemetery, as well as a couple of American Kestrels.

Here’s the complete eBird list from the morning at Evergreen Cemetery:

From Ft. Lauderdale we headed to South Miami to find exotic parrot species and track down White-crowned Pigeons. These pigeons are always showing up on eBird alerts and in e-mailing list reports, but each trip either of us has made to south Florida has come up with no White-crowned Pigeons. I’ll save you the suspense: We didn’t see any on this trip either.

But we did get some parrots! At the Baptist Hospital [map], we had almost given up on seeing any birds at all, besides the numerous Muscovy Ducks.

There were Muscovy Ducks with chicks of all ages around the ponds at the hospital. These two chicks were part of a group of 8 or so siblings and their mother (standing protectively here).

But on our second look around, a large flock of loud Mitred Parakeets flew into a tree in the parking lot. Several minutes later, another large flock flew into a second tree. These parrots are extremely loud, and at times they synchronized their calls into a raucous, rollicking cacophony.

Mitred Parakeet on an exposed branch. Most of the birds stayed hidden (and cool) in the denser foliage.
Mitred Parakeet watching the watchers.

On the opposite side of the larger pond some more Mitred Parakeets flew in, joining a pair of smaller parrots, which turned out to be Yellow-chevroned Parakeets.

A pair of Yellow-chevroned Parakeets.
An acrobatic Yellow-chevroned Parakeet eating its lunch.

A few other feathered friends were around, including a small flock of Egyptian Geese. They were a bit flighty (no pun intended), but one bird was bolder and even struck some poses for us.

Egyptian Goose, posing.
Here’s his “good side”.

There were some domestic waterfowl, as well. I was hoping for a Greylag Goose, and this bird was the closest I could find.

The extensive white is evidence of domestication in this bird’s lineage.

Here’s the eBird list for the Baptist Hosptial Area, including the neighborhood to its north (where we found no White-crowned Pigeons):

From the hospital area, we went in to a few of the area neighborhoods, which are known to host warblers as well as established exotics, like Spot-breasted Orioles and Red-whiskered Bulbuls.

At the King’s Creek Village [map] townhouse development, we had some success! The last time we visited this area, we saw a Red-whiskered Bulbul, but were unable to photograph it. This time, we were ready!

One of several Red-whiskered Bulbuls in the neighborhood.
Bulbuls are native to south Asia, but are doing well in suburban Miami.

Among the more common Palm Warblers and Northern Parulas, we also saw Cape May and Blackburnian Warblers, and one real rarity: A Nashville Warbler.

A rare Nashville Warbler feeding on an ornamental.
This Nashville Warbler’s bright yellow belly really stood out in the sunlight.

The complete eBird list for King’s Creek Village is here (with more good photos from Camille):

After King’s Creek Village, we made two more stops, hoping to get White-crowned Pigeons and more parrots. At Ocean Bank [map] (a very urban setting), there have been White-chevroned Parakeets roosting just outside the atrium. We did not see them, but we did see some Common Mynas with nesting materials in a billboard structure.

We then made our way to the Miller Drive parrot roost [map], hoping to get more parrot species as they came in for the night. Unfortunately there were not many parrots, though we were treated to a fly by of a flock Red-masked Parakeets as the sun set. While we were waiting to see what parrots would flock in, we saw more warblers and even some non-avian friends.

Iguanas are a common introduced species in south Florida. In addition to some large specimens at Evergreen Cemetery, this one was hanging around the canal.

When it was clear there would be minimal roosting going on at this particular place, we made our way to Fuch’s Park [map], which is often an alternate roost site. But when we arrived there, it was dead quiet, with no parrots (and very few birds) present.

Here are the remaining eBird lists for the day:
Ocean Bank:

Miller Drive:

The sun was setting by now, and it was time to head home. Day trips to south Florida are always long, but rewarding. We never got our White-crowned Pigeon (deemed a “common” bird by some), and I joke that it’s a cryptid, like Big Foot. But I’ll be back to get it, along with the elusive Mangrove Cuckoo. There are plenty of birding adventures to be had before then!


Spring Fall Outs 2017

Since my last entry we’ve had one small and one larger “fall out” of migrating birds here along the Space Coast. A fall out happens when birds encounter a weather event that forces them from flight to stop and seek shelter or food – or both – for a time before resuming their paths. Flying takes a tremendous amount of energy. Over a long period of time, many birds have developed methods to save that energy in flight. Neotropical migrants, like warblers, use approaching winds and weather fronts to time their overnight flights. For much of this spring there have been unusually strong southerly winds along the entire peninsula of Florida, allowing many migrants to fly very long distances with a tail-wind, often bypassing the state altogether. That has made for another fairly quiet migration, for the most part.

At the beginning of April, a cold front did sweep across the state, and some early migrants were forced down into area hotspots. At Lori Wilson Park, that generated some excitement as a rare Black-whiskered Vireo stopped for a couple of weeks. This is likely the same bird that also stopped there last year, so it remembered the park as a safe haven and place to refuel.

Like many recurring and rare visitors, this bird had a favorite hang-out in the park. In this case a mature Gumbo Limbo tree, producing berries that vireos seem to love.

The season’s first Red-eyed Vireos were also present, as well as familiar faces that hadn’t found their favorable winds quite yet. Prairie and Yellow-rumped Warblers were still there, as well as the park’s large contingent of Gray Catbirds.

Catbirds generally prefer to skulk in the underbrush, but this bird had come out in the open to get some water.

A complication this spring for any migrants that do need to stop and “top-up their tanks” is the lack of rainfall since the end of winter. Many places around the state are in drought and fire hazard warnings were up for much of the first part of April. The conditions only got worse as the month has worn on. The marsh habitat of Black Point Wildlife Drive on Merritt Island caught fire last week and about 5,000 acres burned. Fire is a natural and necessary force in shaping central Florida’s natural landscape, but only in area adapted for it. The area around Black Point is a wetlands habitat, dominated by mangroves. A hot burn there stands to do damage, even to the soil. It’s early days yet to know how much damage may have been done. The fire is suspected to be human induced, though the origin might never be truly known. If you smoke, please properly extinguish whatever you’re smoking and don’t light up when in areas prone to fire (which in recent days is just about anywhere outside).

Fire at Black Point. (Photo courtesy USFWS)
Photo courtesy of USFWS.

After the small fall out at the start of April, conditions returned to strong, southerly winds again, even through the Spring meeting of the Florida Ornithological Society. The FOS meeting was in Ruskin this year, near Tampa. I’ll have a little to say about that coming up in another blog entry.

Finally, this weekend we had another front come through. Though not as strong as the one a couple of weeks ago, there were more birds in the sky as we’ve reached peak migration time for many species. The results were dramatic. Over at Fort De Soto park (just days after I left the area after the FOS meeting), dozens of tanagers and grosbeaks descended on the park, though the warbler numbers were low.

Closer to home, Turkey Creek Sanctuary finally saw its largest number of migrant warblers of the season. Over two days this week I went out before work to see what made pit stops there.

Tuesday morning had large numbers of Black-and white Warblers on the move. This species winters in Florida, Mexico, Central America, and parts of South America. It breed throughout much of the eastern US and Canada. There were also Black-throated Blue Warblers, American Redstarts, and Blackpoll Warblers throughout Turkey Creek Sanctuary. Small numbers of Cape May and Worm-eating Warblers were also there, and at least one Black-throated Green Warbler – a long anticipated life bird for me!

Finally! I’ve been hoping for this bird for a while. 
The extensive black throat feathers identify this Black-throated Green Warbler as a male.

Many of the birds were moving west, out of the sanctuary and into the adjacent neighborhood. I think this might be because of the limited food supplies in the park itself. The native and ornamental trees in the neighborhood might be irrigated, thus producing more fruit and attracting more insects.

The following morning saw much the same mix, except the predominate bird was the Blackpoll Warbler. I saw at least 3 dozen, mostly males, throughout the entire southern part of the Sanctuary (the northern area – specifically the Sand Pine and Turkey Oak trails – remain closed as trees and debris are being cleared, due to last Fall’s hurricane Matthew.

Here are three eBird lists from Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. I included Monday’s list for a comparison to what happened after the fall out conditions.

Monday 4/24/2017:
Tuesday 4/25/2017:
Wednesday 4/26/2017:

Food supplies in the sanctuary are still low, but these birds are finding enough for at least a brief stopover.

I expect things will taper off again as the winds are already turning more southerly. There are still a few weeks to go for migration, so hopefully there will be more chances for birds to make stops along the Space Coast. Many of these species won’t be seen here again until October.

I know this entry is a little light in the photographs, but such is the way with small, fast moving targets. I was excited that my Black-throated Green Warbler was as accommodating as he was!

T.M. Goodwin makes a good end to 2015

I’ve just come back from my final birding adventure of 2015. I’ve been thinking a lot, these past weeks, about how much birding I have done this year. I took on a novice birder for much of the year and have seen her skills improve (as she has helped sharpen mine). I’ve read and listened with joy at her own solo adventures around Florida and in Europe.

It ended up being a big birding year for me. Now, it hasn’t exactly been a “Big Year” (like the book or film).  It ended up as more of a Medium Year. I covered most of Central Florida in one way or another, travelled to Minnesota for Superb Owl Weekend, had a spectacular trip to Churchill to see Polar Bears and so much more.

I ended the year closer to home. Camille and I went to the T.M. Goodwin Waterfowl Management Area (map). This particular area is only open to general traffic on Thursdays, so it’s been a challenge to figure out when to visit with work schedules and such. Since we were both on vacation this week, it made a lot of sense to head on in and see what was hanging around.

Some typical habitat at T.M. Goodwin Waterfowl Management Area.

One species of interest is the Gray-headed Swamphen (a.k.a. Purple Swamphen). This bird has recently been breeding in south Florida and working its way north. There were verified reports in last week, so we were hoping to see it. Unfortunately, the swamphens did not cooperate. But we had a good day of it. I recorded my first Brevard County Fulvous Whistling Ducks and Snail Kites. There were some of both typical and pale Florida-form Red-shouldered Hawks, too.

A pale variant of the Red-shouldered Hawk.

As with much of central Florida, the most abundant birds on the water were American Coots and Common Gallinules. We counted nearly 1000 in just a couple of areas.

At one point a very patient and cooperative Black Vulture posed for some photos.

There was a disappointingly low number of ducks, which has been the case for a lot of places so far this fall/winter. We did see several Northern Pintails, some Blue-winged Teals, and a solitary Ring-necked Duck. The diversity that had been reported last week seemed to be gone.

You can see my complete lists over on ebird:

T.M. Goodwin “Original Unit”:

T.M. Goodwin “Broadmoor Unit”:

Some numbers of subjective value: I have recorded 200 bird species in Brevard County this year, and 256 for my grand total (including Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Manitoba).

A good end to a good year. Happy New Year to all of you!

No Bittern Tears of Egret

Monday was a vacation day for me, and I used it to head back to the Ritch Grissom Memorial Wetlands at Viera. It was overcast and a few sprinkles were falling, but I was hoping to see additional waterfowl and perhaps some more winter residents birds.

As I pulled into the parking area, I saw an immature Bald Eagle being harassed by an Osprey and some Turkey Vultures trying to get airborne. The morning was cool, so there didn’t seem to be any thermals to get them aloft.

I noticed more Pied-billed Grebes than the last time. There were also small groups of Northern Shovelers (all female) and Blue-winged Teals (both sexes). The rafts of American Coots have grown a little larger, though there were some pairs skulking closer to shore.

photo coot-couple.jpg What a coot couple!

I noticed several Black-crowned Night Herons in the reeds, some distance away. Both species of night herons here are actually crepuscular (a fancy term for being most active at dusk or dawn) rather than nocturnal. They were roosting quietly and grooming themselves a little.

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Black-crowned Night Heron.

I had something happen to me then that always fascinates me when something like it occurs. Normally one would chalk it up to a coincidence, but when it happens, the experience can seem so uncanny that we ascribe it to outside forces or fate. I was thinking to myself how great it would be to see every species of resident heron or egret in one outing. I was mulling that over and said to myself, “it would be pretty awesome if I did see an American Bittern.” Immediately, there was a squawk and flurry of wings to my left, and a chunky, brown and striped bird rose out of the reeds and flew across my line of sight. I first grabbed my binoculars and to my glee, it was indeed an American Bittern! It landed on the far side of the pond and tried to adopt the characteristic freeze posture the bird is known for, to blend in with the reeds. With the distance and low light levels, here’s the best shot I got.

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“I am a reed. Nothing to see here.”

I love it when these things happen! I was not able to conjure up a Whooping Crane or a Kirtland’s Warbler, though!

Palm Warblers were plentiful. They seemed equally at home among the wetland and upland vegetation. Palm Warblers are also getting a little more numerous near my workplace. Last year there were dozens each morning as I walked through the turnstile onto the work campus ground, each winter morning.

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Palm Warbler says, “Hey there!”

As I said above, there was a good variety of herons and egrets. At one point I heard some loud splashing and commotion behind me and saw a Great Egret wresting with a really large lunch! This bullfrog must have been at least 6 inches long (not counting the legs). It took some effort, but the egret finally got its meal down. I did feel a little bad for the frog.

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“What are you looking at? Is there something in my beak? Oh gosh, there is! How embarrassing!”

The Ospreys were not diving or flying much. I don’t know if the water surface or wind conditions were unfavorable or not, but they seemed mostly content to sit and look around. This one watched me intently the whole time I was in its vicinity.

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Osprey chillin’ out.

One can usually count on interesting non-bird encounters at the Viera Wetlands as well. I encountered some small alligators trying to get some glimpses of sun in between the sprinkles and clouds. Since it was a cool day, they were a bit sluggish and I was able to approach a bit closer than normal.

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Young gator showing us its happy face.

But most exciting was the almost run-in with a Water Moccasin in the grass. Water Moccasins are notoriously aggressive, and will often stand their ground when approached. I kept my distance, but still managed some great shots.

photo moccasin-long.jpg

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Don’t let this pretty face fool you. Water Moccasins can be very aggressive. I kept a respectful distance from this beauty.

As I made my way across the far end of the wetlands, I saw a few Limpkins carefully walking along the water’s edge. I was a little surprised to find so many Limpkins present, because their preferred food, apple snails, are not plentiful at this location. One individual was trying to make a meal out of a tiny snail about a centimeter across, before it flew away, calling loudly.

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Limpkin in flight.

As I continued along the western edge of the Wetlands, I was accompanied by loose groups of Palm Warblers and Savannah Sparrows along the grassy borders and small pines and brush that parallel the driving paths. I also heard a few Blue-gray Gnatcatchers. I paused at one point to check the Palm Warblers more closely and was surprised to see a different warbler flitting among the rest. My first thought was that it might be a Common Yellowthroat, but I’ve never seen one in brushy pine edges before (but that doesn’t mean it couldn’t be). On closer notation of the field marks and behavior I am left with a bit of a dilemma.

If I enumerate my notes thus:

  1. Gray head
  2. Yellowish breast and belly
  3. Greenish back, getting brighter and yellow-greenish on rump
  4. No wing-bars
  5. Flipped it’s tail (not bobbing or wagging like a Palm)

The closest match I get is a Nashville Warbler (a first for me!). However, there are problems with that identification. First, it’s not 100% certain that the bird wasn’t a slightly odd (or “aberrant”) plumage of a female or immature Common Yellowthroat. Second, the last time a Nashville Warbler was credibly reported in this area this late in the season was on November 8, 1999. Of course this doesn’t mean it is impossible, but without good photographic proof and a little more study of field marks, I cannot be 100% sure I saw a Nashville Warbler. Such is the way with birding. Sometimes not knowing for sure, but using all your skills to try to figure it out, expands your knowledge and experience and makes you a better birder. As Laura Erickson said to me, “Experiencing the bird itself is ever so much more fun than simply identifying it.”

Besides the Bald Eagle at the Wetlands’ entrance and the Ospreys lurking on the tree-tops, there were more raptors present than I’ve seen in a while. Perhaps due to the increase in small birds in the area compared to the summer, there were Northern Harriers flying around the area all morning, and several Red-tailed Hawks were present. The one in this photo was one of the darker ones I’ve seen here (compare to the lighter one I saw a few weeks ago).

photo red-shouldered-hawk.jpg

As I rounded one of the wetland cells to head back to the car, the weather turned, and the pesky on-an-off sprinkles were about to give way to steady rain. As the sky darkened, I saw this snowy egret standing on a pipe.

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A Snowy Egret hunkering down as the rain approached.

You can clearly see what Peterson and others have called “golden slippers” – the bright yellow feet. It is thought that one feeding strategy the Snowy Egrets use is to shuffle their bright feet along the bottom of ponds or marshes and scare up fish, crustaceans and other aquatic life in order to catch them to eat.

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“The feet! I told you about – I told you to – I told you – didn’t I tell him about the feet?”

The rain began falling soon after and by the time I got back to the car, I was pretty soaked.

Species list, mostly in order of first identification:

  • Bald Eagle
  • Turkey Vulture
  • American Coot
  • Common Gallinule
  • Common Grackle
  • Boat-tailed Grackle
  • Great Egret
  • Northern Harrier
  • Black-crowned Night Heron
  • Pied-billed Grebe
  • Blue-winged Teal
  • Northern Shoveler
  • Sandhill Crane
  • Osprey
  • Loggerhead Shrike
  • Double-crested Cormorant
  • Northern Mockingbird
  • American Bittern
  • Snowy Egret
  • Great Blue Heron
  • Anhinga
  • Barn Swallow
  • White Ibis
  • Glossy Ibis
  • Little Blue Heron
  • Black Vulture
  • Belted Kingfisher
  • Green Heron
  • Savannah Sparrow
  • Palm Warbler
  • Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
  • Eastern Phoebe
  • Red-winged Blackbird
  • Limpkin
  • Red-shouldered Hawk
  • Gray Catbird (♫)
  • Eastern Meadowlark (♫)
  • Common Yellowthroat

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Wet Turkey Vultures coping with the weather.

Back In The Catbird Seat

I had today off from work, so I took a quick late-morning look at Turkey Creek (again) to see if anything was going on. I was too late to catch up with Shirley Hills, and the park was mostly empty. The biggest change from Sunday was the prevalence of Gray Catbird calls all through the western part of the sanctuary. There were some other sprinklings of birds too, including a loose congregation of Yellow-throated Vireos, White-eyed Vireos and Blue-grey Gnatcatchers. I’ll do a quick photoblog post later of the few other shots I got off.

Catbirds are here!

Here’s the list from today (not in much of a particular order):

  • Gray Catbird
  • Mourning Dove
  • Common Ground Dove
  • Northern Cardinal
  • Carolina Wren
  • Yellow-throated Warbler
  • Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
  • Yellow-throated Vireo
  • White-eyed Vireo
  • Downy Woodpecker
  • Northern Mockingbird
  • Red-bellied Woodpecker
  • Blue Jay
  • Snowy Egret
  • Great Blue Heron
  • Tri-colored Heron
  • Common Gallinule
  • Anhinga
  • Fish Crow
  • Brown Thrasher
  • Cape May Warbler
  • Black Vulture
  • Turkey Vulture
  • Red-shouldered Hawk (♫)

Touch of Grey

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Lots of silver linings this morning.

It was a soggy start to the day today at Pine Island Conservation Area. To echo the somber mood, the birds that were visible looked suitably forlorn in the damp.

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Wet Turkey Vulture.

Believe it or not, I stayed in the car for quite a while until the conditions improved. The rain did very slowly taper off.

There were Barn Swallows zipping around, and I could hear Killdeers somewhere across the pond (though I didn’t see any until much later).

I managed to flush a pair of Bald Eagles, in adult plumage, from a nearby tree. In the mist I thought they were Black Vultures and didn’t have my camera ready. They flew across to the opposite side of the pond, where a nest was also visble.

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Eagle’s nest through the drizzle.

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Bald Eagle pair in the distance through the rain (really working at my camera’s limit here).

I could hear Common Gallinules in the marsh areas, but they stayed mostly out of sight. I did see one Loggerhead Shrike and various herons. Most of them seemed skittish, though one Great Blue Heron stuck around long enough for a photo-op.

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Great Wet Heron.

I did feel bad for the vultures. With the rain and lack of sunshine, there were no thermals for them to take advantage of, so they just sat in the trees, hunched like they were stuck in the rain waiting for the bus or a cab.

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Poor things looked so miserable.

As I said, eventually the rain began to let up, and with it my birding (and other) fortunes. Along the path running to the west of the pond I heard a “twit twit twit” call and came across my first Northern Waterthrush!

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The irony of finding a waterthrush on such a soggy day was not lost on me.

While I was watching that little one, I was paid an unexpected visit from a creature that was either really overly friendly or horribly near-sighted.

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Friendly neighborhood Nine-banded Armadillo.

I’ve had close encounters with armadillos while hiking and birding before, but I’ve never had one come up like this. It even sniffed by boot before scurrying off. I don’t think it was ill, just hungry and preoccupied (and nearly blind).

Quite a few butterflys were also around, despite the rain and drizzle. This Mangrove Buckeye was one of several.

photo mangrove-buckeye.jpg
The spots on the wings are designed to ward of predators. If you were looking to make a meal, it looks like the butterfly has huge eyes on its wings, watching your every move. Better to go find a less alert dinner!

I usually see White Peacock Butterflys too. Today they were either trying to mate or really chasing each other around for territory (or both). Note the lower left wing is missing a piece on this individual.

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This species also has eye spots, though they are less obvious than on the buckeye species.

As a child who spent just about any available non-school hours outside catching frogs, snakes and anything else, I am quite familiar with garter snakes, but until today, I’ve never seen a BLUE one.

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Bluestripe Garter snakes are normall found in northwestern Florida. I must admit it was a bit of shock seeing an otherwise familiar animal with such bright blue.

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Close-up of the head. What a cutie!

[EDIT: Dr. Kenneth Krysko of the Florida Museum of Natural History and the University of Florida told me via e-mail that blue striped garter snakes are sighted all over the state. He also said, “Because of this, many of us suspect that this is another example of a named subspecies based on arbitrary color pattern.”]

As I began heading back toward the parking area, the sun started to break through the gloom. The first birds to perk up were the vultures. They used their broad wings as solar heaters to warm up and prepare to take advantage of the day’s first thermals.

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♫ Here comes the sun! ♪

I missed what could have been a pretty epic photograph because I was cleaning water off my camera lens. On one tree limb was a Downy Woodpecker, a Red-bellied Woodpecker and a Northern Flicker. They dispersed before I could get the camera set.

As I got closer to the car, I noticed a sparrow running through the grasses and undergrowth along the wide path and then in the parking area itself. Strangely, a mockingbird seemed to be shadowing its steps from atop the wooden railing around the parking area. It took some careful stalking, but I managed to flush it into a sapling long enough for some photos. I had to consult my Peterson field guide, and what do you know? It was a Lark Sparrow! Not impossible or unprecidented, but not common in eastern Florida, even in migration.

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Hello, what have were here? Welcome to Florida!

It’s continued to rain today, but I ended up not minding the touch of grey. I saw a life-lister, a blue snake and had a personal greeting from an armadillo.

The species list for the day, including Pine Island Road (in and out bound):

  • Boat-tailed Grackle
  • Common Gallinule
  • Red-tailed Hawk
  • Mourning Dove
  • Red-shouldered Hawk
  • Killdeer
  • Bald Eagle
  • Black Vulture
  • Barn Swallow
  • Loggerhead Shrike
  • Turkey Vulture
  • Great Blue Heron
  • Osprey
  • Green Heron
  • Great Egret
  • Snowy Egret
  • Little Blue Heron
  • Tri-colored Heron
  • Common Ground Dove
  • Northern Waterthrush
  • Anhinga
  • Northern Cardinal
  • Carolina Wren (♫)
  • Downy Woodpecker
  • Northern Flicker
  • Red-bellied Woodpecker
  • Northern Mockingbird
  • Lark Sparrow (*)
  • Rock Pigeon
  • European Starling

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I wonder, who’ll stop the rain?

Keeping Tabs

I live fairly close to several parks, and my regular readers know I frequent Turkey Creek Sanctuary, and the descriptions and photographs of my trips there make up the better part of my blog. I do try to find a balance of exploring other areas nearby and keeping track of what’s going on at Turkey Creek Sanctuary throughout the year. If I were a mere “lister” birder, I would more likely travel farther across the region to snag birds for my lists. As it is, I find repeat observations and comparisons are vital to understanding birds and their place in the environment.

This past weekend I returned to the sanctuary to do such a check. Summers are usually quiet times for finding birds in many of the area parks. The rush of springtime homemaking and breeding has settled down and the birds are trying to keep cool even by 8 or 9 in the morning. With not much going on with bird life in the park, I thought it might be good to mix in a few photographs of some of the things I blog about at Turkey Creek.

As I walked toward the park the entrance in the library parking lot,  I heard some soft, high-pitched call notes in the trees, and caught some glimpses of Northern Parulas foraging quietly together. One of the birds caught my eye. It’s yellow “spectacles” gave it away as a Yellow-throated Vireo. This vireo species’ plumage is very similar to the Northern Parula in many other respects (particularly with worn feathers and in the fall), but the spectacles are diagnostic.

Now that we are well into summer, quite a lot of American Beautyberry plants are ripening. This plant is ubiquitous, and birds love to eat them.

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Berry beautiful…

The Sanctuary has been quiet, even for summer, this year and this day was no exception. There were a few Northern Cardinals calling from the brush and one or two singing in the distance, but the usual cacophony of alarm notes and whistling I am used to hearing was again absent. I approached the Harris radio tower which sometimes has Brown Thrashers or Eastern Phoebes hanging out nearby. No such luck this time, but let’s have a look at the tower.

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The tower is held up by 3 pairs sets of guy-wires, spaced 120 degrees apart.

This 129 meter (400 foot) tower is owned by Harris Corporation, and I think it’s used for communications testing, rather than broadcasting. You can see from this photograph that the structure has supports fairly close together. I’ve been told by several people that years ago vultures and various raptors would roost on the tower, sometimes causing quite a smelly mess. To deter the birds from roosting, additional supports were added to the tower, making it near impossible for larger birds to make use of it.

I am amazed that such a tall structure (and others like it) are supported by wires, anchored into the ground. This simple method works even in hurricane-force winds.

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The guy-wires holding up the tower are anchored in place with the help of these 1+ inch diameter bolts. The smaller wire you see is a grounding line for lightning strikes.

We have had a lot of rain the past week or so, and that was reflected in the elevated canal and creek water levels. I walked to the weir, where the Melbourne-Tilman Canal empties into Turkey Creek. There were only a few bird species present by the weir. Mourning Doves were the most abundant, and I flushed quite a few as I walked along the canal. In suburban settings, where these birds are commonly perched on utility wires, they are fairly conspicuous. Among the grass by the side of the canal they were almost invisibly until my footfalls scared them out.

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Mourning Doves.

There were a few Green Herons, a single Tri-colored Heron and one American Coot by the flotation barrier leading to the weir. I saw a few Common Ground Doves and Eurasian Collared Doves as well.

The weir itself is part of a drainage and flood-control system, using Turkey Creek as an outlet to keep the canal water levels down, especially after heavy rainfall events.

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Flood control for the canal system.
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Into the creek.

Two of the area streams, south of the Eau Gallie River, are named for birds. Crane Creek empties into the Indian River Lagoon near Melbourne’s downtown, while Turkey Creek flows into the lagoon in Palm Bay (and is the main feature of the Turkey Creek Sanctuary, of course). I don’t know the historical reasons for the names, but for the first time I documented Wild Turkeys at Turkey Creek. Technically, they were running alongside the Melbourne-Tillman Canal, but based on the direction they were traveling, they had to have been along the creek’s side to get where I photographed them. I found it slightly ironic that I spied them running alongside the residential neighborhood that abuts the sanctuary.

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Residential Turkeys.

The turkeys made their way out of sight, and I made my way back into the sanctuary. Upon entering the woods, there is what I’ve been calling an “emergency” boat ramp. Normally there is a heavy chain across the entrance to the path that leads to the ramp, but I noticed that it was missing (though the sign clearly indicated this is not for pubic access).

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This also happens to be the area I saw the Bicknell’s Thrush this year.

I don’t know if it’s really for emergencies or not, and I freely admit I pass the signs and chain regularly to have a look at the creek from the ramp and it’s adjacent platform. In fact, I took a photograph of Flat Stanley there earlier in the summer.

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You can see the platform and posts in the background and to the left of Flat Stanley, when the water level was lower.

After all the rain we’ve had, the creek level was several feet higher than my last visit, almost completely submerging the wooden posts for the platform next to the ramp.

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I worked my way to the boardwalk and, apart from a couple of distantly circling vultures and some Carolina Wren calls, I didn’t have much luck with finding birds. There were plenty of dragonflies. This one, like many others this late in the summer, have very worn-out wings and rest as often as they are flying.

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Howdy, Ms. Dragonfly!

This Mole Skink was sunning itself on the boardwalk. If you look closely you can see water beaded up on its skin. Despite the shiny appearance, skinks are not slimy or wet. Their scales are exceptionally smooth and close-fitting. The camera had a bit of trouble picking up the brilliant blues and overall iridescence of this animal.

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See the shiny skink sunning in the sanctuary.

Further up the boardwalk and the Sand Pine Trail, I detoured onto the Flood Plain Trail. I was expecting the Boy Scout’s boardwalk to be at least partially under water, but it was not – a testament to both the flood control efforts at the weir and the capacity for the ground near the creek to hold water. The ground was covered in standing water, but still several inches below the decking.

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Apart from a few Yellow-throated Warblers a the entrance end of the Sand Pine Trail, that’s about it for the day.

The species list, including the parking lot:

  • Northern Cardinal
  • Northern Mockingbird
  • Yellow-throated Vireo
  • Northern Parula
  • Mourning Dove
  • Wild Turkey
  • Green Heron
  • Tri-colored Heron
  • American Coot
  • Common Ground Dove
  • Eurasian Collared Dove
  • Blue Jay
  • Black Vulture
  • Turkey Vulture
  • Carolina Wren (♫)
  • Yellow-throated Warbler
  • Rock Pigeon

The nearly last quarter moon shone brightly enough, even in daylight, to provide a nice parting shot.

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Blue Moon, you left me birding alone…

While We’re Naming Names

Weather and sleeplessness prevented me from birding this weekend, but I’d like to use this opportunity to discuss a bit of controversy in the birding world.

A Proper Debate

From time to time in the “birdosphere” of field guides, magazine articles, journals and blogs, the debate will rise again on how to name birds in print and digital displays.

As in computer scripting and coding, where there’s a long and ongoing conflict between “camelCase” and using an underscore between words, there’s likely never to be a reconciliation.

On the one hand, you have the Capitalization Camp, which feels it is necessary to differentiate the local, common names of a species from more mundane and generic descriptions. On the other hand, is the Proper Noun Camp, which feels capitalization is reserved for proper nouns such as specific things or individuals, like if you had a parakeet named “Minuet”. We’ll use our trusty and handsome avian friend, Cyanocitta cristata as an example.

Feeling blue?

Is this a blue jay or a Blue Jay? The Capitalization Camp says this is a Blue Jay, specifically referring to this species of jay. A mere “blue jay,” the rationalization goes, could be Cyanocitta cristata, Aphelocoma coerulescens or any other jay that is colored blue.

Also blue and a jay.

On the other hand, the Proper Noun Camp says that the specific, individual bird is not named and there are more than one “blue jays” or “Florida scrub jays” in the world, and to capitalize the name is improper. The Capitalization Camp would also say the above bird is better referred to as a Florida Scrub Jay, to differentiate it from its western cousin, the “Western Scrub Jay” (which the Proper Noun Camp would no doubt want to call the “western scrub jay”).

If you’ve read my blog, you know I subscribe to the “Capitalization Camp,” as I see the non-scientific names of the bird species as a sort of “pseudo-proper” noun. It’s not as personal as calling a bird “Bob” or “Mary” but clearly differentiates it from something generic like a blue jay or a yellow warbler (there are a LOT of yellow warblers!).

Geothlypis trichas is a yellow warbler.

But it turns out that to capitalize or not has another issue that I hadn’t considered until recently.

Is it Elitist?

My friend and überbirder Laura Erickson somewhat recently brought up the capitalization issue as it relates to non-birders. Specifically she was wondering if using capital letters seemed snobby or elitist to non-birders. This is something I had not thought of, but seemed a legitimate, if somewhat self-important question. Does it portray birders as pompous for using capitalization in a manner that non-birders might assume is reserved for proper names? Here, the Proper Names Camp has some traction. If, in the public eye, the use of capitalization is seen as unnecessary (or even incorrect) and puts birders and bird watching in a negative light, isn’t that a reason for the Capitalization Camp to fold up their tents and give up?

Does it Matter?

It’s not clear what the “public” thinks about this (or how much they do or should care), so for now the debate will continue. But in the end, does it matter if we all know what we are talking about? It would seem to me that in the end it’s clear what bird species or type we are writing about in context, and as long as we are communicating our love, respect and excitement about birds and their importance in the world, we’re all doing fine. That’s what matters to me, even though to me it will always be a Blue Jay. What do you think?