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.

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.

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.

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:

Chain of Lakes Park:

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

Shiloh Marsh

I hope everyone had a grand Christmas or whichever holiday you celebrated, and that you are all looking forward to the New Year. This past weekend I headed out for a quick trip to Shiloh Marsh Road. Predictably, this road ends at the Shiloh Marsh. The marsh marks the northernmost end of the Indian River Lagoon. In the map below, I parked just north of the 90-degree “L-bend” in the road and walked in along the road for about 1/4 of a mile.

Several weeks ago there were some duck species starting to show up in the marsh, so I was hopeful that by now there’d be a decent representation of ducks to see. I was also hoping to see some the Nelson’s Sparrows reported the week before.

Most of the canal edges along Shiloh Marsh Road are wooded. Seeing wading, diving, and dabbling birds in it can seem strange. 

Unfortunately, neither of those things worked out for me, but I did get a reasonable diversity of birds, overall. The biggest thrill was the absolutely HUGE vortex of Tree Swallows nearby. The vortex itself never went directly over my location, but the number of birds was staggering. I estimated 3,000 for my eBird list, but I think that was a gross underestimate.

A tiny portion of the giant Tree Swallow vortex.

I am sure you’ve heard the old axiom, “Birds of a feather flock together.” This was borne out by a large mixed flock of egrets, White Ibises, and even an American White Pelican that were congregated on the west side of the road along what’s sometimes labeled as “Coot Creek.”

A bunch of white dudes hanging out.

Coot Creek would seem to be apt, as American Coots were the most plentiful bird on the water, all along the road and on the marsh itself. I tried to see if any ducks were hiding amongst the large coot rafts, but I did not see any.

I was surprised to see a Horned Grebe, though. They have been showing up a bit more than usual around the area this fall.

Several small groups of American White Pelicans were flying overhead, and two landed together on the nearby open water. I don’t know if that means they are a mated pair.

Lovey couple, or just good friends?

On the way back I saw the season’s first large flocks of both American Robins (nearly 200) and Cedar Waxwings (about 50). A Loggerhead Shrike watched as I approached the exit.

Move along.

Here’s a link to my eBird list:

I have one more outing planned for 2015, then it’s on to the Christmas Bird Count (the team I am on has January 2nd), the Freshwater Systems module for the Florida Master Naturalist Program,  and SCBWF at the end of January!