SCBWF 2016 Field Trips! Days 4-6

Picking up from days 1-3, here are the remaining SCBWF 2016 field trips I had this year. The weather continued to be cold and windy, though the rain moved out for the second half of the festival. Now that I’ve gotten over my cold and sorted through the past couple of weeks, here are the rest of my field trip experiences.

DAY 4:
Zellwood/Lake Apopka

This is the second year in a row that I’ve done the Lake Apopka trip for the festival [map]. This year was similar to last year in several respects. Firstly, we had Gian Basili leading us, again. He’s been working on the North Shore Restoration Project for the St. Johns River Water Management District for years, and he has an intimate knowledge of the lake and its history. Secondly, the weather was terrible again, for birding, this year. Although we didn’t have the apocalyptic morning conditions from last year (rain squalls and thunder), we did have a cold and quite windy day, which kept many of the birds hunkered down or otherwise out of sight.

Much of the birding was done from inside the bus, along the Wildlife Drive. We did get out occasionally, but not nearly as much as last year. I was at the rear of the bus, in the middle of the final, bench seat, which made some observations challenging. Camille was at the front of the bus, and I am glad to say she had a good experience, since she was able to get tips and converse with Gian and with Nancy McAllister, the co-leader.

Nancy is doing a “Mom’s Big Year,” and will be blogging her travels. Please have a look in from time to time to see her adventures!

While the same trip for the previous two days garnered over 90 different bird species, the wind kept our trip total to a lower (but still respectable, to me) total of 71 species.

Highlights included a couple of Fulvous Whistling-Duck flocks, some nice looks at Northern Harriers, and a single Yellow Warbler – a rarity – responding to some recorded calls played by David Hartgrove.

After the Wildlife Drive, we drove over into Lake County (The Wildlife Drive is in Orange County) to some other properties managed by the SJRWMD, including the abandoned pole barn to look for Barn Owls, and areas near the Apopka-Beauclair Lock and Dam. We ended the trip on a wonderful note. A young birder named Noah had been fighting sleep all afternoon, and had apparently nodded off by the window on the bus. As we were driving out way out past a small pond, he woke up and immediately announced, “Wilson’s Snipe!” We all scrambled for a look and there were no less than a dozen Wilson’s Snipes (I personally only saw seven of them) around the edges of the pond. If he had opened his eyes just a couple of seconds later, we would never have seen them. Great job, Noah!

eBird list (Wildlife Drive):

eBird list (Ranch Rd./Clay Section):

Sams House Owl Prowl

The fourth and final night-hike of the festival was the much anticipated Sams House Owl Prowl [map]. For some reason this trip was not offered last year, but two years ago was a highlight of my festival experience. I knew there would undoubtedly be changes, but I was hopeful for another good hike. This year, they had an owl rehabilitator, Susan Boorse, show us a couple of her “owl ambassadors” and talk about her experiences as wildlife rehabilitator and share her knowledge of owls. It was an educational and enlightening experience, and a good addition to this particular trip. A group of students doing some sort of special “semester” for a month were also present, and the trip leaders had an insect expert on hand, too. Unfortunately, the weather was cold and windy (a theme for a good chunk of this festival). We did hear the resident Barred Owl pair call, in the distance, a couple of times before we started hiking, but after that, I believe it was just too windy.

Once the hike started, the trip seemed to unravel. Instead of stopping to do any interpretation or talk about the owls and the night-time ecology of the area, we silently walked a short loop trail. The line of us stopped a few times, but I never knew why. I heard nothing from the trip leaders, and as we emerged from the woods, half the group walked in one direction, toward a fire-pit and the other back through some darkened outdoor exhibits. I went with this second group, and we stopped and milled around for a few minutes before one of the trip leaders emerged and had us walk to the fire-pit for s’mores. The insect expert had some UV traps set up but, due to the weather, had nothing to show us. Instead of talking to us about insects in general, or pointing out what they do on cold, windy nights, he packed up to leave without a word. If I hadn’t stopped him to mention regrets about the weather, he would have disappeared from the proceedings without a trace!

Camille and I stayed and spoke with a couple of the students for a few minutes, and I did toast a marshmallow. The students were excited for their Florida adventure and were keen on science and nature – which was really good to hear and see. Unfortunately, the “owl prowl” proved to be a bust. Not because we saw no owls, but because there was virtually no leadership or structure to the hike, and almost non-existent communication. I hope, if they offer this trip again next year, they manage to run it more like it was two years ago. It was the only real disappointment of the festival, for me.

DAY 5:
Waterfowl 101

We braved another frigid (for Florida) and windy morning for the Waterfowl 101 field trip and workshop. The initial intent was to have about an hour or so of waterfowl description and identification tips, followed by a drive along Blackpoint Wildlife Drive [map] at Merritt Island to put some of that new knowledge into practice. While certain waterfowl, like Wood Ducks, Northern Shovelers, and Pintails, are easy to identify in the field (especially the males), other species can be trickier, and many of the females look very similar. I was hoping to get a little more help in duck identification. The weather had other plans. Since it was so cold and windy, it was decided we’d drive Blackpoint first, getting some of the tips and advice en route, then have the proper lecture at the end.

Northern Shovelers are among the more distinctive looking ducks.

As well as various duck species, including many dozens of Northern Pintails and the most Redheads I’ve seen in one place, we also had some good looks at American Avocets and some resting Long-billed Dowitchers. In fact, Murray Gardler had quite few good pointers for dowitcher identification that I’ll be sure to use from now on!

Further on, after exiting Blackpoint, we went on to an area along the main road to look at a large assemblage of American Wigeons. In past years, wigeons tended to congregate near the exit-end of Blackpoint, staying far away from the vista points, just within my binoculars’ range. This time they were much closer, though the screening vegetation made it hard to get long looks.

A group of American Wigeons. These birds constantly call to each other with cute “peeps,” making for a noisy chatter as hundreds talk at once.

We scanned as many areas along the road with openings in the vegetation to see if any Eurasian Wigeons were present. Murray said that it’s not unusual for some small percentage of Eurasian varieties to be present, so with so many wigeons, it was statistically likely some were there. Unfortunately, we didn’t see any.

At that point we were given the option to stay for the lecture session originally planned for the morning, or to go on. It was still very wind and a bit cool, so Camille and I decided to end the trip.

eBird list (Blackpoint Wildlife Drive):

Shiloh Marsh Road (unofficial)

After lunch, it was time for an unofficial side trip to Shiloh Marsh Road [map]. I was hopeful of catching either Nelson’s Sparrows or Saltmarsh Sparrows, both of which are often recorded along the road.

There was a good variety of what are sometimes referred to as “the usual suspects,” egrets, herons, ibises, coots, etc., but no sparrows. A nice group of herons and Roseate Spoonbills were along Coot Creek, and near the end of the marsh, where Turnbull Creek empties into the Indian River Lagoon, there were some Forster’s Terns, American White Pelicans, and some Belted Kingfishers.

eBird list:

Chain of Lakes Park (unofficial)

Lastly, before the end of the day, Camille and I did a quick run through Chain of Lakes Park [map], just behind the Festival headquarters. There, I saw my first Canada Geese in Florida, as well as a nice variety of other birds (see the eBird list).

A female Belted Kingfisher, seen from an observation tower at Chain of Lakes Park.

eBird list:

It was a decent end to the final official day of the festival. At this point most of the vendors and presenters had packed up and many people were headed home. The off-shore boat trip (formerly known as the Pelagic Birding Trip) is always the day after the official festival, and with no night-hike scheduled, it was good to get some good rest before what is usually my favorite trip of the festival.

DAY 6:
Offshore Birding Boat Trip

This trip was highly anticipated by me and many others. Last year, due to gale-force winds off-shore, the boat trip stayed close to shore, and we had thousands of birds (mostly Northern Gannets) and several whales! This, combined with past complaints of “hours of boredom punctuated by a flurry of blurry binocular views” prompted a change in the program. Instead of a twelve-hour trip out to the Gulf Stream and back, we had a half-day tour up and down the Volusia County coast [map].

I wasn’t sure what to make of it. I look forward to those twelve-hours each year, and I have had fun every time – no matter what we actually did. But I understand the change and saw it as an experiment to see what works and what doesn’t.

The results were satisfactory, if not lackluster. The morning was cold but beautiful. Here are some shots as we headed toward Ponce Inlet.

The seas were very calm and there was a bit wind. The temperatures remained cool, so it did get a little chilly when exposed to the combined breeze and boat movement.

This year we seemed to come upon a very large number of Brown Pelicans, many of them immature. They were following shrimp boats along with flocks of gulls. Although we looked for some rarities, like Iceland or Glaucous Gulls, we saw mainly Laughing and Herring Gulls, with a few Ring-billed Gulls.

One of several shrimp boats we encountered. Most of the birds behind the boat are pelicans, while gulls line the rigging.

We had Laurilee Thompson, owner of Dixie Crossroads restaurant and founder of the Festival on board with us, which was fascinating. She knows all the ins-and-outs of shrimp boat operation, and gave us an in-depth explanation, in real-time, of how the boats pull in a a catch and what the birds look for.

The birds have learned the shrimpers’ routine and methods of catching shrimp, so are always near the right place, anticipating their meal.

As is usual for the boat trips, the crew chums the water behind the boat with a mixture of fish parts, fish oil, and popcorn. This is to attract as many birds as possible, who follow the boat, making identification and photographs easier. It also increases the odds of seeing something rare, and also luring is predators, like jaegers, in to steal food from the gulls, pelicans, and gannets.

Birds fill the sky!
Brown Pelican youngsters, settling along the chum line.

I finally did get some good looks at both Pomarine and Parasitic Jaegers on this trip. The birds obliged by resting on the water a few times, which made for good binocular views. We saw a few larger pod of dolphins, but no whales this time. On the way back into the inlet, I finally got a glimpse of one of the rare, but usual, Purple Sandpipers than visit the jetty during the winter.

Too soon (for my tastes) we came back to the dock, but I had a lot of fun. I love these trips, and now my appetite is whet for some of the truly pelagic trips the Marine Science Center runs through summer and fall. They go out to the eastern edge of the Gulf Stream and historically have seen a good variety of birds.

eBird list:

Spruce Creek Park (unofficial)

Since it was still afternoon, and it was close by on the way home, Camille and I stopped off at Spruce Creek Park [map] for a quick look for some Clapper Rails and whatever else might be enjoying the day.

The marshes and waters of Spruce Creek Park.

We did hear quite a few rails, though they stayed well concealed. Otherwise, we had a mix of egrets, a good showing of Hooded Mergansers, and a pair of Bald Eagles. A Sharp-shinned Hawk surprised us near the parking area as it chased some American Robins through the woods.

eBird list:

It was then time to get home, with another SCBWF gone. Adjusting to a normal schedule has taken a bit of time, and getting sick didn’t help matters there (although I am truly grateful I didn’t get sick during the festival itself). It’s a bit amusing to me that getting back to work and all that entails has meant better sleep. I am going to think twice (at least!) before scheduling so many night hikes in a row.

In the end, though, it was a success and good fun. I renewed old birding partnerships and friendships and made some new ones. I learn new things each year, even on trips I’ve take before. I am already looking forward to next year’s festival!

SCBWF 2016 Field Trips! Days 1 – 3

The 2016 Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival is over, and it’s time to face the post festival let-down and adjust back to “real life.” I also came down with a severe cold (luckily after the festival!). My apologies for the delay in getting this blog post up.

I had a packed schedule this year. Since I’d had so much fun on the night hikes last year and the year before, I signed up for one each night of the festival. This was great, in theory, but in practice it meant being sleep-deprived for much of the festival. This was Camille’s first festival, so she basically mirrored my schedule.

The weather was quite variable and temperamental all week, and due to a much wetter than average fall and winter, many of the sites had standing water or deep mud that would have otherwise been dry. That made for some fun challenges in getting around the trip sites, but we managed.

I’ll summarize each day/trip here with a few photographs. I had my camera with me most of the time, but with my focus on FOY and life birds, and with some days being rainy and windy, photography was not a great priority for me.

DAY 1:
Lake Monroe

Lake Monroe is one of the many lakes that makes up the St. Johns River system. As such, it is similar in many ways to Lake Jesup and its surroundings. There are hardwood hammocks adjacent to some wet meadows and mudflats, leading to wetlands along the lake’s edge. The wet grassy meadow is grazed by cattle (much like the Marl Bed Flats) which can make for some hazardous going. [MAP]

Could you steer us to the birds?

Most of our trip was along the Brickyard Slough Tract – a sort of side extension of the St. Johns River – and the ranchlands adjacent to some wetlands and some wooded tracts. In the comparatively drier “upland” grassy areas we saw and heard my FOY Sedge Wrens and had some great fly-bys of Pileated Woodpeckers.

Much of the typical habitat we slogged through.

Unfortunately, recent rains (and a wet fall and winter) made much of our going very muddy and difficult to walk through. Our ultimate goal was to make it to Bench Ranch Park, but the going was so difficult that we had to turn back the way we came (no easy feat in itself), and get driven out via park service trucks. Camille almost lost a rubber boot, and one of our trip leaders lost both his shoes twice to the muck.

Other notable bird sightings included a dark morph Red-tailed Hawk, something I’ve never seen before, a pair of Northern Harriers, and a couple of American Kestrels. Chip Clouse, another trip leader, provided the base eBird list for us, linked below.

eBird list:

Hatbill Road Owls

The evening trip for Day 1 was a bus ride/walk along Hatbill Road [map] with Mitchell Harris. The night was a little cool, and we had a cold day previously, but Mitchell was hopeful the owls would be active and responsive to us. He birds the area frequently and has an intimate knowledge of the owl (and other crepuscular/nocturnal birds) species.

At the start of the trip, just after sundown, we played some rail calls near a marsh along the St. Johns River at Hatbill Park. We got some clear replies to both King Rail and Virginia Rail calls! The Virginia Rail calls were a lifer ID for me, but this would be put in a different context later in the week.

We had some good call-backs from the Eastern Screech Owl calls he played, but no response at all from the Barred or Great Horned Owls he knows to be there. We were about to finish the trip, at our last stop,  when we finally got a Eastern Screech Owl to come out and let us spotlight it. This is the first time I’ve actually seen a screech owl in the wild. All my previous IDs are voice only! Camille, a fellow owl-phile, was excited as well, and we did a celebratory fist-bump. That one sighting made the whole trip worth it!

eBird list:

DAY 2:
Tosohatchee I

The second day of field trips started off cool again, and off-an-on rain showers made the birding a challenge. I’d been urged by my friend Sean Reynolds for years to visit the Tosohatchee Wildlife Management Area [map], so I made it a priority to do both Tosohatchee trips this year. The park is spectacularly beautiful!

Lake Charlie reflections.

We followed a powerline cut at sunrise, and we got out a few times to see the birds waking up. We were treated to an extended look at a King Rail at the edge of some brushy wetlands, and a great look at a Barred Owl perched in the open after sunrise. We stopped at a bend in the St. Johns River where a small flock of wintering warblers were feeding. We then made our way into the WMA and the various habitats it maintains.

Birding in the rain is difficult and limiting. I didn’t dare have my camera out for most of the time, and keeping my binoculars clear was distracting. Fortunately, many of the birds obliged by being very visible, even to the unaided eyes. We had great looks at Bald Eagles, Purple Gallinules, various woodpecker species, and Blue-Gray Gnatcatchers near Lake Charlie (see photo, above).

A male (note the red cap) Yellow-bellied Sapsucker having breakfast at Tosohatchee WMA.

We generated momentum throughout the day and managed a decent list, despite the weather, and got some good looks at a few of the birds not afraid to brave the intermittent downpours and wind gusts. But there weren’t many large flocks of winter residents hanging around.

Part of a large flock of birders.

eBird list:

Fox Lake Night Hike

The second night-hike of the festival was at Fox Lake Park [map]. I had done this trip last year, and it had been so much fun, I was very keen to try again. On the whole, the trip was quite fun, and we managed to call in a Barred Owl pair and get some good looks at them. My main complaints would be that some of the trip leaders got to talking and gossiping to the point that they were not interpreting the trail or paying close attention to the group behind them. Xavier (whom was a trip leader last year, as well) did manage to give us some good information on the park and its management practices, though.

DAY 3:
Tosohatchee II

The start of the second Tosohatchee trip followed along the powerlines again and down to the St. Johns River. We stopped along the same stretch as the previous day’s trip, listening again for rails and watching as the birds woke up. We heard some King Rails again, and even had some quick views of Marsh Wrens. The biggest excitement for me was my very first look at a Virginia Rail. Although hearing one on the Hatbill Road trip was great, seeing one was a highlight of my entire birding experiences. It’s strikingly orange bill and gray head were beautiful!

We also stopped at the St. Johns river, again. This time, however, we walked along the river to get some better looks at some shorebirds and other activity not visible from the end of the road. One of the park employees who was assisting us got really carried away and excited over hearing some Eastern Meadowlarks (which had been heard the previous morning as well), leading her to keep walking further and further along the river edge, trying to get a look. That sort of energy and happiness is part of what makes birding for some of us so rewarding.

A Great Egret braving the chilly rain at the river’s edge.

The weather was windier and the threat of heavy rain shadowed us throughout the day, but we managed to miss most of the bad weather as the day wore on. We hiked through some pine flatwoods, catching some warblers and even American Goldfinches, here and there.

Drizzly hike through pine flatwoods.

Angel, one of our trip leaders (and his wife, Mariel), tried several times to call out a Bachman’s Sparrow after we heard some tell-tale high pitched call notes. Unfortunately, the flatwoods in this part of the WMA were probably too overgrown to attract these birds. Although managed fire does a lot to keep these habitats better suited for most wildlife in central Florida, it’s hard to keep the Saw Palmettos and other brushy plants from quickly out-competing the wire grasses and other cover Bachman’s Sparrows prefer.

Slightly overgrown pine flatwoods.

While birds are, of course, the highlight of these trips for most of us, the festival is meant to highlight wildlife, in general. When we encounter our non-avian friends it is always fun and often educational. Mariel managed to find this little toad on our way along the path.

An Oak Toad. This guy is nearly full-grown! I had no idea such a small toad existed in Florida.

We emerged at the edge of the woods, back near the powerline cut, and got our first look at some Eastern Bluebirds and a nice flock of Pine Warblers. From there we slogged through some very wet conditions in a cedar dome swamp. The water overtopped my hiking boots, making for a very squishy hike, thereafter.

The rains also started to move in, but we still managed to get some reasonable looks at some more birds, ending the day happy, if a little wet.

eBird list:

Parrish Park (unofficial):

After arriving back at the Eastern Florida State College campus, Camille and I decided to drop by Parrish Park and see if the Long-tailed Duck was there. It had been seen now and again in the weeks leading up to the festival, and some eBird lists had it showing up recently.

Two large groups of resting Black Skimmers and a large number of Ring-billed Gulls made up the majority of birds at the park.

One of the two flocks of Black Skimmers, having a rest out of the wind.
A Ring-billed Gull, walking in the parking area. Note the bright red eye-ring and gape area behind the bill.

One ubiquitous bird in our area that is found near beaches and parking-lots is the Boat-tailed Grackle. I’ve featured them a few times in this blog, but I tend to gloss over them because they are so pervasive. Here are a couple of shots as they braved the high winds. Unlike Common Grackles, where the males and females are quite similar in appearance, Boat-tailed Grackles show much more sexual dimorphism. This is a fancy term meaning the two nominal sexes look different from each other. In this species, the females tend to be a rich brown with darker wings and tails, while the males are larger and an iridescent black.


eBird list:

Enchanted Forest Sanctuary at Night

The third night-hike this year was at the Enchanted Forest Sanctuary. It wasn’t as cold this night as previous ones, making for a more comfortable walk in the woods. Like previous years, this trip was educational and fun. We saw various animal tracks, spotlighted hundreds of spider eyes with our individual flashlilghts, and even got both night-vision and spotlighted views of a Southern Flying Squirrel.

We called in owls, and managed to get really close to an Eastern Screech Owl that even called as we watched. The trip leaders used red lights to spotlight the wildlife here, which differed from both the Hatbill Road and Fox Lake trips, which both used standard, white flashlights. There is a differeing of philosophy when dealing with nocturnal wildlife, and owls in particular. Some people, including experts such as Mitchell Harris, contend that the bright white lights do little to disturb the owls and as long as we keep a reasonable distance (not specified), there should be no ill effects. At EFS, they use red lights. For many animals (most notably, people), red lights result in little loss of low-light vision because it affects the light-sensitive rods in the retina the least. Whether or not this is true for owls, I don’t know. As I’ll mention again later, some people don’t spotlight wildlife at all.

In any case, the night went well and seeing another owl up close was a real treat.

That wraps up the first half of my field trips for SCBWF 2016. I’ll summarize the rest, including the much anticipated off-shore (formerly know as pelagic) trip in my next post!


SCBWF 2015 : January 22 : Diceandra Scrub Sanctuary, Chain of Lakes Park, Fox Lake Park at Night

The Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival kicked off on Wednesday, January 21st, but I didn’t have my first event until Thursday morning. There was a morning excursion to the Diceandra Scrub Sanctuary in Titusville. The main goal of this particular trip was to see the endangered Diceandra Mint (sometimes called the Titusville Mint) which is endemic to the sanctuary. Much of the focus of the trip was on scrub ecology and how it related to the plant’s presence there.

A flock of birders descend on Titusville.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I appreciate ecology and biology in general. I’m an environmental geographer and conservationist, but I was there for the birds. Many were singing, and we got some decent views of the Florida Scrub Jays that live on the property. Unlike the jays at either Malabar Scrub Sanctuary or at the Cruickshank Sanctuary, these jays were wary and kept their distance.

Florida Scrub Jay on the lookout
This jay was acting as a sentinel as it’s family members foraged below. The jays insisted on being between us and the sun, making photography a challenge for me.

Our trip leader was very interested in the mushrooms and other fungi we saw, and stopped to explain the various types. I was surprised by how many wild mushrooms are edible, We didn’t come across any overtly poisonous ones, though.

Here’s the list of species identified on the property.

  • Eastern Towhee
  • Blue Jay
  • Red-shouldered Hawk
  • Carolina Wren {♫)
  • Northern Cardinal
  • Turkey Vulture
  • Eastern Phoebe
  • Fish Crow
  • Florida Scrub Jay
  • Gray Catbird
  • Palm Warbler
  • Red-bellied Woodpecker
  • Black Vulture
  • Common Grackle
  • White-eyed Vireo
  • American Robin
  • Common Ground Dove
  • Downy Woodpecker
  • Tufted Titmouse

After heading back to Festival HQ (at Eastern Florida State College – Titusville) for a quick lunch, I decided to take a walk to the park area behind campus. Chain of Lake Park consists of some artificial lakes (or large ponds, more accurately) with paths, boardwalks and footbridges around and through the park. On the adjacent fields between it and the EFSC campus were several dozen Killdeer and one medium flock of Ring-billed Gulls.

The variety of bird life was an unexpected pleasure for a suburban-type park. The ponds I walked around had Blue-winged Teals, Mottled Ducks, and even a Lesser Scaup. I flushed at least 3 Wilson’s Snipes from one side of the first pond I walked along.

This Lesser Scaup kept looking over his shoulder at me. It’s not paranoia if a birder really is taking photos of you, is it?

There is even a pair of nesting Bald Eagles nearby. I could hear them making their squeaky and giggly calls from the EFSC campus. They appear to be building up their nest in anticipation of some eggs and chicks later in the spring.

Eagle in flight with a bundle of roots
At first I thought this Eagle was bringing food for its mate, but upon closer look, it appears to be a clump or roots or driftwood for nesting material.

The list of bird species at Chain of Lakes Park:

  • Killdeer
  • Cattle Egret
  • Ring-billed Gull
  • Loggerhead Shrike
  • Wilson’s Snipe
  • Savannah Sparrow
  • Lesser Scaup
  • Bald Eagle
  • Red-shouldered Hawk
  • Red-winged Blackbird
  • Mottled Duck
  • Anhinga
  • American White Pelican
  • Fish Crow
  • Palm Warbler
  • Great Egret
  • American Robin
  • Eurasian Collared Dove
  • Black-and-white Warbler

Finally, on Thursday, I participated in a nocturnal nature hike at Fox Lake Park. I had such a good time last year at the Owl Prowl at Sams House at Pine Island Sanctuary that I immediately signed up for this field trip when I registered for the festival in November.

For this trip we were seated in a flat bed trailer (like what you might ride on in a hay-ride, minus the hay) and driven to a few places to try and call some owls.

First, the trip leader used a recorded Barred Owl call to attract an owl to our vicinity. It worked! A Barred Owl flew in only a few meters over out heads. They don’t seem very bothered by spotlights, so the trip leaders spotlit the bird while many of the people took photographs with their smart phones. I wasn’t expecting that any photos would come out, so I left my camera in the car. I really regret that, but I got some amazing unaided eye and binocular views of the owl. After a few minutes, it called out and got a response from another owl (probably its mate) and got to hear some pretty wild barking and whooping calls.

After they moved off into the distance, we went to the next location to try and call some Eastern Screech Owls. We did not get any responses; however, one of the Barred Owls (perhaps the same one as earlier) followed and watched us for a while. We tried another location, but the Barred Owl continued to join us. Owls are known to be pretty vicious with other owl species, so it’s likely the presence of the Barred Owl kept any Screech Owls from calling out or getting close to us.

It was a beautiful night in any case, and we did some star gazing along the way. Part of the park had been burned as part of a management effort to control the scrub vegetation, so a few places were a bit smoky, but that small annoyance was well worth putting up with for a great night hike.

After that, my first day at the festival wrapped up and I headed home to rest for the next morning.

One week to go!

In just one week I’ll be attending various sessions and field trips at the Space Coast Birding & Wildlife Festival.

If anyone reading this is attending (or planning, though a lot of slots might be taken by now), here’s where I’ll be.

My schedule of events, beginning on next Thursday:

Thursday, January 23rd:

08:00 am – 11:30 am:  Birding with Laura Erickson
03:00 pm – 04:00 pm:  Annual Journey of the Swallow-tailed Kite*
06:30 pm – 08:30 pm:  Evening Owl Prowl at Sam’s House

Friday, January 24th:

06:45 am – 11:30 am:  Turkey Creek Tract – C. H. Bronson State Forest
                                    (This is not Turkey Creek Sanctuary)
04:00 pm – 07:00 pm:  Black Rails at the St. Johns NWR

Saturday, January 25th:

05:15 am – 11:00 am:  Red-cockaded Woodpeckers & More
12:30 pm – 02:30 pm:  Laura’s Conservation Big Year (Laura Erickson)*

Sunday, January 26th:

06:00 am – 12:00 pm:  Marl Bed Flats – Lake Jesup Conservation Area

Monday, January 27th:

06:30 am – 06:00 pm:  Pelagic Birding Boat Trip
[make-up/weather day is Tuesday, January 28th.]

* denotes classroom presentation

I’m getting excited! But dang, I am going to be getting up EARLY….


Scientists Meet About Status of Elusive Bird

Experts met last week at Savannah National Wildlife Refuge, in South Carolina, to share information about the Black Rail (Laterallus jamaicensis) – a secretive bird that for many represents one of the “Holy Grails” of North American birding. Seen by few and studied by fewer still, its status is poorly known and feared to be tenuous. It is not known if the dramatic losses in the mid-Atlantic region in recent years extend to the south Atlantic and Gulf coasts. Participants reviewed methods most likely to give good answers.

The workshop was led by The Center for Conservation Biology and supported by USFWS Migratory Birds.

find out more here

(via: USFWS_Migratory Birds)

This piques my interest in part because one of the field trips I am going on at the Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival this coming January is to see Black Rails. In a small way, maybe we can help answer some of these questions

I Can’t Wait for the 2014 SCBWF!

The 2014 Space Coast Birding & Wildlife Festival is coming in January. The full website doesn’t premiere for 12 days yet, but they have some exciting preliminary information!

  1. The theme is Raptors, with classes and field trips!
  2. They are planning 2 Black Rail field trips!

I am really looking forward to it this year. I hope to do the pelagic trip again, too. I had a blast last time, despite the rough seas.