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.

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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.

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.

It was a very quiet morning at Turkey Creek Sanctuary. Here are a few of the things I saw today.

  • Centrosema virginiarum (wild pea)
  • Cicada
  • Bumblebee
  • A very worn Black Swallowtail butterfly
  • Mini-lubber!
  • A very shiny skink of some kind
  • Little Blue Heron

Also saw some Blue-grey Gnatcatchers, Northern Cardinals, a Brown Thrasher, Green Herons (adult and immature), and an American Coot. Heard, but did not see a couple of White-eyed Vireos.

[Edited to add: also there was a (un)Spotted Sandpiper near the weir and canal where the herons were, Common Ground Doves near the Harris broadcast tower, and Blue Jays here and there.]

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
Squirrel!

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!