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!

New England intermission

I was away to New England this past weekend for a quick trip for a family function. Now, some might take me to task, but due to the quick schedule and uncertainties on where I was to stay, I did not take my bins or my camera with me.

I ended up at my brother’s apartment in an established neighborhood outside of the city with a good number of mature trees and such. For the first time in years I heard the clear whistling song of the Song Sparrow each morning, though I never did positivity identify one by sight. There were also some American Robin parents feeding their nearly full-grown fledgling. It still had some of the breast markings of an immature, but the wash of orange-red was unmistakable.

The day before, while a friend and his wife drove me toward their home, we passed a small field with a flock of Canada Geese. Now I realize, being FROM that neck of the woods, that Canada Geese are far too common. They are very often an nuisance. But I was thrilled, because it’s been so many years since I’ve seen one.

Other than that, there were some brief sightings or sounds from American Crows, Blue Jays, Northern Cardinals and I think perhaps Common (a.k.a. European) Starlings.

Lazy Day

Yesterday’s excursion to Turkey Creek was particularly uneventful but for the continued prevalence of White-eyed Vireos throughout the sanctuary. I did get some good binocular views, but no photos.

This seems to be a banner year for the species in the sanctuary, and it was interesting to hear all the variants of its songs. A lot of the song segements were reminiscent of other birds. I could hear Eastern Towhee, Great Crested Flycatcher, and even Blue Jay sounds in the vireo songs. I don’t know if this is a coincidence or that White-eyed Vireos have developed mimicry as part of their mating or territorial strategies. I will have to investigate.

[Edited to add: A quick Internet search on White-eyed Vireo mimicry does show that they are known for this. On site has some fairly extensive sonograms and recordings, too. In some cases apparently they mimic up to a dozen species’ calls! I did not know this. How fun!]

Of the photographs I did take, I took a couple of this magnificent spiny orb-weaver and its web. I don’t know the exact species.

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Spiny orb-weaver (sp. ?) in its beautiful web.

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Close up of the spiny orb-weaver (underside).

Other than that, I caught a few glimpses of Blue-grey Gnatcatchers, heard a few Northern Parulas, and of course, the Northern Cardinals were everywhere (though a bit more quiet than usual). I think I may need to shift my start times to before 7am if I am going to see anything interesting. It was already quite warm by 10:00, which quiets the bird activity tremendously.

I went to Erna Nixon Park this morning to see what was happening there. At the first “Vista” stop along the boardwalk, there’s an overlook of some reedy vegetation and some grasses, adjacent to a pond that there is no path to get at. In that area I had the most success today. There were several Ruby-throated Hummingbirds (males and females, a lot of bickering), what sounded like House Wrens, and at least one Common Yellowthroat (which came quite close, but I was unable to capture on camera). Further along the boardwalk I did see a single male Northern Parula, and along the fire-path along the northern edge of the property was a nice little gathering of Blue-gray Gnatcatchers. The usual Northern Cardinals, Mourning Doves and Fish Crows were also in evidence. I did get a nice shot of a snake (not sure what species). Also heard some Carolina Wrens, but they stayed well out of sight.

Went With The Wind!

Continuing my adventures from Part 1, after walking McKinnon’s Way, I came out by a pumphouse just down from the Scrub Trail. The wind was doing some pretty funky things! These Mourning Doves were hanging onto this wire for dear life! But as you can see, sometimes the gusts seemed very localized. The bird on the left is really getting it, while the one on the right seems fairly unperturbed by the gust:

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Hang on there, little fella!

From there, I headed to the scrub trail, along the jogging path.

I caught a very inexperienced looking Red-shouldered Hawk over a small clearing on the other side of some thick brush. It seemed to have a fair bit of white fluffy feathers near its tail, so I assume it was a juvenile (though the rest of the plumage was adult, and I have never seen that much puffy proliferation of feathers). It was odd, but it moved on after scattering whatever birds were present and sending the throngs of cardinals into a frenzy of chipping notes.

By this point, the wind was so bad, I figured my observing was over with for the day, but I heard more persistent “per-chick-oo-chick” calls from the White-eyed Vireos. While on one of the walks with Laura Erickson at the birding festival, she mentioned that if you see a warbler or vireo, scan around, because there are probably more birds hanging around.

She was right!

A benefit of birding alone is perseverance. When the group wants to move along, you can stay and wait it out. I could hear the vireo right in front of me, but I could NOT find it for the longest time. But in my scanning for it (both with the unaided eye, and with my binoculars), I caught a flash of yellow and black. It wasn’t enough to ID, but I stuck with it. After several minutes, not only did I catch another White-eyed Vireo, I got a glimpse of a male Prairie Warbler, a first for this year.

There was also some dusky looking small birds with faint streaking that I could not ID, and some very irritated sounding Blue-Gray Gnatcatchers.

From there it was off to the Scrub Trail, but the wind was really roaring by then, and apart from some vultures having a grand time of it, wheeling through the sky, it was time to go. Here are a couple of shots of the Scrub Trail.

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Not a bad morning, especially considering the weather.

I also learned that getting snaps of birds is REALLY hard with the branches swaying like a drunken construction crane. Hopefully I’ll get some shots next time when things are calmer.

Gone With the Wind!

It was a wild day at Turkey Creek Sanctuary today. The NWS had posted high wind warnings in anticipation of a gusty cold front about to pass through our area. I didn’t get very many bird pictures with my new camera. It was just too windy!

The morning started out breezy and ended up crazy! I managed to have a pretty good time of it, though. I managed to dodge the pelting palm fronds, and getting bushwhacked by some sort of sedgy grass things at one point was fun.

I also took out the new camera (see last post) and managed a few test shots. I don’t have an SD card yet (local shops were out of class 10 cards).

I did the Sand Pine Ridge Trail first, since that area would be harder to do once the winds picked up. I immediately got some nice views of a White-eyed Vireo, as well a the usual Northern Cardinals and a Downy Woodpecker. From there I went to the boardwalk loop.

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Boadwalk section at Tukey Creek Sanctuary

I didn’t have much luck along the boardwalk, except for a pair of Northern Parulas (a male and a female) and by then the wind had already started to pick up. At the canoe deck I practiced with the camera and caught this cutie down below:

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A soft-shelled turtle!

There’s a nice sandy trail off the canoe deck called “McKinnon’s Way” that is usually pretty fun.

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Some transitional vegetation near McKinnon’s Way

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Overlooking the creek from McKinnon’s Way. This is where some sort of sedge stuff tried to beat me up!

More of my adventure in part 2!