Pin The Tail On The Ducky

Today is (likely) the last birding adventure and blog update for 2013. I’ve done the final species audit and researched what unidentified birds I had notes on. 

I decided to make my last concerted birding effort at Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. Specifically, I drove the Black Point Drive loop. I have mixed feelings about Black Point. On the one hand, it is a very handy way to see birds. On the other, it’s about 40 minutes to an hour of slow driving, buring gasoline all the way, unless you turn off the engine for longer observing periods.

In any case, I drove the loop around 8:30am and managed to gain 5 new species for the 2013 count (* denotes new life-lister):

  1. Northern Pintail (they were there by the dozens!)* 
  2. Greater Scaup*
  3. Reddish Egret
  4. Bufflehead*
  5. Red-breasted Merganser*

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Northern Pintail males.

I was excited to see the Northern Pintails. They are very distictive and something I had hoped to see in an earlier trip to Pine Island. Of all the ducks I have seen, the pintails seemed to be the most synchronized in their foraging, so quite a few of my photographs show all the pintails with their heads underwater at the same time.

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Female and male Northern Pintails.

I don’t have very many good photographs, as the birds tended to stay far away, and the lighting was bad due to a very thick and low overcast. Most of what I took was for me to use later for verifying identification.

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Greater Yellowlegs.

Here are some photographs of herons that came out looking pretty good, though. Interstingly (to me) I did not see a single Great Blue Heron this morning.

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Two different Reddish Egrets.

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Tri-colored Heron lunging for food.

In addtion to the five birds listed above, I also saw the following:

  • Greater Black-backed Gull
  • Sandhill Crane
  • Willet (possibly the western subspecies)
  • Greater Yellowlegs
  • White Pelican
  • Turkey Vulture
  • Black Vulture
  • Tri-colored Heron
  • Little Blue Heron
  • Green Heron
  • Snowy Egret
  • Glossy Ibis
  • White Ibis
  • Double Crested Cormorant
  • Blue-winged Teal
  • Pied-billed Grebe
  • Northern Mockingbird
  • Boat-tailed Grackle
  • Belted Kingfisher
  • Fish Crow
  • Osprey

There were large flocks of sandpipers as well (hundreds), but they were too far away to ID even by binoculars.

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Mystery Sandpipers!

The White Pelicans were numerous both in the air and rafting quietly on the water. Their size always amazes me. As with their cousins, the Brown Pelicans, White Pelican are surprsingly graceful on the wing.

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White Pelicans soar above Merritt Island.

The (likely) final 2013 species count is 149. While it’s certainly possible I might see a new bird for this year some time tomorrow thus rounding off the count to 150, I’m not counting on it (no pun intended, ha ha).

Happy, healthy and birdy New Years to all of you. Thanks for sharing in my birding adventures this year. Things will heat up pretty quick for 2014 at the Space Coast Birding & Wildlife Festival near the end of January.

2013 Species Count Audit – 138 // Correction

So far this year I have “officially” sighted 138 bird species.

In my last post I mentioned seeing a Lesser Yellowlegs near the weir at Turkey Creek Sanctuary. Upon further research it turns out that bird was a Solitary Sandpiper. Either one would have been a first for this year, so the count stays the same. I don’t feel too bad about the misidentification, as the two species are often listed as “similar” or “confusing” in field guides.

I regret I am unable to definitively say what warbler I saw toward the start of my morning. I conferred with fellow birders and did further research in my guides and online, but I can’t quite say for sure what I saw. I am leaning toward a Canada Warbler, but officially I will not count this bird this year (or for my life list).

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Solitary Sandpiper

2013 Species Count Audit – 130

With the first sighting this year of a Common Nighthawk, my 2013 species count is now up to 130. I expect it will remain close to this until fall with the migration and perhaps a trip or two to the Gulf Coast. Other notable species in the past few weeks for the 2013 count are the Canada Geese I saw in Massachusetts last month, a Northern Flicker just down the road.


I saw my first Swallow-tailed Kites of the year today! I was in a job status meeting and looked out one of the conference room windows and there they were! The Great Blue Heron might be my spark bird, and will always hold a treasured, majestic place in my heart, but Swallow-tailed Kites are my most-looked-forward-to birds of all time. I love them! 

Of course watching the pair of them did nothing for my concentration at the status meeting.  Here are a couple of shots I found online showing you this truly majestic bird.





Fittingly, I think this marks my 100th species this year (whew, took far longer to get here than I thought!)

How official is official?

I’ve done some further looking into the raptor I saw over the courtyard pond at work today. Based on the field marks I saw and the shape of the bird, the closest match I can find is the White-tailed Kite. I didn’t notice the eye-color, but the white body and wings with some black near the leading-edge underwing matches little else. My perception of the size was a bit larger that what a White-tailed kite is described as, but size is sometimes hard to guage in the field.

I am not certain if I should count this as a positive ID or not. If so, it’s a lifer for me and the 98th bird species this year. I am not sure what to think.

Edging near 100

(4th time trying to post this)

I saw 6-8 Hooded Mergansers on a retention pond yesterday. The were all males, which was unusual. I think they are so comical, with their out-sized crests. First sighting of this species this  year.


On the way to an appointment I saw a Great Horned Owl being harassed by a mockingbird. Judging by its size, I believe it was a female. I love seeing day-flying owls; it’s such a treat.


(The above images are not mine, but from public domain sources…I need a camera!)

I also saw an unidentified raptor over a pond at work. It’s strange, though, because although I got a very good look at it, I could not place the field marks. Time for some research later, I think.

That brings the official species count to 97 this year!