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.

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.

photo f-indigo-bunting.jpg
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.

photo catbird.jpg
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.

photo coon.jpg
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.

photo soft-shelled-turtle.jpg
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.

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.
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.

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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?

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.

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.