I had a fascinating walk and talk with Shirley Hills today at Turkey Creek Sanctuary. As I’ve mentioned in a previous blog entry, Shirley has been birding at Turkey Creek (along with her late husband, Bill) for over 20 years, and she is a great local source for birding information. We lamented the horrendously slow Fall migration this year, but were both on the lookout for winter residents. Unfortunately, they seemed as scarce as the migrants had.

When I first entered the park, I tried to get a sound recording (using my camera’s HD video capability) of the quiet, gurgling of the Blue-Grey Gnatcatcher song. There’s a bit of background hiss, despite my best attempts to remove it.

Just before Shirley and I got together, I managed to get this photo of a slightly lethargic female Indigo Bunting.

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Cute brown ball of puff.

Other than that, the two of us managed to scare up several unidentifiable warbler species throughout the morning. They were just too far away or too quick for us. Eventually we did come across a single Ovenbird, and spent a bit of time at McKinnon’s Way trying to pin down the ID of a bird that looked suspiciouls like a Black-and-white Warbler.

At one point we did breifly see a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, the first of the season for both of us. We also flushed out small raptor (perhaps a Cooper’s Hawk, but I didn’t get a good enough look).

We had the most luck behind the weir, where apparently she’d never really birded at before! There, we saw a Spotted Sandpiper, a couple of Green Herons, a small group of Cattle Egrets, a Little Blue Heron, an American Kestrel, and a Common Gallinule.

It was very interesting to hear her views on invasive species and how they are taking over the hammocks in the Sanctuary.

She seems especially worried about the Silver Plume Grass that is growing in from the western side of the park. It is nearly impossible to eradicate, and it is not used by native wildlife very much.

She also told me how in past years, she, her husband and one of the Rangers/caretakers of the Sanctuary eliminated massive amouns of the invasive Brazilian Pepper Trees from one area. That areas is beautiful, pepper tree free, and normally conducive to good birding. This year, just like everything else in the Sanctuary, it was just a big flop.

We parted ways after seeing only some Grey Catbirds, Blue-grey Gnatcatchers, some Fish Crows, Mourning Doves, some vultures and Blue Jays. Shirley has some well-thought out and deliberate opinions on environmental and economic issues, and I was actually glad this morning not to be a very lonely birder.

Gnatcatcher, Gnatcatcher Catch Me A Gnat…

I spent another very quiet Sunday morning at Turkey Creek. I had hoped my hunch that the early part of the weekend was more “birdy” than it had been would extend into yesterday. That proved fruitless, but I did have a nice walk through the woods again, and added one species to my 2013 list.

The most active birds in the Sanctuary continue to be the Blue-grey Gnatcatchers. One large Live Oak had a virtual cloud of them, darting out and around while making their wheezy little call notes (scroll to the second sound recording). I remember my very first field guide, using comparative identification methods, describing Blue-grey Gnatcatchers as “miniature mockingbirds.” This is not a bad description, in some ways. They will even bob their tails in a similar fashion to some mockingbirds.

The Grey Catbrids have arrived in force for the winter. Whereas the individuals in the park last week seemed excessively shy, the ones I saw yesterday were much bolder. In fact, I managed to get a decent photo of one.

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The cat’s meow. Oh, and it’s perched on Beauty Berries!

The catbirds were particularly vocal. They (along with the Northern Cardinals) provided the only significant bird noise in the Sanctuary, making me yell “QUIET!” a couple of times because they were drowning out any other bird sounds. Of course that worked for all of about 2 seconds.

At two different points along my walk through the park, I spotted a raccoon in a tree. I’ve seen a lot of racoons this year, compared to the past few.

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Raccoon 20 feet over the creek.

Near one of the creek overlooks on the Hammock Loop, I spent a few minutes watching the fish and turtles swim in the sunlight. One large Florida Softshell Turtle came by, so I got its photograph while it was still under water.

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Florida Softshell Turtle.

At the weir, I saw one verifiable Palm Warbler (I heard a great many more) as well as a Spotted Sandpiper, American Coot, Common Gallinule, Great Blue Heron, Green Heron, Little Blue Heron, Tri-colored Heron and an unidentified white heron/egret of some kind (it flew off before I could be sure what it was).

On the way out along the western edge of the Sanctuary, I heard some finch-like scolding among the Northern Cardinals near the chain-link fence. I managed to get a couple of good observing minutes of some Indigo Buntings. The male had molted out of almost all his blue feathers – just a few flecks remaining among the brown. The two females were a very pretty warm brown color. They bickered and chased each other around some Sabal palms before flying off. This is the first time I’ve seen this species this year, and the unofficial 2103 species count is now 140.

Other species seen yesterday:

  • Red-shouldered Hawk
  • Black Vulture
  • Turkey Vulture
  • Blue Jay

This marks the first time this year that I haven’t seen or heard a White-eyed Vireo at Turkey Creek Sanctuary. That’s not to say they aren’t still in the park, but I neither saw nor heard any evidence of them.

Underwhelmed

It was another pin-drop-quiet day at Turkey Creek Sanctuary today. I had entertained the thought of going elsewhere, but trying to decide on an alternate destination for my birding just confused me, so before I came to any decision, I was already at the Sanctuary. The first part of my morning was almost painfully quiet. Things picked up near the end as I came back to the exit. Along the creekside along McKinnon’s Way, before the Canoe Deck, I did see a small alligator, which was neat. And I got a good shot of a strange moth or skipper of some kind.

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See you later, alligator!

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Weirdy skipper

Birds seen on in the Sanctuary this excursion:

  • Grey Catbird
  • Blue-grey Gnatcatcher
  • Yellow-throated Warbler
  • Northern Cardinal
  • Northern Mockingbird
  • Black-throated Blue Warbler
  • Pine Warbler
  • Blue Jay
  • Black Vulture

I have to admit, it was cool to see the Black-throated Blues in the park, as I had seen some during spring migration as well. Many of the ones today were in immature or fall plumage, some females, and at least one male showing a lot of blue.

I may not make it out next weekend, due to prior non-birding commitments, but next time I think I’ll try to go outside the envelope a little and see what can be salvaged from this abysmal migration season in eastern Florida.

Turkey Creek Heats Up As Things Cool Down

It seems now that September is here and some slightly cooler morning weather has arrived, that things are picking up in Turkey Creek Sanctuary. Notable and active birds seen today inlcuded:

  • American Redstart
  • Blue-grey Gnatcatcher
  • Black-and-white Warbler
  • Swainson’s Warbler (new for me!)
  • Northern Parula
  • Blue Jay
  • Caronlina Wren
  • Northern Cardinal (was there a doubt?)
  • Downy Woodpecker

Voice-only IDs included Hairy Woodpecker (more monotone and deeper version of the Downy’s calls), White-eyed Vireo (again!), Pileated Woodpecker. There was also a Belted Kingfisher that flew overhead at one point. The day was not very good for soaring, though. I saw no hawks or vultures in the air over the park at all.

As you can see from the list above, warbler activity is on the rise as we get closer to the fall migration. 

Today, I tried shifting my birding to Saturday monring (instead of Sunday). As expected, there were a lot more people in the sanctuary than I am used to. As I was on my way to the new Turkey Oak Trail, a woman came down the path and asked me if I knew how to tell the difference between a King Snake (non-venemous) and a Coral Snake (venemous). Various incomplete versions of the rhyme designed to help tell the difference went through my head, which was no help at all. In any case, whatever snake she saw was no longer present, so we both walked and talked along the entirety of the trail. 

Thus ended my first Saturday morning birding adventure of the year.

Enchanted Forest Sanctuary

This is part 2 of my birding adventures this weekend. Thanks to the generous help of one of the Enchanted Forest Sanctuary (EFS) volunteers, I had batteries for my camera and thus a lot more photographs to share.

I had last been to EFS during the Florida Birding and Wildlife Festival in January, so it was nice to go back now in the summer, although it was much more quiet (in terms of people and birds).

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Enchanted Forest Sanctuary

The first creature I encountered was a LARGE “Banana Spider” (Nephila clavipes, also known as a golden silk orb-weaver spider). In fact, they were all over the park, in paths and up in trees. Here’s a link to a photo album of some of the spiders. (I won’t post them directly  here out of respect for my arachnophobic followers).

The sanctuary has several “loop” paths through different biomes. I started on the Coquina Ridge path, which parallels an old unfinished canal cut. Remnants of the coquina that was removed are strewn throught this part of the park, some of them arranged as ornaments. The holes in the center are from natural erosion when the coquina was under water.

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Ornamental coquina

After dodging a few spider webs, I turned onto the Biodiversity Loop. The park was noticably more cool, humid and mosquitoey (but my bug repellant seemed to be working). The canopy had some dramatic draping of Spanish Moss and other plants hanging off the Live Oaks and other trees.

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Dramatic Spanish Moss is dramatic.

As is typical of late summer in Florida, the bird presence was pretty minimal, but there was still plenty of wildlife around, and the plants were pretty too.

Quite a few butterfly species were in evidence. They can be difficult to photograph without a really big lens on an SLR, so I did my best with my Kodak Easyshare Max Z990. I captured this Zebra Longwing early-on in the hike through the Sand Pine loop. photo zebra-longwing.jpg
Zebra Longwing enjoying some summer nectar, as one does.

Later in the hike I also shot this orange butterfly. My Internet searching hasn’t positively identified it, but if any of my followers know what it is, please let me know. photo orange-butterfly.jpg
One of many butterfly species and individuals at EFS.

Along one of the upland and sandy trails I came across a Gopher Tortoise and got some glamor shots.

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You never know who you might cross paths with!

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Gorgeous!

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Head shot!

I know I’ve shot Beauty Berry a few times this summer, but they are a very photogenic plant. Here’s a bunch of those and some goldenrod which was quite prevalent along one of the trails. Plenty of flowering plants and other vegetation of the butterflies and other insects

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Beauty Berry, again
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Goldenrod.
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A green cicada.
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Mini-lubbers were here, too.

Before heading for the exit (dodging spiders all the way), I caught some Blue-grey Gnatcatchers skulking along the trail.

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It is a birding blog, after all.

I expect both EFS and Pine Island Sanctuary will get busier with respect to bird activity as the month of October arrives, and I aim to visit both as the fall migration gets under way.

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Until our paths cross again.

Youth Day!

Sunday was another quiet morning at both Turkey Creek Sanctuary and Erna Nixon Park. What activity there was revolved around juvenile Northern Cardinals (making the usual racket) and some Northern Parulas and Blue-grey Gnatcatchers high in the canopy (at least at Turkey Creek; almost nothing was to be had at Erna Nixon). Still, it was a pleasant enough morning and not too hot since it was mostly overcast. Toward the end of my Turkey Creek hike it started to rain rather steadily, but the rain hadn’t affected Erna Nixon Park when I drove there later in the morning.

After returning home, at some point during the early afternoon, my wife excitedly drew my attention to the antics of a bird on the wire between our house and the utility pole. It was a fledgling Northern Mockingbird leaping off the wires and making short almost flycatcher like sorties before landing back on the wire. We watched it for a few minutes and then noticed another fledgling along the power lines running along the right-of-way behind our house. And then ANOTHER. Then I noticed a fly-catcher along the same wire. It was a bit tougher to identify, but I finally figured out it was a juvenile Great-crested Flycatcher. It seemed a bit more adept at flying, so likely was past fledgling stage.

Looks like the day belonged to the youngsters.

[Edited to add: I’ll have a few photos from the parks later this week (more flowers, bugs and trees), and I’ll see how my only shot of one of the youngsters turned out.]

It was a very quiet morning at Turkey Creek Sanctuary. Here are a few of the things I saw today.

  • Centrosema virginiarum (wild pea)
  • Cicada
  • Bumblebee
  • A very worn Black Swallowtail butterfly
  • Mini-lubber!
  • A very shiny skink of some kind
  • Little Blue Heron

Also saw some Blue-grey Gnatcatchers, Northern Cardinals, a Brown Thrasher, Green Herons (adult and immature), and an American Coot. Heard, but did not see a couple of White-eyed Vireos.

[Edited to add: also there was a (un)Spotted Sandpiper near the weir and canal where the herons were, Common Ground Doves near the Harris broadcast tower, and Blue Jays here and there.]