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.

Malabar Scrub / Turkey Creek Sanctuaries

One of the benefits of lonely birding is flexibility and last minute changes without having to negotiate or “vote” on anything. I originally planned on just heading straight to Turkey Creek Sanctuary, but at the last second (literally) I decided to head a little bit more up the road and head in to northwestern-most part of the Malabar Scrub Sanctuary, then over to the portion of Turkey Creek Sanctuary across the creek from the boardwalk. This proved to be a bit more difficult than I thought, as that portion of the parks is more primitive. It did yield up a Yellow-throated Warbler and some American Redstarts, though.

A lot of Blue Jays were present, and this juvenile went through a whole gamut of imitation calls. First, it tried to scare me off with a Red-shouldered Hawk call. Then it started in with what sounded like a vireo or warbler. When that got old, it started with grackle-like clicks and “chucks”. Then it sounded like a giant Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher (which was interesting because there were actual gnatcatchers in the vicinity at that point. Then it just let loose with some honest-to-goodness Blue Jay calls before flying off.

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The Talented Mr. Blue Jay.

I worked my way to the creek itself, on the opposite side from the boardwalk, but aside from some Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, it was fairly quiet (except for insect noise, lots and lots of insect noise). I backtracked and then went down some other paths, seeing some Northern Cardinals and more Yellow-throated Warblers. The warblers were always single individuals; I did not see any more than one at a time. By the time I came to the kayak launch area, the sun had come out from the earlier morning fog, and there were butterflies just about everywhere. This beautiful specimen landed on the mud by the launch ramp presumably to drink up some moisture and minerals.

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Large Eastern Black Swallowtail taking a breather…or maybe a mudder…

Eventually I worked my way to the boardwalk and did a loop, with a diversion out toward the weir and Scrub Trail. The gnatcatchers were here in force, as well as more cardinals. At one point they all scattered when an Osprey soared overhead.

At the weir there were a number of different heron species. I saw several Little Blue Herons, a Green Heron,a Tri-colored Heron, a Snowy Egret and Great Egret. There were a couple of Anhingas swimming after fish, and a pair of American Coots foraging nearby as well.

There were some more Yellow-throated Warblers, and a Black-and-white Warbler as well. On the way toward McKinnon’s Way I heard a very resonant drumming. This Pileated Woodpecker was at first hammering on a utility pole (which was really carrying the sound. It sounded like a motorcycle), then hopped onto a palm tree.

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Pilated Woodpecker, a.k.a. Mr. Jack Hammer

After getting back on the boardwalk, I saw another Pileated Woodpecker foraging on some logs off the side and below the boardwalk.


Pileated Woodpecker.

Further along the boardwalk I did finally see some Northern Parulas (I had heard them earlier). On the way toward the exit, there were more Yellow-throated Warblers, as well as a White-eyed Vireo. The vireo even flew right over my head, but I was unable, again, to get any photograph of it. Trying to get a decent photograph of a White-eyed Vireo is becoming a quest at this point.

With the noticeably cooler weather, there were a lot more families and groups coming into the Sanctuary, and it was near noon. I headed out and for home.

Something I’d noticed earlier this year, was a cell tower that was cleverly disguised as a large conifer. Here’s the effort:

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C is for Conifer, over 500 kinds.

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Palm Bay now has a metal Sequoia?

I don’t know what the birds think of it, but it does manage to blend in fairly well, all things considered.

Birds in the Hood

Migration season is heating up for sure at Turkey Creek Sanctuary. It wasn’t the best day for photographs, but I did get a few here and there. Right off the bat (it IS baseball playoff seaon after all), I saw 2 Cooper’s Hawks in the parking area. I don’t have any definitive proof, but I believe these are the same hawks I saw as juveniles a couple of months ago (the size and behaviors seem very similar). They now have their adult plumage. This one was persistently calling out to it’s companion.

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Surveying the domain.

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“Hey, sib! Look at this crazy human with the camera!”

Most of the way down the Sand Pine Trail I heard some commotion amongst the backdrop of Blue Jays and Northern Cardinals that were making the usual racket. In some of the thick brush I could hear some Blue-gray Gnatcatchers (which seem to have taken over as the Sanctuary mascot from the White-eyed Vireos), some blackbirds (not sure what species) and some more generic call notes. I caught partial glimpses of a warbler that I have not been able to ID. It was definitely yellow with black streaking on the breast and throat. However, it also had no clear wing bars, a mostly plain face and head, and maybe white outer tail edges. The two closest birds, based on my Peterson’s guide are either a Canada Warbler or a Yellow-rumped Warbler. But neither seems particularly satifying to me as an ID.

As I rounded the end of the trail towards the boardwalk, an Ovenbird (year’s first) popped out into the open for a few seconds, then dashed off.

The creek overlooks were fairly quiet, but as I neared the far end toward the Hammock Loop, I saw a couple of armadillos. Here’s a short video of one foraging by the boardwalk. Armadillos have very sharp claws and have no problem shoving their heads down into the soil to snap up various insects. My apologies for the loud camera zoom motor.


Armadillo.. nom nom nom

Along the Hammock Loop I again noticed some gnatcatchers in the understory. Experience has taught me (and my friend Laura Erickson reminded me this past winter) that where there is one species present, there is often another. Sure enough, I saw some larger movement and caught a male Hooded Warbler square in my binocs! I tried to snap a photograph, but he was too fidgety and flew off.

Somewhere along this stretch I did hear the morning’s single White-eyed Vireo, so I know they haven’t completely left the Sanctuary. I also heard quite a few Downy Woodpeckers today, and managed to sight a few (I’ve embedded a video of one further down).

I went by the canoe deck and out to McKinnon’s Way backwards from the way I normally go, and went out toward the weir and canal. As was the case 2 weeks ago, there were a lot of butterflies throughtout the Sanctuary today. Here’s a White Peacock that stopped long enough for a nice shot.

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Proud as a Peacock

Down at the weir were the usual suspects: a Little Blue Heron, an American Coot and a Spotted Sandpiper (in unspotted plumage). I did notice a Solitary Sandpiper there as well today. [Edit: I originally misidentified the Solitary Sandpiper as a Lesser Yellowlegs. Further research in my field and desk guides, as well as the Internet has clarified it for me.]

In the area near the Harris radio tower, I saw another Ovenbird near more Northern Cardinals, but most of the rest of the morning was quiet as the sun rode higher and the temperature climbed. On the way out of the Scrub Trail toward the Sanctuary exit I saw this Downy Woodpecker on the stem of a palm frond.


Downy Woodpecker leaving tiny holes in a palm frond.

I did another loop from the boardwalk to the Sand Pine Trail, but there wasn’t much to see, so I headed out and for home.

Despite the ambiguous warbler ID at that start, I was pleased with this outing. October is shaping up to be quite nice, I think.

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.

New England intermission

I was away to New England this past weekend for a quick trip for a family function. Now, some might take me to task, but due to the quick schedule and uncertainties on where I was to stay, I did not take my bins or my camera with me.

I ended up at my brother’s apartment in an established neighborhood outside of the city with a good number of mature trees and such. For the first time in years I heard the clear whistling song of the Song Sparrow each morning, though I never did positivity identify one by sight. There were also some American Robin parents feeding their nearly full-grown fledgling. It still had some of the breast markings of an immature, but the wash of orange-red was unmistakable.

The day before, while a friend and his wife drove me toward their home, we passed a small field with a flock of Canada Geese. Now I realize, being FROM that neck of the woods, that Canada Geese are far too common. They are very often an nuisance. But I was thrilled, because it’s been so many years since I’ve seen one.

Other than that, there were some brief sightings or sounds from American Crows, Blue Jays, Northern Cardinals and I think perhaps Common (a.k.a. European) Starlings.