Wednesday, May 23, 2018

A Pelagic Weekend

Monday  May 21st

Brown Pelican at Cape Canaveral

It's been several years since I had participated  in one of Michael  Brothers' pelagic birding trips out on the Atlantic Ocean. On Saturday we joined with some 52 birders aboard the Carnival Princess out of Cape Canaveral

In the days and weeks  leading up to this trip the weather  was looking like it was  going to be a wet, rough voyage. Recent weather conditions were contributing much needed rainfall, but these same conditions were not letting up for the weekend. But this didn't deter the Carnival Princess from heading some fifty miles into the Gulf Stream.

House Crow

I met up with Dave and Tammy McQuade on Friday, who were generous enough to offer me a ride, as we all were heading out for the pelagic trip. Expectations were high for getting to see many of the off-shore species. Shearwaters, Storm-petrels, Jaegers, Terns, Black-capped Petrels and maybe even a Tropicbird.

We made a quick stop at Nokomis Beach to check-out the House Crow, then continued on to Cape Canaveral. We caught dinner with our event host - Michael Brothers, trip leader - Bob Wallace and last year's Big Year Adventurer - Yve Morrell. Yve had counted some 813 species in North America and Hawaii in 2017.

The Canaveral Princess left port on time early Saturday morning and took us out into some choppy surf and overcast skies. It was nice to see a lot of faces for familiar names on board. Met Hugh Whelan from Ft Myers and Dave & Tammy unexceptionally ran into a business acquaintance.

Common Eider seen at Cape Canaveral
Luckily the seas became somewhat tolerable and we missed the rain for the most part and the birding was a mixed bag. The number of species was a bit low but had some awesome looks at Wilson's Storm-Petrels and Audubon's Shearwaters. Thought we were going to dip in spotting any Black-capped Petrels, but a lone individual was seen late in the day.  Sooty, Royal, Sandwich, Black and Bridled Terns turned-up. Missed on seeing any Arctic Terns or Jaegers. Some folks added Banded-rumped and Leach's Storm-Petrels. I didn't take very many pictures on the day, but the following ebird LIST for our group has some nice examples.

About the biggest surprise was that the entire crowd on board were greeted by a pair of Common Eiders as the Canaveral Princess docked back in port. We don't expect this species in Florida in May.

Usually on these pelagic trips, which are an event sponsored for the support of the Marine Science Center at Ponce Inlet,  young sea turtles will be released when we reach the weed line in the Gulf Stream.  Today we had a pair of 'endangered' young Hawksbill Sea Turtles. 
Jessie Stein from the Marine Science Center brought the Hawksbill sea turtle wash backs that were released in the Sargassum weed.
Wash back turtles are young sea turtles that wash ashore due to heavy winds and surf

Sea birds aren't the only draw on these trips.  Usually large sea turtles or pods of Spotted Dolphins come along side the boat. Today a few of us noticed a pair of cetaceans. They were probably Pilot Whales which are actually in the dolphin family.  Kinda cool.

Barn Swallows at Lake Apopka
But our weekend wasn't over.  Even with rainy conditions continuing on Sunday Dave, Tammy, Yve and I drove Wildlife Drive at Lake Apopka.  Our targets were Mississippi Kites and Fulvous whistling Ducks. The kites were a no show. The rains were probably not helpful.  We did find both whistling Duck species, Plus lots of Purple and Common Gallinules, Coots, Barns, Bank and Cliff Swallows, Purple Martins, Least Bitterns, Ospreys and Bobolinks. We also added a Pectoral Sandpiper, a Solitary Sandpiper Killdeer and Least Sandpipers.
Purple Gallinules at Lake Apopka

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Sanibel Island - Whats Happening at the Bailey Tract?

Thursday May 10th

Seems that some of our local birding friends are very unhappy with plans to re-engineer how water is stored on Ding Darlings  Bailey Tract. Many years ago this property was a wetlands and home for animals and birds who thrive in marshy environments.  But as the Sanibel Island was being developed dirt was excavated from  here creating the water-filled borrow pits we see there today.

But today a plan is being managed to convert some of these acres back to its former wetlands habitat to support the rare Sanibel Island Rice Rat.  This rodent is a protected sub-species of Marsh Rice Rat totally endemic to Sanibel Island. 

Ani Pond - scheduled to be  filled-in as part of the conversion
to a wetlands habitat for the Sanibel Island Rice Rat

The filling-in of the Ani Pond, to convert it back into marsh, has stirred up several local birders who have enjoyed the pond, as is, for a great many years. We'll see how this develops.

This morning I stopped in at the Bailey Tract. It had been reported that the property was to be closed to the public by now for the re-construction. But it's still open.  No doubt due to the presence of nesting Black-necked Stilts raising a family here.

Black-necked Stilt Family at Ani Pond

Monday, May 7, 2018

Looking for Interesting Birds

Sunday May 6th

Last Thursday I traveled around Sarasota County in search of a few interesting birds.

Giant Swallowtail Butterfly seen at Pinecraft Park

The recent reporting of a House Crow at Nokomis Beach was intriguing.   I had been aware of reports from years ago of a pair of House Crows that were living at Nokomis Beach. This is an exotic species from South Asia that has been spreading out globally, some believe with the ability to stow away on freighters to visit new territories.

House Crow seen at Nokomis Beach
Easily located the House Crow when I arrived at the park about 7:45 am.

Moved onto Pinecraft Park ,which can be a very active migration magnet, where I
encountered several American Redstarts, Northern Parulas and Blackpool Warblers. Other encounters included Cape May Warblers, a  Worm eating Warbler, Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, Chimney Swifts, Nanday Parakeets, Black-throated Blue Warblers, Black-and-White Warblers, an Ovenbird  A Common Yellowthroat, Purple Martins and Tufted

Then over to The Celery Fields. When I arrived the Purple Martin Houses were being opened to check on the nests. Lots of babies. Out on the marsh Stilt Sandpipers and least Sandpipers were present on the exposed mud.

A Purple Gallinule was actively feeding along with Common Gallinules. A Least Tern dipped the water and an assortment of waders were present. Limpkins were also active, a Bobwhite could be heard and an Eastern Kingbird was hawking for its lunch.

An Eastern Kingbird

Gallery of Pics from the Purple Martin Houses 

One last stop was to look for the Tropical Kingbird that has, once again, returned to St Armonds Circle. The location was busy with traffic and shoppers, and then I found the parking lot that the bird has called home is now under construction. I guess they're building a parking garage.

Gray Kingbird

The tropical kingbird is around, but I didn't see today. Just Gray Kingbirds and Eurasian Collared Doves.

Ended the trip with a count of sixty birds seen today in Sarasota County.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Fort Desoto Park

Thursday April 19th

Rose breasted Grosbeak feeding on mulberries

By Thursday, the winds were now favorable for the migrating birds. But I visited Fort Desoto Park in Pinellis County anyway. Found that most of the warblers, vireos and such had moved out, but lots of Rose breasted grosbeaks and Scarlet  Tanagers were around.

A few thrushes too - including  Wood Thrush, Swainson's Thrush and Veery. Other migrants included Baltimore and Orchard Orioles, Indigo and Painted Bindings, Summer Tanagers.

Other birds seen included Caspian Tern, Least Terns, a Lesser Black backed Gull, Marbled Godwits, Red breasted Merganser and Nanday Parakeets.

Swainson's Thrush
A rather orangish Scarlet Tanager
Scarlet Tanager
Female Summer Tanager
Summer Tanager consuming a wasp
Nanday Parakeets were everywhere
Black-bellied Plover looking for a ride North
Marbled Godwit
Caspian Tern
Reddish Egret
Red-breasted Merganser


Friday, April 20, 2018

Babcock-Webb WMA

Friday April 20th

Bachman's Sparrow

Arrived at Babcock Webb just at dawn and headed to the Red Cockaded Woodpecker site on Tram Grade road. Within just a few minutes  I witnessed all of the 'Big Three'.  They include a Red cockaded Woodpecker, several Brown headed Nuthatches and a couple of singing male Bachman's Sparrows.

Numerous Bachmans Sparrows  were singing throughout the property this morning and I was able to get a few photos of these normally shy birds.

Also found my first sighting of a Hairy Woodpecker for the year, plus a pair of Brown Thrashers, calling Northern Bobwhites, Eastern Towhees and Eastern Meadowlarks. Also saw lots of Black crowned Night herons, Great created Flycatchers, White eyed Vireos, Sandhill Cranes and a lone White winged Dove.
Eastern Towhee

Met a couple, birding from Miami who were pointing out a pair of Eastern Bluebirds checking out a RCW nest hole.  At this point, FWC biologist, Kellie,  joined us and offered further insight on Bluebirds and Great created Flycatcher using RCW nest holes. Kellie spent time with us, discussing the various species on the site,  like the RCWs, the Bobwhites population and control burns. And very interesting to me, was the research and management of local bat population.  Including Florida's rarest bat - the Florida Bonneted Bat.

Bachman's Sparrow

As we were conversing, a singing Bachman's Sparrow popped up next us, providing  a great photo opportunity. Kellie also provided the use of her scope as scanned a pair of young Great Horned Owls consuming a snake.

Black-crowned Night-heron

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Spring Migration Kicks In

Wednesday April 18th

Last weekend  a cold front with strong head winds brought in a nice variety of migrating  birds to Sanibel Lighthouse Beach Park. I personally visited the park on Monday  morning for a few hours, along with a great many fellow birds, so playing hooky from work to enjoy this mini fallout.

Summer Tanager seen at Six-mile Cypress Slough Preserve

Meg Rousher  put Dave & Tammy McQuaide as well as myself on a great bird - a calling Black billed Cuckoo. Black billed cuckoos are very uncommon find in Florida.

I came close to adding swainsons warbler as there were several around today, but I just missing them as they relocated out of sight.  I did miss a few other species. But I did get to see an Eastern Kingbird, Prothonotary Warblers, Tennessee Warblers, Yellow Warblers, a single Palm Warbler, Black throated Green Warblers, Summer Tanagers, a Blue Grosbeak, Indigo Bindings and a Baltimore Oriole.  There were so many birders on hand that it sometimes got quite crowded.

I missed seeing this Western Tanager,
but Eary and Jennifer Warren didn't miss
taking this photo.

But I did miss a few species included another rare in Florida, western tanager, plus veery, swainson's thrush, dickcissels, those swainson's warblers, blue winged warblers,  a lark sparrow,  a Ceurlian warbler, Kentucky warbler,  Merlin,  Acadia flycatcher, gray songbirds, yellow throated videos, cliff swallows, worm eating warbler,  golden winged warbler,  hooded warbler,  American redstart cape may warbler,  blackburnian warblers,  chestnut sided warbler, black throated blue warbler, scarlet  tanager.

Black-throated Green Warbler seen at Bowditch Point Park
A few Cedar Waxwings are still around

In the following days I checked for migrants at Bowditch Beach Park on Estero Island and at Six mile Cypress Slough Preserve. I added Red eyed Vireo, Veery, Yellow billed Cuckoo, Hooded Warbler and American Redstart.

A Summer Tanager seen at the Sanibel Lighthouse