Quiet Time

I went to Turkey Creek Sanctuary today and spent a silent walk through most of it. Besides various groups of birds flying or soaring overhead (vutures, crows and some smaller sparrows and/or warblers), I only saw 6 individual birds inside the Sanctuary, and 6 individuals upstream from the weir on the canal. That’s a pretty low bird density and count for about 3 hours.

Here’s the official list (including the overhead flyers I could positively identify):

  1. Ovenbird (1)
  2. Ruby-crowned Kinglet (1)
  3. Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (2)
  4. Turkey Vulture
  5. Black Vulture
  6. Fish Crow
  7. Northern Cardinal (2)
  8. Little Blue Heron (1)
  9. Cattle Egret (1)
  10. Pied-billed Grebe (1)
  11. Common Gallinule (3)

It was particulary noteworthy to me that I neither heard nor saw any Gray Catbirds at all. The Gopher Tortoises were out again en force, and I managed to catch a glimpse of one squirrel and one snake (a Black Racer, I believe). 

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays everyone. Depending on my Christmas situation there may be a Christmas Count post upcoming, but I make no guarantees.

Do You See What I See?

Today was a pleasant day at Turkey Creek Sanctuary. The winter and year-long residents seem to be settling into their routines. The overall bird density was still low, but the number of species was greater than any point since the summer. 

Most importantly, after almost an entire year, I finally managed to get that elusive White-eyed Vireo photograph! I almost missed it and I had time to fire off one shot in the shadows of the underbrush before it dashed off. But my quest is at an end! 

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A photograph 11 months in the making!

Speaking of vireos, I had a somewhat mysterious encounter with one near the start of my walk. I managed to observe the bird for a good while (sorry no pics – too busy birdwatching 😉 ), and my visual assessment doesn’t quite match with anything in my Peterson guide. The bird was clearly a vireo by shape and size. It was an almost uniform gray with white wing-bars and white spectacles. The best fit is a Blue-headed Vireo; however, both my Peterson field guide and my Sibley guide indicate there should be some sense of yellow and/or greenish cast on the flanks and back. Here, some further explanation is needed.

During the late 1990s, the Solitary Vireo was “officially” split into 3 separate but closely related species, the Plumbeous Vireo of the intermountain west, Cassin’s Vireo of the Pacific coast and northwest, and the Blue-headed Vireo of eastern North America. Generally the three species form what Sibley refers to as a “cline” from east to west of decreasing contrast and color.


An illustration by Keith Hansen showing the plumage variation among “Solitary” Vireos.

I mention all this because as I was making careful observations of “my” vireo, I had the distinct impression that it was almost completely devoid of color and of fairly low contrast. Upon further review, it most closely resembles the plumage of a Plumbeous Vireo. I will note though, that Sibley says there is hybridization and overlap in all plumages and even voice. Where that leaves me with proper identification, I am unsure as this species has not been reliably recorded this far east.

As has been the case for most of the autumn, the most numerous and active birds in the Sanctuary are the Blue-gray Gnatcatchers. If you haven’t had a chance to observe these birds, let me just say that they are the tiniest balls of energy you’ll see in a bird, surpassed only by some hummingbirds. Despite their often being within only feet of me, it’s nearly impossible to get a decent photograph. My attempts today did yeild a fairly unique image. It’s a bit blurry, but I find it fascinating. This was taken in the split second it takes one of these tiny birds to hop from one branch to another.

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Geronimo!

Some other species that I observed today include the Black-and-white Warbler, Northern Cardinal, Gray Catbird, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Turkey Vulture, Palm Warbler, Tri-colored Heron, American Coot, Cattle Egret, and American Kestrel (the last four by the weir at the Melbourne-Tillman Canal).

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Hello, my monochromatic friend.

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Red-bellied Woodpecker enjoying a little breakfast.

Today was extra active for the Gopher Tortoises that live in the Sanctuary. Here are a couple of examples of coloration difference within the species.

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This dark green tortoise had a shell about 12” from front to back.

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This larger tortoise’s shell was about 18” long. Notice the reddish coloration.

One very noticeable absence from the time I was at the Sanctuary was a total lack of squirrels. The last several trips there the squirrels were everywhere. Dozens and dozens. Today, I heard one scolding call deep in the underbrush, and that was it. I suppose all the frenzy of activity before could have been the squirrels fattening up for the “winter” here, and now they’re just lazing about, waiting for spring. But it was darn strange from my perspective! 

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.

Viera Wetlands/Moccasin Island, Part I: Crazy About Caracaras!

Today I went to the Viera Wetlands and the neighboring Moccasin Island Tract (part of the River Lakes Conservation Area) with my friend Cedric. This picture of him was taken at our second stop, which you can see in Part 2.
imageHere’s the handsome guy

Cedric is not a ‘birder’; per se, but he’s a smart guy and loves to learn new things. He actually invited me to go birding today, which was a pleasant surprise.

Our first stop was the Viera Wetlands. A conservation area born out of the area’s wastewater management, for years now the Wetlands have been a haven for birds throughout the year, but in particular for birds that tend to favor marshlands and their surroundings. I’ll spare you the details, just visit this page to learn more.

Here are some highlights of the Wetlands portion of our outing.

Right off we saw some Red-winged Blackbirds chasing each other around in territorial displays and in hope of mating. Here’s one resting on a sign near the area in which we parked.
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Pay attention to this Red-winged Blackbird
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Pied-billed Grebe

There were several Pied-billed Grebes throughout the various ponds (“cells”), some alone, some in pairs.

At this point, a Crested Caracara surprised me and went past, too fast to get a shot. I love these guys, and it’s always a pleasure to see them in numbers. And in numbers they are! There were at least 1/2 a dozen individuals by my best estimate. But I couldn’t manage any photographs (but got great binoc views!).

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American Coot (foreground) and Common Gallinule

As is typical through the Winter and early Spring, coots and gallinules were quite plentiful in most cells. I did not see any Purple Gallinules today. I don’t know why they were not there, but I’ll try to find that out.

image
White Ibis in flight

I’m proud of the above photograph. White Ibises are common enough, even in residential neighborhoods, but it’s really neat to see them in a more “natural” type habitat. This was my first attempt at a motion shot with my new camera.

More Crested Caracaras went by at this point, doing their level best to dodge my camera.

We came across some Glossy Ibises and a couple of unidentified shorebirds (perhaps a snipe?) and sparrows (what some birders affectionately called “LBJs” for “”Little Brown Jobs.” Savannah Sparrows seemed plentiful along most of the path edges throughout the morning.

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Savannah Sparrow

This Tricolored Heron was one of several heron and egret species present throughout the Wetlands. We saw Green, Little Blue and Great Blue Herons. There were Great and Cattle egrets too. Many of these were in full breeding regalia, which was quite impressive. Also, below is a shot of a more immature Great Blue Heron that was stalking about the place.

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Tricolored Heron with breeding plumes
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Immature Great Blue Heron

This next picture is of one of a number of warblers seen along the path edges. Based on behavior and plumage indications, I want to say this is a Palm Warbler beginning to get it’s breeding plumage, but I am not sure. If anyone reading this blog can positively identify this bird, would you please let me know?

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Perhaps a Palm Warbler?

As we rounded the paths to head back to the car, Cedric pointed out some Sandhill Cranes rather close to us. To my surprise was the cutest thing EVER! LOOK!

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Sandhill Crane parent and baby!
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Sandhill Crane family

So awesome!

This handsome fellow swam by, too

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OMG, alligator!

On the final walk out to the car, I finally got a shot of a Crested Caracara. These guys had been swooping around all morning. This one has a rather nasty bit of fish remains in his beak. But hey, scavenging is essential to any healthy ecosystem (even a human created one like this).

image

With that, we headed out to the Moccasin Island Tract and some upland habitat adventures. Oh. And cows.

Part II to come.

Viera Wetlands/Moccasin Island, Part I

Today I went to the Viera Wetlands and the neighboring Moccasin Island Tract (part of the River Lakes Conservation Area) with my friend Cedric. This picture of him was taken at our second stop, which you can see in Part 2.
imageHere’s the handsome guy

Cedric is not a ‘birder’; per se, but he’s a smart guy and loves to learn new things. He actually invited me to go birding today, which was a pleasant surprise.

Our first stop was the Viera Wetlands. A conservation area born out of the area’s wastewater management, for years now the Wetlands have been a haven for birds throughout the year, but in particular for birds that tend to favor marshlands and their surroundings. I’ll spare you the details, just visit this page to learn more.

Here are some highlights of the Wetlands portion of our outing.

Right off we saw some Red-winged Blackbirds chasing each other around in territorial displays and in hope of mating. Here’s one resting on a sign near the area in which we parked.
image
Pay attention to this Red-winged Blackbird
image
Pied-billed Grebe

There were several Pied-billed Grebes throughout the various ponds (“cells”), some alone, some in pairs.

At this point, a Crested Caracara surprised me and went past, too fast to get a shot. I love these guys, and it’s always a pleasure to see them in numbers. And in numbers they are! There were at least 1/2 a dozen individuals by my best estimate. But I couldn’t manage any photographs (but got great binoc views!).

image
American Coot (foreground) and Common Gallinule

As is typical through the Winter and early Spring, coots and gallinules were quite plentiful in most cells. I did not see any Purple Gallinules today. I don’t know why they were not there, but I’ll try to find that out.

image
White Ibis in flight

I’m proud of the above photograph. White Ibises are common enough, even in residential neighborhoods, but it’s really neat to see them in a more “natural” type habitat. This was my first attempt at a motion shot with my new camera.

More Crested Caracaras went by at this point, doing their level best to dodge my camera.

We came across some Glossy Ibises and a couple of unidentified shorebirds (perhaps a snipe?) and sparrows (what some birders affectionately called “LBJs” for “”Little Brown Jobs.” Savannah Sparrows seemed plentiful along most of the path edges throughout the morning.

image
Savannah Sparrow

This Tricolored Heron was one of several heron and egret species present throughout the Wetlands. We saw Green, Little Blue and Great Blue Herons. There were Great and Cattle egrets too. Many of these were in full breeding regalia, which was quite impressive. Also, below is a shot of a more immature Great Blue Heron that was stalking about the place.

image
Tricolored Heron with breeding plumes
image
Immature Great Blue Heron

This next picture is of one of a number of warblers seen along the path edges. Based on behavior and plumage indications, I want to say this is a Palm Warbler beginning to get it’s breeding plumage, but I am not sure. If anyone reading this blog can positively identify this bird, would you please let me know?

image
Perhaps a Palm Warbler?

As we rounded the paths to head back to the car, Cedric pointed out some Sandhill Cranes rather close to us. To my surprise was the cutest thing EVER! LOOK!

image
Sandhill Crane parent and baby!
image
Sandhill Crane family

So awesome!

This handsome fellow swam by, too

image
OMG, alligator!

On the final walk out to the car, I finally got a shot of a Crested Caracara. These guys had been swooping around all morning. This one has a rather nasty bit of fish remains in his beak. But hey, scavenging is essential to any healthy ecosystem (even a human created one like this).

image

With that, we headed out to the Moccasin Island Tract and some upland habitat adventures. Oh. And cows.

Part II to come.