SCBWF 2018: Friday

[Note: With the loss of my PC, I’ll be authoring and uploading photos through my tablet. This means most of my upcoming posts may be brief and with fewer and/or smaller photos. Posting frequency may also be affected.]

February 6, 2018

The Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival is now past over a week and a half, and as its memory fades, I will try to get some more thoughts and photos down.

Shiloh Marsh

My first official field trip was the Mitchell Harris-led Shiloh’s Sharptails, Marsh Birds and More. For as long as I’ve been bird watching, I still struggle with sparrow identification, so any opportunity to find them with as an accomplished birder as Mitchell Harris, has got to be taken!

We started our hike through the Shiloh Marsh, a salt marsh area that marks the northern end of the Indian River Lagoon and the border between Brevard and Volusia Counties.

As with most festival trips these days, I was birding with my friend Camille. In was also joined with my friends Sarah and Bella for their first festival trip.

We set out through the salt marsh before dawn, so I left my camera in the vehicle. The going through the tangle of dead marsh grass and other vegetation made it a tough slog out to where we were most likely to see either Nelson’s Sparrows or Saltmarsh Sparrows. Hurricane Irene’s effects killed back a large amount of the vegetation, so we had to hike out quite a distance to suitable habitat. But it was worth it. After scaring up some Marsh and Sedge Wrens, we finally managed to get at least one Nelson’s and a few Saltmarsh Sparrows to quickly pop up and look around before dashing back in the thick grasses. It was a breezy morning, so the birds were reluctant to stay out in the open for long, but most of us got at least a few decent looks at these birds.

We then hiked back to the dike road that separates the marsh from the lagoon, and walked another several miles, as the wind picked up but the sun warmed things up.

Looking out over Shiloh Marsh toward the lagoon side of Canaveral National Seashore.

At first the birding was a little slow – the wind was really keeping the marsh birds out of the open. Eventually some shorebirds were seen feeding down on the leeward (downwind) sides of the dike road, including both Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs.

The larger, middle three birds are Greater Yellowlegs, the small bird on the right is a Lesser Yellowlegs. Besides the size difference (not always evident if both species aren’t near each other), see the difference in bill length in proportion to the head. The Greater Yellowlegs’ bills also look slightly upturned.


We also managed to see some Least Sandpipers and a Long-billed Dowitcher along the same stretch of mud and sand. Eventually, as we hiked the dike road back, more waders started congregating in the marsh, including some very color-saturated Roseate Spoonbills.

A congregation of “typical” waders: Roseate Spoonbills, Snowy Egrets, and White and Glossy Ibises. After living in Florida for 15 years, it’s easy to forget how exotic these species are to out of state visitors, especially from more northern climes.

After finally making it back to the vehicle (Mitchell and most of the other birders had gone ahead to get to scheduled workshops and other events), we headed over to Festival HQ at Eastern Florida State College, in Titusville [map].

When all was said and done for the Shiloh Sparrows trip, we got about 65 species, including a couple of lifers!

Chain of Lakes Park

After some classroom presentations, including a surprisingly informative talk on photography while birding, the four of us (me, Camille, Sarah, and Bella) met up and headed over to Chain of Lakes Park, just behind the EFSC campus.

We saw a decent array of species, including a nesting Great Horned Owl on an Osprey platform. An owl raised chicks there last year as well, so this may be the same owl. It peered over the edge of the nest at us a few times.

The ponds in the park had a smattering of ducks, including Lesser and Greater Scaups, and a rather large assemblage of Fish Crows. One female Painted Bunting added a little more variety to our hike as we wound down to get home for the evening.

Here are our eBird lists for the day.

Shiloh Marsh:

Chain of Lakes Park:

A successful if tiring day, but that’s the way it is on SCBWF days!

SCBWF 2015 : January 22 : Diceandra Scrub Sanctuary, Chain of Lakes Park, Fox Lake Park at Night

The Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival kicked off on Wednesday, January 21st, but I didn’t have my first event until Thursday morning. There was a morning excursion to the Diceandra Scrub Sanctuary in Titusville. The main goal of this particular trip was to see the endangered Diceandra Mint (sometimes called the Titusville Mint) which is endemic to the sanctuary. Much of the focus of the trip was on scrub ecology and how it related to the plant’s presence there.

A flock of birders descend on Titusville.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I appreciate ecology and biology in general. I’m an environmental geographer and conservationist, but I was there for the birds. Many were singing, and we got some decent views of the Florida Scrub Jays that live on the property. Unlike the jays at either Malabar Scrub Sanctuary or at the Cruickshank Sanctuary, these jays were wary and kept their distance.

Florida Scrub Jay on the lookout
This jay was acting as a sentinel as it’s family members foraged below. The jays insisted on being between us and the sun, making photography a challenge for me.

Our trip leader was very interested in the mushrooms and other fungi we saw, and stopped to explain the various types. I was surprised by how many wild mushrooms are edible, We didn’t come across any overtly poisonous ones, though.

Here’s the list of species identified on the property.

  • Eastern Towhee
  • Blue Jay
  • Red-shouldered Hawk
  • Carolina Wren {♫)
  • Northern Cardinal
  • Turkey Vulture
  • Eastern Phoebe
  • Fish Crow
  • Florida Scrub Jay
  • Gray Catbird
  • Palm Warbler
  • Red-bellied Woodpecker
  • Black Vulture
  • Common Grackle
  • White-eyed Vireo
  • American Robin
  • Common Ground Dove
  • Downy Woodpecker
  • Tufted Titmouse

After heading back to Festival HQ (at Eastern Florida State College – Titusville) for a quick lunch, I decided to take a walk to the park area behind campus. Chain of Lake Park consists of some artificial lakes (or large ponds, more accurately) with paths, boardwalks and footbridges around and through the park. On the adjacent fields between it and the EFSC campus were several dozen Killdeer and one medium flock of Ring-billed Gulls.

The variety of bird life was an unexpected pleasure for a suburban-type park. The ponds I walked around had Blue-winged Teals, Mottled Ducks, and even a Lesser Scaup. I flushed at least 3 Wilson’s Snipes from one side of the first pond I walked along.

This Lesser Scaup kept looking over his shoulder at me. It’s not paranoia if a birder really is taking photos of you, is it?

There is even a pair of nesting Bald Eagles nearby. I could hear them making their squeaky and giggly calls from the EFSC campus. They appear to be building up their nest in anticipation of some eggs and chicks later in the spring.

Eagle in flight with a bundle of roots
At first I thought this Eagle was bringing food for its mate, but upon closer look, it appears to be a clump or roots or driftwood for nesting material.

The list of bird species at Chain of Lakes Park:

  • Killdeer
  • Cattle Egret
  • Ring-billed Gull
  • Loggerhead Shrike
  • Wilson’s Snipe
  • Savannah Sparrow
  • Lesser Scaup
  • Bald Eagle
  • Red-shouldered Hawk
  • Red-winged Blackbird
  • Mottled Duck
  • Anhinga
  • American White Pelican
  • Fish Crow
  • Palm Warbler
  • Great Egret
  • American Robin
  • Eurasian Collared Dove
  • Black-and-white Warbler

Finally, on Thursday, I participated in a nocturnal nature hike at Fox Lake Park. I had such a good time last year at the Owl Prowl at Sams House at Pine Island Sanctuary that I immediately signed up for this field trip when I registered for the festival in November.

For this trip we were seated in a flat bed trailer (like what you might ride on in a hay-ride, minus the hay) and driven to a few places to try and call some owls.

First, the trip leader used a recorded Barred Owl call to attract an owl to our vicinity. It worked! A Barred Owl flew in only a few meters over out heads. They don’t seem very bothered by spotlights, so the trip leaders spotlit the bird while many of the people took photographs with their smart phones. I wasn’t expecting that any photos would come out, so I left my camera in the car. I really regret that, but I got some amazing unaided eye and binocular views of the owl. After a few minutes, it called out and got a response from another owl (probably its mate) and got to hear some pretty wild barking and whooping calls.

After they moved off into the distance, we went to the next location to try and call some Eastern Screech Owls. We did not get any responses; however, one of the Barred Owls (perhaps the same one as earlier) followed and watched us for a while. We tried another location, but the Barred Owl continued to join us. Owls are known to be pretty vicious with other owl species, so it’s likely the presence of the Barred Owl kept any Screech Owls from calling out or getting close to us.

It was a beautiful night in any case, and we did some star gazing along the way. Part of the park had been burned as part of a management effort to control the scrub vegetation, so a few places were a bit smoky, but that small annoyance was well worth putting up with for a great night hike.

After that, my first day at the festival wrapped up and I headed home to rest for the next morning.