At Three Sisters Springs Wildlife Refuge [map], a lovely male Northern Cardinal was enjoying some fresh fruit for breakfast, until I interrupted him by playing paparazzi!
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):
- Ovenbird (1)
- Ruby-crowned Kinglet (1)
- Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (2)
- Turkey Vulture
- Black Vulture
- Fish Crow
- Northern Cardinal (2)
- Little Blue Heron (1)
- Cattle Egret (1)
- Pied-billed Grebe (1)
- 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.
Today was a pleasant day at Turkey Creek Sanctuary. The winter and year-long residents seem to be settling into their routines. The overall bird density was still low, but the number of species was greater than any point since the summer.
Most importantly, after almost an entire year, I finally managed to get that elusive White-eyed Vireo photograph! I almost missed it and I had time to fire off one shot in the shadows of the underbrush before it dashed off. But my quest is at an end!
Speaking of vireos, I had a somewhat mysterious encounter with one near the start of my walk. I managed to observe the bird for a good while (sorry no pics – too busy birdwatching 😉 ), and my visual assessment doesn’t quite match with anything in my Peterson guide. The bird was clearly a vireo by shape and size. It was an almost uniform gray with white wing-bars and white spectacles. The best fit is a Blue-headed Vireo; however, both my Peterson field guide and my Sibley guide indicate there should be some sense of yellow and/or greenish cast on the flanks and back. Here, some further explanation is needed.
During the late 1990s, the Solitary Vireo was “officially” split into 3 separate but closely related species, the Plumbeous Vireo of the intermountain west, Cassin’s Vireo of the Pacific coast and northwest, and the Blue-headed Vireo of eastern North America. Generally the three species form what Sibley refers to as a “cline” from east to west of decreasing contrast and color.
I mention all this because as I was making careful observations of “my” vireo, I had the distinct impression that it was almost completely devoid of color and of fairly low contrast. Upon further review, it most closely resembles the plumage of a Plumbeous Vireo. I will note though, that Sibley says there is hybridization and overlap in all plumages and even voice. Where that leaves me with proper identification, I am unsure as this species has not been reliably recorded this far east.
As has been the case for most of the autumn, the most numerous and active birds in the Sanctuary are the Blue-gray Gnatcatchers. If you haven’t had a chance to observe these birds, let me just say that they are the tiniest balls of energy you’ll see in a bird, surpassed only by some hummingbirds. Despite their often being within only feet of me, it’s nearly impossible to get a decent photograph. My attempts today did yeild a fairly unique image. It’s a bit blurry, but I find it fascinating. This was taken in the split second it takes one of these tiny birds to hop from one branch to another.
Some other species that I observed today include the Black-and-white Warbler, Northern Cardinal, Gray Catbird, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Turkey Vulture, Palm Warbler, Tri-colored Heron, American Coot, Cattle Egret, and American Kestrel (the last four by the weir at the Melbourne-Tillman Canal).
Today was extra active for the Gopher Tortoises that live in the Sanctuary. Here are a couple of examples of coloration difference within the species.
One very noticeable absence from the time I was at the Sanctuary was a total lack of squirrels. The last several trips there the squirrels were everywhere. Dozens and dozens. Today, I heard one scolding call deep in the underbrush, and that was it. I suppose all the frenzy of activity before could have been the squirrels fattening up for the “winter” here, and now they’re just lazing about, waiting for spring. But it was darn strange from my perspective!
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.
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.
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.
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.
It was another pin-drop-quiet day at Turkey Creek Sanctuary today. I had entertained the thought of going elsewhere, but trying to decide on an alternate destination for my birding just confused me, so before I came to any decision, I was already at the Sanctuary. The first part of my morning was almost painfully quiet. Things picked up near the end as I came back to the exit. Along the creekside along McKinnon’s Way, before the Canoe Deck, I did see a small alligator, which was neat. And I got a good shot of a strange moth or skipper of some kind.
Birds seen on in the Sanctuary this excursion:
- Grey Catbird
- Blue-grey Gnatcatcher
- Yellow-throated Warbler
- Northern Cardinal
- Northern Mockingbird
- Black-throated Blue Warbler
- Pine Warbler
- Blue Jay
- Black Vulture
I have to admit, it was cool to see the Black-throated Blues in the park, as I had seen some during spring migration as well. Many of the ones today were in immature or fall plumage, some females, and at least one male showing a lot of blue.
I may not make it out next weekend, due to prior non-birding commitments, but next time I think I’ll try to go outside the envelope a little and see what can be salvaged from this abysmal migration season in eastern Florida.
One of the benefits of lonely birding is flexibility and last minute changes without having to negotiate or “vote” on anything. I originally planned on just heading straight to Turkey Creek Sanctuary, but at the last second (literally) I decided to head a little bit more up the road and head in to northwestern-most part of the Malabar Scrub Sanctuary, then over to the portion of Turkey Creek Sanctuary across the creek from the boardwalk. This proved to be a bit more difficult than I thought, as that portion of the parks is more primitive. It did yield up a Yellow-throated Warbler and some American Redstarts, though.
A lot of Blue Jays were present, and this juvenile went through a whole gamut of imitation calls. First, it tried to scare me off with a Red-shouldered Hawk call. Then it started in with what sounded like a vireo or warbler. When that got old, it started with grackle-like clicks and “chucks”. Then it sounded like a giant Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher (which was interesting because there were actual gnatcatchers in the vicinity at that point. Then it just let loose with some honest-to-goodness Blue Jay calls before flying off.
I worked my way to the creek itself, on the opposite side from the boardwalk, but aside from some Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, it was fairly quiet (except for insect noise, lots and lots of insect noise). I backtracked and then went down some other paths, seeing some Northern Cardinals and more Yellow-throated Warblers. The warblers were always single individuals; I did not see any more than one at a time. By the time I came to the kayak launch area, the sun had come out from the earlier morning fog, and there were butterflies just about everywhere. This beautiful specimen landed on the mud by the launch ramp presumably to drink up some moisture and minerals.
Eventually I worked my way to the boardwalk and did a loop, with a diversion out toward the weir and Scrub Trail. The gnatcatchers were here in force, as well as more cardinals. At one point they all scattered when an Osprey soared overhead.
At the weir there were a number of different heron species. I saw several Little Blue Herons, a Green Heron,a Tri-colored Heron, a Snowy Egret and Great Egret. There were a couple of Anhingas swimming after fish, and a pair of American Coots foraging nearby as well.
There were some more Yellow-throated Warblers, and a Black-and-white Warbler as well. On the way toward McKinnon’s Way I heard a very resonant drumming. This Pileated Woodpecker was at first hammering on a utility pole (which was really carrying the sound. It sounded like a motorcycle), then hopped onto a palm tree.
After getting back on the boardwalk, I saw another Pileated Woodpecker foraging on some logs off the side and below the boardwalk.
Further along the boardwalk I did finally see some Northern Parulas (I had heard them earlier). On the way toward the exit, there were more Yellow-throated Warblers, as well as a White-eyed Vireo. The vireo even flew right over my head, but I was unable, again, to get any photograph of it. Trying to get a decent photograph of a White-eyed Vireo is becoming a quest at this point.
With the noticeably cooler weather, there were a lot more families and groups coming into the Sanctuary, and it was near noon. I headed out and for home.
Something I’d noticed earlier this year, was a cell tower that was cleverly disguised as a large conifer. Here’s the effort:
I don’t know what the birds think of it, but it does manage to blend in fairly well, all things considered.
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.
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.
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 seems now that September is here and some slightly cooler morning weather has arrived, that things are picking up in Turkey Creek Sanctuary. Notable and active birds seen today inlcuded:
- American Redstart
- Blue-grey Gnatcatcher
- Black-and-white Warbler
- Swainson’s Warbler (new for me!)
- Northern Parula
- Blue Jay
- Caronlina Wren
- Northern Cardinal (was there a doubt?)
- Downy Woodpecker
Voice-only IDs included Hairy Woodpecker (more monotone and deeper version of the Downy’s calls), White-eyed Vireo (again!), Pileated Woodpecker. There was also a Belted Kingfisher that flew overhead at one point. The day was not very good for soaring, though. I saw no hawks or vultures in the air over the park at all.
As you can see from the list above, warbler activity is on the rise as we get closer to the fall migration.
Today, I tried shifting my birding to Saturday monring (instead of Sunday). As expected, there were a lot more people in the sanctuary than I am used to. As I was on my way to the new Turkey Oak Trail, a woman came down the path and asked me if I knew how to tell the difference between a King Snake (non-venemous) and a Coral Snake (venemous). Various incomplete versions of the rhyme designed to help tell the difference went through my head, which was no help at all. In any case, whatever snake she saw was no longer present, so we both walked and talked along the entirety of the trail.
Thus ended my first Saturday morning birding adventure of the year.
Sunday was another quiet morning at both Turkey Creek Sanctuary and Erna Nixon Park. What activity there was revolved around juvenile Northern Cardinals (making the usual racket) and some Northern Parulas and Blue-grey Gnatcatchers high in the canopy (at least at Turkey Creek; almost nothing was to be had at Erna Nixon). Still, it was a pleasant enough morning and not too hot since it was mostly overcast. Toward the end of my Turkey Creek hike it started to rain rather steadily, but the rain hadn’t affected Erna Nixon Park when I drove there later in the morning.
After returning home, at some point during the early afternoon, my wife excitedly drew my attention to the antics of a bird on the wire between our house and the utility pole. It was a fledgling Northern Mockingbird leaping off the wires and making short almost flycatcher like sorties before landing back on the wire. We watched it for a few minutes and then noticed another fledgling along the power lines running along the right-of-way behind our house. And then ANOTHER. Then I noticed a fly-catcher along the same wire. It was a bit tougher to identify, but I finally figured out it was a juvenile Great-crested Flycatcher. It seemed a bit more adept at flying, so likely was past fledgling stage.
Looks like the day belonged to the youngsters.
[Edited to add: I’ll have a few photos from the parks later this week (more flowers, bugs and trees), and I’ll see how my only shot of one of the youngsters turned out.]
It was a very quiet morning at Turkey Creek Sanctuary. Here are a few of the things I saw today.
- Centrosema virginiarum (wild pea)
- A very worn Black Swallowtail butterfly
- 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.]