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.

Fay Lake Wilderness Park

My birding adventure this Sunday was a damp one at Fay Lake Wilderness Park. It has been fairly rainy in this area through the week, and the park was still wet from the previous day’s showers. It was mostly overcast, too, which helped keep the temperature down and I didn’t need to squint much.

The park is pretty, with mostly wide paths (looks like they use a 4-wheeler to keep things clear) and a series of wooden overlooks around the lake perimeter.

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Fay Lake.

What struck me first upon entering the park trails was the almost unbelievable cacophany of tree frogs. When walking by a grove of palms when the frogs were calling, this has to be the loudest natural sound I’ve heard since the 17-year cicadas in Wheeling in 1999.

Like most of Brevard County’s parks, Northern Cardinals were just about everywhere. I like this shot of a singing female. In the bird world it’s rare for the females to sing, but for cardinals, both males and females sing regularly.

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Female Northern Cardinal singing. This shot looks way too much like a winter scene up north!

Another constant companion throughout the morning were these grasshoppers. Some friends over on the Gulf Coast call the large grasshoppers there “lubbers” and the ones out there I have seen can be over 4 inches long. A few of these approached that size, but most were about 2-3 inches in length. I’ve been calling them “mini-lubbers.” photo mini-lubber1.jpg
Mini-lubbers were everywhere.

There were plenty of butterflies and skippers, too. I counted at least 6 different species. This one obliged me by sitting still for a while so I could get a decent shot.

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Gulf Fritillary.

This about a close to a Turkey Vulture as I’ve ever been. Vultures get a bad rap for eating carrion and lurking about dead things, but they provide a crucial service in “recycling” dead animals.

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Turkey Vulture.

I got some good binocular views of an Eastern Towhee and a Red-shouldered Hawk, a brief glimpse of a White-eyed Vireo, and at least one Common Ground Dove. At one point a Little Blue Heron in mid-molt from white to blue flew overhead. It looked like it was marble.

I noticed that just about every square foot of the park showed some evidence of burning. The park sits just to the west of the interstate and adjoins the St. John’s National Wildlife Refuge, so regular burning is easier here than in many other parks.

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Scorch marks and new growth.

The area shown above was the sight of a little bit of action, too. Some grackles were trying to harrass an adult Cooper’s Hawk and managed to drive it away. As I was watching that (sorry, no pics!) I was lightly pelted from something above me. A squirrel was having a pine cone breakfast. photo squirrel.jpg

As I said, the park borders the St. John National Wildlife Refuge, and the border was marked by some barbed wire and signage. The barbed wire was not continuous, and the path systems of the two parks intersect and merge here and there. I found myself on the “wrong” side of the fencing a few times and had to back-track out. I could hear Bobwhite calls deep in the Refuge area, but was unable to see anything in my binoculars. The Refuge looked pretty, if a bit empty of visible animal life.

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St. John’s National Wildlife Refuge.

That was about it for the morning. The paths back toward my starting point were very wet at this point and the tree frogs were nearly deafening. I’d like to stop back to this park in the fall and definitely next spring before the hot weather sets in. Here’s a parting shot of one of the mini-lubbers.

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Mini-lubber says bye!

Summer at Turkey Creek

I was feeling well enough yesterday to head out to Turkey Creek Sanctuary, despite the oppressive humidity and only 3 hours of sleep! Now that summer is in full force, my expectations tend to be low in terms of my birding, but just having a hike in the woods is a good treat. Of course, things never quite turn out how one expects and I ended up having a pretty good outing.

I started out heading toward the Scrub Trail area first, which immediately paid off. I could hear raptors calling in the area. From the sounds of the calls (which sounded like overworked squeak toys), I believed them to be immature Red-shouldered Hawks. There were two of them and at first glance as they quickly flew off toward the Scrub Trail and Harris radio tower area, I thought I could confirm my suspicions of their species; however, first one, and then the other obliged me by perching in the trees right overhead. Closer inspection showed them to be juvenile Cooper’s Hawks.

The first of 2 juvenile Cooper’s Hawks (possibly a female).

The second juvenile Cooper’s Hawk (smaller, likely male). I barely captured its awkward landing onto the branch.

These two characters provided a constant backdrop of sound and comical aerial displays for the whole morning wherever I was in the sanctuary. As they called out and flew circles around the immediate area, I happened to notice this Northern Parula sitting very very still, occasionally glancing nervously up at them. After the hawks passed by and were out of sight, it became more active and several more voiced their tiny displeasure at my presence. I suspect a nest was nearby, and the whole clan chipped and chirped at me along the path as I went.

Northern Parula nervously scanning the skies.

I walked from there to the dam overlook (technically a weir) and spillway, where the Melbourne-Tillman Canal empties into Turkey Creek. Although the weir and the “tuff boom” flotation barriers end up catching quite a bit of trash, the area upstream does provide habitat for wading birds and other species that appreciate the slow moving water. There were a few Green Herons and a Tri-colored Heron working the area, as well as a solitary American Coot. I also spied a tiny baby alligator. [Edit 10-28-2013: Not a tiny alligator, but a Florida Softshell Turtle. They have very flexible necks, and can hold their heads up in a way that doesn’t expose their shells.]

Tricolored Heron.

American Coot. Love the red eye.

Not a tiny alligator, but a Florida Softshell Turtle.

I watched the birds there for a few minutes, but that part of the sanctuary area is not shaded, and it was already getting oppressive. I headed back down the trail and toward the boardwalk to head up to the Sand Pine Ridge Trail while the lighting was still good and the sun not so high. Aside from a couple of Carolina Wrens and two Fox Squirrels (no pics), it was already fairly quiet. I did hear one or two White-eyed Vireos, too. As I started to head west along the trail, I noticed a new trail sign, “Turkey Oak Trail” and decided to check it out. As the sign on the other end of the trail suggests, this trail is fairly primitive. In part, it crosses through the upland part of the sanctuary that saw the most damage and tree-fall from the hurricanes in 2004. If I remember correctly, hurricane Jeanne did the most damage here. In some parts of this area over 70% of the canopy was removed from fallen trees or stripped branches. The remaining trees are still leaning.

Leaning trees from 2004 hurricane damage.

Some parts of this new trail are in some denser vegetation, though, with some evidence of fire. Quite a few logs that had laid on the path have sections cut out, which provided this nice looking mushroom a place to live.

This mushroom is a fun guy (fungi).

There were quite a few Blue-grey Gnatcatchers in this part of the sanctuary too. Two things about gnatcatchers that I really came to appreciate yesterday: they are tiny and they never stop moving. One managed to sit still just long enough for me to snap this photograph.

Mighty mite!

This Turkey Oak Trail basically runs north of and parallels the Sand Pine Ridge Trail, so I came out very close to the start of that trail and the boardwalk. I decided to retrace my steps and head back toward the Scrub Trail, but instead of go back toward the dam, I headed back in towards McKinnon’s Way. On the way, I stopped at the emergency boat ramp and had a sit-down for a few minutes. While there, a very pretty butterfly landed close by. To me, it looks like a Monarch, except it was much more red than any Monarch I’ve seen, which are typically orange. [Edited to add: this is, in fact, a Viceroy. It is considered a Müllerian mimic of the Monarch.]

Viceroy butterfly

The morning ended with the most exciting part of my outing, which I unfortunately was unable to capture on camera. As I was sitting, I saw a large elongated shape coming out of the water near the edge of the creek (there’s no bank to speak of, really). My instinct was it was a gator, so I started to jump up to run back up the ramp away from the water, but I realized it was a manatee! It raised its head up onto the side of the creek and mouthed at some vegetation. By the time I regained my composure, it had turned and submerged back into the creek. I was disappointed I didn’t get to take a photograph, but thrilled to see a manatee up close. With that, it was getting really oppressive (despite the breeze that had picked up), so I walked back out to head home.