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.

20180126101444.JPG
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.

20180126111428.JPG
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.

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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:
https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S42249283

Chain of Lakes Park:
https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S42257226

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

Falling Over: Part III

December 21, 2017
[My apologies for the delay in wrapping up my adventures from earlier this month. It’s been a hectic and busy time, as you might imagine]

I’ll wrap up my end-of Autumn posts (as we reach the end of astronomical or “official” autumn) my MINWR adventure with Sarah and Bella Muro. A day after chasing a Brant and Neotropic Cormorant, I met with the Muros late in the morning and we formulated a plan to try and maximize the chances of getting Bella some life birds, namely sparrows and ducks.

We headed to Space Coast Regional Airport [map] first, since there are often various sparrows seen there, as well as the occasional Scissor-tailed Flycatcher. While it was probably early for the flycatcher, it was fun to ride along the perimeter road (imaginatively called Perimeter Road) around the airport, then up Tico road (imaginatively named for TItusville/COcoa – the previous name of the airport).

The fence around the airport was strangely devoid of its usual Loggerhead Shrikes, but there were a few American Kestrels and other birds of prey.

red-shouldered-hawk
A young Red-shouldered Hawk was calmly looking about. Its presence may have been partially responsible for the relative lack of small birds along the fence-line.

We managed to scare up a Vesper Sparrow on the far end of Tico road, but the look was brief, so we pulled off the road to “chase” it down the fence line. In birding terms, chasing doesn’t usually mean actually running after the bird in sight. It means making a concerted effort to find where the bird may have flushed or flown to, using observation and smart conjecture, based on known species or genus behaviors and the available options. In a larger sense, chasing can mean driving or travelling long distances to attempt to see a specific bird species, but perhaps that sort of chasing deserves its own post.

While trying to get another look at the sparrow, we happened on a mixed group of birds, including a couple of American Goldfinches, a Blue-headed Vireo and some warblers. And this bird, from the Valiant Air Command:

b-25
The Valiant Air Command is a local warbird/military plane restoration group and museum with many vintage and historic aircraft on display, with some functional articles, like this B-25 “Mitchell” bomber, named “Killer B”.

In the end, we identified the sparrow as a Vesper, by process of elimination based on field marks and habitat.

Our next stop was Black Point Drive [map], where we finally did get some more ducks, including American Wigeons, Blue-winged Teals, and even some Northern Pintails. Through most of the afternoon, my poor, fickle camera made photographs quite difficult, so I apologize for the relative lack of photos.

We then went into the Cape Canaveral National Seashore [map]. The road toward Playalinda Beach has several pull-offs (called Vistas) that look out over ponds and wetlands. It was along these Vistas that up to 10 species of ducks were reported during the previous week.

The Ruddy Ducks from my adventure with Camille were still there, joined by many Redheads and American Wigeons. But the species we were most interested in seeing were Canvasbacks, which had also been reported there.

It took some serious staring: the larger rafts of ducks were at the edge of comfortable binocular range. I did finally get a chance “fly by” of my binocular field by a female Canvasback, but she landed in the midst of the other ducks before Sarah or Bella could positively identify her. We continued to scrutinize the group until finally, two male Canvasbacks swam out from the edge of the group and turned enough for us to see their unique head profiles. Sorry, no duck photos, but Sarah got this shot off for the moment of Bella’s latest life bird!

bella-canvasback-sighted
Canvasback sighters! (Photo courtesy and ©Sarah Muro)

With the light beginning to fade, we went part way along Bio Lab Road [map], where Bella spotted this slightly odd looking heron. At first glance it appears to be a Little Blue Heron transitioning to adult plumage, but to all three of us it’s size and proportions seemed to be off, and it’s plumage was more muted gray than blue. We may never really know, which is one reason why birding is fun and engaging to me.

 

odd-heron
Mystery heron? Hybrid, or just an “odd duck”?

We ended the day at Pumphouse Road [map], hoping for sparrows in the last light. Sarah did manage to catch a glimpse of a very late season (and perhaps rare winter resident) Yellow Warbler in the mangroves.

pumphouse-road-sunset
As the sun set, the “supermoon” was about to rise behind us, bracketing a beautiful and fulfilling day. (Photo courtesy and ©Sarah Muro)

That evening the year’s only “supermoon” – when the full moon coincides with the Moon’s perigee, or closest point in its orbit around Earth – rose on the way back toward home.

The final cap on the day was a meteor streaking along the sky as I dropped Sarah and Bella off at their home.

What does a self-professed “lonely birder” get out of all this, a busy weekend birding with others? It’s always a pleasure to share a love and passion for birds and conservation with anyone, especially friends. Opportunities to recharge and reset will come. Besides, I also got a hefty serving of some delicious chili from Sarah’s husband, to take home. Sharing food is one of the most powerful and important gestures people can make, so thank you, Chris, for the lovely meal (ok, 3 meals, really).

 

Falling Over: Part I

December 9. 2017

Hello everyone, welcome to the last weeks of Fall. While it’s been quiet on the blog, there’s been some action going on here in central Florida during the past couple of weeks. Two weeks ago I made a trip with Camille to Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge to see what ducks might have come in over Thanksgiving. We drove both Black Point Wildlife Drive [map] and out to Canaveral National Seashore [map]. We had heard reports of Ruddy Ducks and Buffleheads along the road out to the Seashore, and with the cold weather to our north, we knew quite a few ducks had come in.

Black Point did have ducks: hundreds of American Wigeons and Blue-winged Teals! There were lesser amounts of Northern Shovelers,  Hooded Mergansers, and even a few Gadwalls.

hooded-merganser
A male Hooded Merganser. You can see the sawtoothed edge on his bill, useful for catching fish.

We stopped at a few areas hoping for sparrows, but aside from a few distant teasers, we didn’t see any on Black Point.

We managed to catch a few dozen Ruddy Ducks (amazingly, my first of the year) along the road toward the National Seashore (Vista 5, if anyone was wondering [map]).

ruddy-ducks
One of several rafts of Ruddy Ducks.

We made our way to the parking areas for the National Seashore, hoping for a glimpse of the Clay-colored Sparrows reported there a week or so before. We didn’t have any luck there, but we did get a responsive and inquisitive Chipping Sparrow!

chipping-sparrow1
This Chipping Sparrow was eager to check us out!
chipping-sparrow2
The characteristic rusty cap and black eyeline.

I have to confess to playing the calls of both the Clay-colored and Chipping Sparrows in hopes of seeing one. I don’t often play calls, but judicious use of them can help find birds that might otherwise be hidden. Given the time of year and habitat, I felt it was justified. Your mileage may vary, as they say.

Beyond that, there wasn’t much to see at the beaches themselves. The wind was mainly offshore and the seas calm, so any hopes to see scoters or other oceanic birds were not to be fulfilled.

For those so inclined, here are our complete eBird lists for the day.

Black Point Wildlife Drive:
http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S40745460

Canaveral National Seashore pay station area:
http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S40745564

Canaveral National Seashore – Vista #2
http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S40745950

Canaveral National Seashore – Vista #5
http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S40746258

Canaveral National Seashore – Lot 7
http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S40746895

Canaveral National Seashore – Lot 2
http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S40747478

More substantial adventures await in Part II: another road trip with Camille and then  MINWR with the Muros!

 

Migration Preamble at MINWR

August 27, 2017

It’s been an Empidonax-filled late summer here in central Florida, with reports of the little flycatchers coming in about every day so far in the last week or so. I saw two Acadian Flycatchers near where I work and have seen several unidentified “Empids” in my travels around Lake and Sumter, and Brevard Counties.

On Sunday, I met up with Camille to check out flycatcher and warbler activity reported at Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge’s (MINWR) Pine and Oak Hammock Trails [map].

Yes. Warblers. It turns out that the first vanguard of migrant warblers has already been moving through the state, and we managed to get a nice mixed flock or two along the Pine Hammock trail (the Oak Hammock Trail was closed). We had a couple of dozen (!) American Redstarts, and a good showing of Worm-eating Warblers along with Black-and-whites and Northern Parulas. We did not catch the reported Prothonotary or Cerulean warblers that have been reported, however.

But the star of the day was an Alder Flycatcher (a life bird for me). This species was first reported by Mitchell Harris earlier in the week, and we managed to find the bird on the way out of the trail (well, Camille spotted it and called me back on the trail to her location). At first the bird was quite still and silent (in migration, it is nearly impossible to separate the Empids if they do not vocalize. The visible proportions and field marks overlap too broadly). After watching it fly-catch a few times and change perches, it finally called out a few times, and even answered some limited recordings (yes, I used a recording). The lighting was bad, but I fired off a couple of shots.

alder-flycatcher1
Without vocalization, this bird could almost as easily be a Willow Flycatcher (the most similar) or even any other Empid or an Eastern-wood Pewee. Luckily for us, it did call a few times.
alder-flycatcher2
Here’s a good view of the orange/yellow underside of the bill that is common to most Empids and Wood-pewees.

For those of you interested, here’s the entire eBird list for the trail:
https://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S38847183

We finished up the morning by cruising the open part of Peacocks Pocket [map] and East Gator Creek [map].

Peacocks Pocket:
http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S38848022

East Gator Creek:
http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S38848439

It was a nice little migration preview, but we’ll have to see how the autumn plays out and if any of this seemingly early movement means anything significant.

 

Black and White on Blackpoint Drive

This morning, I took a drive to the Blackpoint Wildlife Drive at Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge [map]. It ended up being a pretty good birding day, all things considered. It was hot early, and the Spring migration is all but over. I saw or heard about 50 different species, but the three most interesting all have something in common. In their life-cycle, each one sports black and white plumage.

First, there had been reports of a Horned Grebe along the drive, which is unusual this time of year. Normally these birds might winter over (and many did this past Winter), but for one to be hanging around in May is a bit odd. Additionally, the bird was reported to be transitioning into breeding plumage. The normal breeding range for a Horned Grebe is the western half of Canada into southeastern Alaska. Here’s my photo of an apparently injured Horned Grebe from this past winter:

horned-grebe
Injured Horned Grebe taking refuge in the Refuge. Note the primarily black and white plumage.

These grebes, and the very similar Eared Grebe, look very different during the breeding season, losing their black and white feathers in exchange for warm browns and some wild, buffy-colored head tufts!

I did not get very good photographs of the bird today, so here’s one taken from the Wikipedia entry on the Horned Grebe:

640px-horned_grebe_28229_-_28podiceps_auritus29
By Connon Mah (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/liceses.by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons.
I speculate (with nothing more than circumstantial evidence) that this is the same, injured bird. It might not be, but it would be a bit improbable, in my opinion.

The next “black and white” bird I’d like to highlight from my adventure today, was a fairly accommodating Eastern Kingbird. This species has been a little harder to come by of late, at least when I’ve been out. We used to have one or two that would hang around the back yard some years ago, and I’d seem them in passing from time to time around town. The past few years it seems they’ve been more dispersed. In any case, this bird sat for a while in a nearby tree along the road and let me take a few photos before casually flying off.

eastern-kingbird
This Eastern Kingbird would have likely arrived recently from central or northern South America, where it was staying for the winter.

In addition to the striking black and white color scheme, male Eastern Kingbirds have a small patch of red (or sometimes yellow  or orange) feathers on the crown of their heads, which are almost never seen in the field, expect at close range when the bird is agitated or upset.

The final bird I’d like to focus on with black and white plumage, from today, is the Black-necked Stilt.

black-necked-stilt
Although a bit out of focus, you can see the striking black and white pattern on this Black-necked Stilt. Less than 1/2 of the bird’s right leg is showing.

Black-necked Stilts are beautiful birds, and their conspicuous, long, red legs are second only to flamingos in their relative length to their bodies. Here’s another photo I took last year, showing how long their legs are.

stilt1
A Black-necked Stilt showing off those amazing legs!

Those legs are likely an adaptation to allow stilts to wade in deeper water than other wading and shorebirds of it’s size, so it is not directly competing with them. This is sometimes referred to as “resource partitioning.”

Of course, I saw and heard other birds. If you’re interested, I’ve linked to my eBird checklist below:

eBird list for MINWR – Blackpoint Wildlife Drive:
http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist?subID=S29835995

May is rapidly drawing to a close and the relative quiet of Florida’s Summer is almost here, but I expect I’ll have plenty more adventures throughout the next few months, including a trip or two to more temperate climes. Stay tuned!

SCBWF 2015 : January 25 : Marl Bed Flats and Lake Jesup : MINWR II

Now that my winter break is over, and I am back in sunny Florida, it’s time to pick up where we left off with the Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival.

On Sunday, the 25th, I had my only repeat field trip from last year (besides the pelagic trip). The trip leader this year was Corey Finger (co-owner of the 10,000 Birds blog). I stayed in touch with Corey mostly through Facebook after last year’s field trip, and I had hoped to be able to spend at least a lunch or something with him this year, but as hectic as these festivals are, we weren’t able to make that happen. Corey is, of course, a fine birder and excellent photographer.

Another difference between last year and this year is the amount of rain we had here in east central Florida. This made the Marl Bed Flats very muddy and meant we were situated much further away from the wetlands and thus less able to pick out interesting shorebirds or other action going on closer to the lake. Also, the increased water didn’t allow the thicker ground cover to grow that sparrows prefer, so we had very few sparrows this year compared to last.

Marl Bed Flats are flat.
Marl Bed Flats are flat.

We had some decent spotting scope views of some birds, but most stayed fairly well out of my camera’s effective range. This Red-tailed Hawk was close enough to get a photo, though.

red-tailed
You can tell this is a young bird by the limited banding down the breast and belly.

By far the most numerous bird species that morning were the American Robins. Robins migrate into Florida from adjacent southern states, and set up in woods and scrub in enormous flocks. In winter, these robins are much more gregarious (hanging out together) and out of sight than in spring and summer, when they are a main-stay of many suburban yards. There was a constant stream of them flying overhead all morning. Our best estimate was over 2,000 birds.

We saw a handful of Savannah Sparrrows, but most of the small birds were Palm Warblers. Since most were of the “Western” or gray variety, it was often the tell-tale bobbing tail that gave away the identification of the bird.

The Palm Warblers were happy to skitter around in the thick grasses.
The Palm Warblers were happy to skitter around in the thick grasses. You can see how non-descript the “Western” form is.

We walked along some more wooded areas on our way out of the Flats and encountered some more upland birds, including Blue-headed Vireos, Yellow-rumped Warblers, and a Ruby-crowned Kinglet.

From the Flats, we drove around the lake to Lake Jesup Park to see what birds were hanging around. Last year we flushed a pair of Great Horned Owls from the nearby Live Oaks, and we heard reports that they were present, but we never saw one; however, a woman on the trip and myself both heard a distant day-calling Great Horned Owl, but we were unable to locate it.

lake-jesup
Boat access to Lake Jesup. Just off the end of this little inlet were several Bonaparte’s Gulls, elegantly swimming on the surface.

Beyond the boat access inlet were Bonaparte’s Gulls and some herons. Bonaparte’s Gulls are small, hooded gulls in summer. In winter they have a distinctive “ear” patch. That patch, along with their size and proportions, are diagnostic identifiers. They swim more buoyantly than most gulls and are as graceful in the air as any tern.

After some searching about, we did get some Black-and-white Warblers and other warbler species. Corey and a few others saw a Prairie Warbler, but I was unable to verify the ID for myself.

Species list (eBird order – Thanks, Corey!):

  • Wood Duck
  • Blue-winged Teal
  • Pied-billed Grebe
  • Wood Stork
  • Double-crested Cormorant
  • Anhinga
  • Great Blue Heron
  • Great Egret
  • Snowy Egret
  • Little Blue Heron
  • Tri-colored Heron
  • White Ibis
  • Glossy Ibis
  • Black Vulture
  • Turkey Vulture
  • Bald Eagle
  • Red-shouldered Hawk
  • Common Gallinule
  • American Coot
  • Sandhill Crane
  • Killdeer
  • Greater Yellowlegs
  • Bonaparte’s Gull
  • Ring-billed Gull
  • Forster’s Tern
  • Common Ground Dove
  • Mourning Dove
  • Red-bellied Woodpecker
  • Pileated Woodpecker
  • American Kestrel
  • Eastern Phoebe
  • Loggerhead Shrike
  • Blue Headed Vireo
  • American Crow
  • Tree Swallow
  • Tufted Titmouse
  • Carolina Wren (♫)
  • Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
  • Ruby-crowned Kinglet
  • American Robin
  • Gray Catbird
  • Black-and-white Warbler
  • Common Yellowthroat
  • Palm Warbler
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler
  • Savannah Sparrow
  • Northern Cardinal
  • Red-winged Blackbird
  • Eastern Meadowlark (♫)
  • Boat-tailed Grackle

On the way back to Titusville, I decided to try once again for the Long-tailed Duck near Parrish Park. The wind had died down considerably from previous days, and the sky was clear. I first searched along the north side of the bridge, and saw two birds swimming that looked very grebe-like.

horned-grebes
Super-cute Horned Grebe couple.

My first Horned Grebes were swimming and diving together. Based on the size difference, I assume this is a mated pair. Horned Grebes look much different in summer than in winter, but are quite handsome birds either way.

An older gentleman approached me and asked if I was looking for the Long-tailed Duck. Of course, I was, and he told me a couple had pointed out to him that it was on the south side of the bridge, close in with a small group of scaups. And there it was, a 1st-year winter male Long-tailed Duck. This is a rare bird for Florida (though not exceedingly so), and after two days of looking, it was nice to finally see him. [Edit 2015 Feb 17: Some observers have identified this as a winter female, but based on the information I have, I’m sticking with the first year winter male ID unless someone has something else that’s more definitive.]

long-tailed-duck-7
I’m glad I ducked under the bridge to find this bird. Otherwise I might have gone quackers wondering where it was.

After watching both the grebes and the Long-tailed Duck for a while, I decided to do Blackpoint Wildlife Drive again now that the weather was calm. I was hoping more duck species would be out in numbers, and perhaps a few more shorebirds.

High-stepping Greater-yellowlegs.
High-stepping Greater-yellowlegs.

There were some wading birds a little more accessible than previous days, and there were more Northern Pintails in the open water, too. I heard that some Redheads and Ruddy Ducks were seen by some people, but I couldn’t find them. There were still some distant large mixed rafts of American Coots with Ring-necked Ducks, Blue-winged Teals and other ducks that could have been hiding these birds. The pintails and shovelers were more active and about, with several in flight at any give time.

pintail-flight-MINWR
Northern Pintail cleared for landing.

As the sun began getting low, I stopped at the MINWR Visitors’ Center and did finally see a single female Painted Bunting at their feeder, and then it was time to go home and get some rest for the final adventure of the Festival: the pelagic boat trip.

painted
Female Painted Bunting at the Visitors’ Center.

Birds seen at MINWR:

  • Great Egret
  • Snowy Egret
  • Tri-colred Heron
  • Little Blue Heron
  • Great Blue Heron
  • Reddish Egret
  • Belted Kingfisher
  • Greater Yellowlegs
  • Lesser Yellowlegs
  • Killdeer
  • Dunlin
  • American Coot
  • Double-crested Cormorant
  • Anhinga
  • Caspian Tern
  • Royal Tern
  • White Ibis
  • Glossy Ibis
  • Turkey Vulture
  • Black Vulture
  • Roseate Spoonbill
  • American White Pelican
  • Northern Pintail
  • Blue-winged Teal
  • Northern Shoveler
  • American Wigeon
  • Pied-billed Grebe
  • Wood Stork
  • American Avocet
  • Palm Warbler
  • Common Yellowthroat
  • House Wren
  • Painted Bunting
  • Red-winged Blackbird
  • Boat-tailed Grackle
  • Mourning Dove
Snowy-MINWR
Snowy Egret at sunset.

SCBWF 2015 : January 23 : Salt Lake WMA : Nighttime EFS

Salt Lake WMA/Seminole Ranch CA

My second day at the Space Coast Birding & Wildlife Festival started at the Salt Lake Wildlife Management Area. The weather forecast called for increasing winds in the afternoon, but the morning started off calm enough. The weather was seasonable, which was a good change from the record cold for last year’s festival.

On the lake shore at the start of the day we had some good views of American Coots, Common Gallinules and a couple of Purple Gallinules. The Purple Gallinues were very active, running across the lilly pads and other vegetation like mad chickens with huge floppy feet. I’d managed to miss this bird species all of last year, so it felt nice to see them and watch their antics.

sunstruck
Sunrise at Salt Lake WMA .

The winds did start to pick up, which likely affected our attempts to see any sparrows. We crossed into the Seminole Ranch Conservation area, where we did see a pair of Sandhill Cranes getting their nest started. As I’ve mentioned before, spring in Florida starts in February. Many resident birds are picking nest sites and gathering material. Some are already mating and will have eggs before too long. Some of the scrub vegetation have already begun to bud and leaf out, and more of that will happen in earnest before the end of February. There was also a female Bald Eagle sitting on a large nest, her head showing up bright white against the dark branches.

cranes
These cranes were getting their nest area started. One of our trip leaders said this is the first pair to do so in a long time in this part of the management area.

List of species seen at Salt Lake WMA (in order of the checklist):

  • Double-crested Cormorant
  • Great Blue Heron
  • Great Egret
  • Little Blue Heron
  • Tricolored Heron
  • White Ibis
  • Glossy Ibis
  • Black Vulture
  • Turkey Vulture
  • Blue-winged Teal
  • Bald Eagle
  • Cooper’s Hawk
  • Red-shouldered Hawk
  • American Kestrel
  • Purple Gallinule
  • Common Gallinule
  • American Coot
  • Sandhill Crane
  • Killdeer
  • Caspian Tern
  • Mourning Dove
  • Barred Owl (♫)
  • Red-bellied Woodpecker
  • Downy Woodpecker
  • Northern Flicker
  • Pileated Woodpecker
  • Eastern Phoebe
  • White-eyed Vireo (♫)
  • Tree Swallow
  • Carolina Wren (♫)
  • Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
  • Eastern Bluebird
  • American Robin
  • Gray Catbird (♫)
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler
  • Pine Warbler
  • Palm Warbler
  • Common Yellowthroat (♫)
  • Eastern Towhee (♫)
  • Northern Cardinal
  • Red-winged Blackbird
  • Boat-tailed Grackle

I’d like to take some space here to thank Kim and Billy Bump from Mississippi for sharing some conversation and birding knowledge with me. They were so friendly and sharing, which made the trip even more worthwhile. As a closet introvert, group outings use up a lot of my energy, but people like the Bumps help me recharge and stay positive.

Blackpoint Drive

I used the break between the Salt Lake WMA trip to go to Blackpoint Drive on the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge (MINWR). I last visited there at the end of December when the ducks and shorebirds were still arriving for their winter quarters. The wind was starting to pick up and the first several viewing areas had almost no wildlife visible from the road. A bit further down on the left, a scattering of American Avocets were wading, belly deep, while sweeping their upturned bills through the water.

avocet-wind2
An American Avocet leaning into the wind.

Beyond the areas the avocets were feeding in, on the right side of the road, larger groups of American Coots, various duck species and some other shorebirds were in higher numbers. The first group consisted of mostly coots and Northern Shovelers. The shovelers are usually in a wide array of plumage variations, depending on the age and gender of the duck.

shovelers
Quite a positive group of ducks (3 up and 1 down).

The next group of ducks were quite a distance across the water, but seemed to consist of some Ring-necked Ducks and Northern Pintails, trying to blend into the massive numbers of American Coots. In this loosely congregated raft of birds there was a solitary male Northern Shoveler trying to blend in.

one-of-these-things
Duck Witness Protection Program FAIL.

I exited Blackpoint Drive after passing a few more view points with distant ducks and shorebirds. Toward the exit is one area that usually has American Wigeons, and they were toward the far end. There had been reports of at least one American-Eurasian Wigeon hybrid, but even when a Northern Harrier flushed the birds out and closer to me, I could not see if any of those particular birds were hybrids. For viewing like this a spotting scope is probably the best tool of the trade, but any decent scope is well beyond my budget right now, but I was keenly aware of my 8×42’s limitations.

Intermission

After a quick stop by the MINWR’s visitors’ center to see if any Painted Buntings were at the feeders (no, too windy), I stopped at Parrish Park to try to find the Long-tailed Duck that has been all the talk on the birding e-mail lists. The wind at this point was really gusting, and the only birds at the park were some grounded Ring-billed Gulls and Ruddy Turnstones, staying out of the wind behind concrete walls at the boat ramp.

bored-gull
“Oh, the millionth birder looking for a Long-tailed Duck… how…*yawn* .. exciting….”

I spent some time after that hanging around at the Festival HQ and met up with Dave Goodwin at the Florida Ornithological Union booth. Dave’s a great guy and leads the Central Florida Specialities trip each year, and he was telling me about how great of a trip it was this year. I’m going to join the FOU this year and try to make it to their meetings and get some different perspectives on birding and ornithology. It’ll be quite a step for a Lonely Birder like me, but I’m going to give it a go.

Nocturnal Nature Hike at Enchanted Forest Sanctuary

When I saw there were two nighttime hikes at this year’s festival, I was very excited. The previoius night’s adventure had me anticipating more good things, especially since the second night hike was at the Enchanted Forest Sanctuary (EFS). The trip leaders were quite knowledgeable on the parks ecology and nighttime activities. We spotted and identified several animal tracks, including mice, rabbits, armadillos, tortoises and perhaps even an coyote! I learned that if you hold your flashlight in the right place, nearest your center of vision, you get eyeshine back from anything that has a tapetum lucidum, including spiders! You can see spider eyes glinting from over 50 feet away. I had heard of spider eye-shine before, but never how to see it properly.

We only had a brief audio encounter with an Eastern Screech Owl, but the highlight was the brief glimpse, through a night-vision camera, of a Southern Flying Squirrel! They are small and very quick, and the trip leaders said that in many places there is a higher density and population of flying squirrels than Gray Squirrels.

I saw a few other instances of eyeshine in the trees and brush, but nothing we could identify. Still, it was a beautiful night and seeing EFS at night was a real treat and a fitting end to a long but pleasant day of birding and nature.