Thursday, April 21, 2011

Long-billed Curlew - A Visit to Fort DeSoto Park

Tuesday April 19th

Fort DeSoto Park can be a spring migration magnet. Last year I had a great experience there with rose-breasted grosbeak, indigo bunting, summer tanager, scarlet tanager, blackburian warbler, chestnut-sided warbler, yellow warbler, black-throated green warbler, black-and-white warbler, american redstart, eastern pewee, eastern kingbird, and nesting great horned owls.  But so far, for this migration the weather has been against Florida birders. The winds are pushing the migrants past us.

So when I made a return visit Tuesday I was hopeful but did not really expect anything exceptional.  Met with Bob Pelkey at dawn, who was wrapping up a three day visit to the park. Bob reported the same dismissal migration activity.  So he had concentrated his photography on the shorebirds.

Laughing Gulls in amour
Nesting has already begun here with plovers and oystercatchers and noted seeing Sandwich Terns and Laughing Gulls displaying as they pair off. Also seen was a lone Herring Gull, which Bob had observed just before my arrival, pick up a large clam, fly up and dropped the clam so that it broke open. The gull quickly ate his breakfast.  I had read on Birdbrains about herring gulls  performing this method at Ft DeSoto.
Herring Gull, probably a first cycle
Black-bellied Plover

Black-bellied Plover

Long-billed Curlew and Willet

Long-billed Curlew


American Oystercatcher

Laughing Gulls are still at it

Pair of Willets

Bob Pelkey

Other shore birds seen included Willets, Wilson's Plover, Semipalmated Plover, Ruddy Turnstones, Sanderlings, Dunlin, Short-billed Dowitcher, Black-bellied plovers, Least Terns, Royal Terns, Reddish Egrets, Red-breasted Merganser, Brown Pelicans and American Oystercatcher.  We also were successful in locating the resident Whimbrel and Long-billed Curlew. Both visited the lagoon at the same time. Bob finds it important to photograph the birds at eye level, so into the lagoon went, camera and all. He sat there to get the best possible shot.

Before leaving we also added a pair of Nanday Parakeets. And a stop at the Tierra Verde ponds we found Ruddy Duck, Lesser and Greater Scaup and Redheads, plus a couple more Nanday parakeets, several Least Terns, Laughing Gulls and Pied-billed Grebes. A couple of the male ruddy ducks were in breeding plumage with the white cheeks and bright blue bill.  Was surprised at the greater scaups. Spent a long time analysing the head shapes on the two similar species. Bob again went in as far as was safe into the pond for that special shot.
Even though Bob had run out of battery power on his camera he wanted to see black-necked stilts, so we stopped at the Cockroach Bay Road mitigation ponds were we had several Black-necked Stilts, Long-billed Dowitchers, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Roseate Spoonbills, Red-winged Blackbirds, Coots, Moorhens, Blue-winged Teal, Mottled Ducks, Lesser Scaup, Pied-billed Grebe, Chimney Swifts, a Red-tailed Hawk and all the expected waders.  Included several Glossy Ibis which we took a bit of time trying to see if any were white-faces ibis.

From here it was time to head for home.  But I made just one more stop, at The Celery Fields in Sarasota, because of a report of a pair of female yellow-headed blackbirds. Did not see the blackbirds but did find most all of the same birds sited earlier with the addition of Western Sandpipers and a couple of Caspian Terns.  Even without the migrants, still had a good day.  By count was 70 plus birds.  can't complain

Monday, April 18, 2011

Eastern Screech-Owl at Sanibel Lighthouse

Eastern Screech-Owl at Sanibel Lighthouse

So far, the spring migration has remanded quite slow in south Florida. But it is not a wash-out yet as there is plenty of  time left for some good sightings.   I have been active the past couple of week in search of migrants and other interesting birds.

Checked out The Sanibel Lighthouse a couple of times as this location has been good for migrants in the past. So far I can count Northern Waterthrush and Prairie Warbler, plus Indigo Buntings, Orchard Oriole, Gray Kingbird, Magnificent Frigatebirds and Eastern Screech-Owl at the lighthouse.

Mourning Dove at Sanibel Lighthouse

I also checked out  Babcock-Webb in Charlotte County.  Not for migrants but to find Bachman's Sparrows.  Spring is the best time to locate this sparrow as the males will be singing, making them much easier to find. Listen for their song and check on tree limbs about ten feet up to find the singer.  This worked, as I had not one but three Bachman's Sparrows almost immediately upon my arrival.  They were located along Trucker's Grade just past the gun range. My other targets for the day included the red-cockaded woodpecker, brown-headed nuthatch and Eastern Towhee.
Met up with several birders, both local and out-of-town visitors. As I was chatting with Susan, from Ft Myers and up-state New York and another local birder, had a Brown-headed Nuthatch arrive in the pine right next to us. Very convenient.  Even more so was the Red-cockaded Woodpecker that flew past us and settled on a nearby tree,  as were observing the nuthatch. Not bad. 
Also close by this location was an American Kestrel. I had observed this bird in the same tree all winter and as it appears that kesterals were already vacating our area to head north, that this bird maybe the Southeastern subspecies of American Kesteral. This location would be about the southern most limit to is range. Other birds located included Pine Warblers, Red-winged Black-birds, Great Crested Flycatchers, Eastern Towhee, Eastern Bluebirds, Northern Flickers, House Wren,  Eastern Meadowlarks and Northern Bobwhite.

Another diversion from the migration milaise was to chase after western kingbirds and scissor-tailed flycatcher reported from CR-835 in Hendry County.  So after work Sunday morning I headed out to reported location and did not initially see the targets but I did find a lot of other good birds.  Like a pair of Limpkins, several Rough-winged Swallows, a feeding Snail Kite, a calling Northern Bobwhite, a couple of Palm Warblers and a couple of Savananh Sparrows. Doves, Grackles and Red-winged Blackbirds were very numerous.  So were Northern Cardinals, and did hear a couple of White-eyed Vireos and saw a Swallow-tailed Kite.  Then finally a lone Western Kingbird appeared, but no scissor-tailed flycatcher
Female Snail Kite in Hendry County

Limpkin in Hendry County

Note the hooked bill, useful for extracting the snail from its shell

Baby Burrowing Owl in Cape Coral

Parent and juvenile Burrowing Owls found in Cape Coral as I was looking for owls and Monk Parakeets at Pelican Blvd ballfields

Eastern Meadowlark singing in fields in northern Cape Coral. I was here to look for  Florida Scrub Jays, were I managed to locate one.

Least Sandpiper seen at Bunche Beach today.  Still lots of shore birds present, and are now molting into breeding plumage.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

A Pine Siskin in Immokalee

Tuesday, April 12th

Today I had originally planned to return to Ft DeSoto with the hopes that spring migration has begun.  However reports were not good.  No birds and a lot of mosquitoes. So I'll skip it today.  Hopefully next week will be an improvement and I already plan on joining Bob Pelkey at that time.

Instead I headed to Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary near Immakolee in Collier County. Arriving about 9 am and I already had roadside hits on a Broad-winged Hawk and a Hairy Woodpecker. Only was 

Gray Catbird

able to add a couple of warblers, Northern Parula and Black-and White. Not much here as far as spring migration is concerned. Still lots of Gray Catbids around and were the most common species of the day. Red-shouldered Hawks were also very active including one that another boardwalk visitor told me had captured a snake.  Went over to check it out and found the hawk without the snake but with wings spread out to dry them. Had to have gotten wet with hunting water snakes.

Red-shouldered Hawk
One sad but 'circle-of-life' event that was related by one of the volunteers to some of the visitors happened the other day when a mother wood duck enter the pond we were standing by with five ducklings in tow. This is when a black-crowned night-heron attached and grabbed a baby duck for a meal. This reminds me of observing yellow-crowned night-herons patrolling the least tern nesting area on Ft Myers Beach in search of a carelessly guarded tern chick.
Other species encountered at Corkscrew Swamp included Tufted Titmouse, Great Crested Flycatcher, Carolina Wren, a Swallow-tailed Kite, Downy Woodpecker, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, a Swamp Sparrow and White-eyed Vireos.
Another visitor I ran into was Vince Lucas, a very active birder, e-bird coordinator for Collier County and on a Big Year for Collier County. He gave directions to a residence in Immokalee were bird feeders are very active with buntings, white-winged doves and a pair of Pine Siskins.  Yesturday he was alerted to a flock of cedar waxwings but missed them by minutes.  Cedar Waxwings have not been very numerous this winter season in south Florida. 

Following Corkscrew Swamp I did head over to Immoklee for the siskins.  Along the way I found a flock of Black-belled Whistling Ducks. Did manage to locate the residence and yes, had  a Pine Siskin on the feeder.  LIFER!!  Also had a large number of Indigo Buntings, a female Painted Buntings and Red-belled Woodpecker, and several White-winged Doves, but no waxwings. After leaving Immokalee came across a road kill location with several Black Vultures and a Crested Caracara. As for the vultures, one or more could be destined to colliade with traffic as they keep flying in low through the fast moving vehicules.  I almost had one crash into my windshield.  A close call.
The Red-shouldered Hawk nest

On the way home stopped at CREW Marsh Trail on Corkscrew Road for lunch and spent about an hour hiking trails. Again not  very birdy.  Did encounter an active Red-shouldered hawk nest. Watched as one parent brought something to the nest for the single white, downy offspring observed.  Then the other parent arrived with a three foot black racer.  The adult could be seen working on this snake and was most likely feeding the baby.

Found this signage at the trailhead advising on what to do if a hiker encounters a Florida Panther

Ground Skink - observed this small lizard on the boardwalk at Corkscrew Swamp.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Groove-billed Ani - Boyd Hill Preserve

Tuesday, April 5th

The day was spent in hopes of a fall-out of spring migrants and a chase after three reported Florida rarities.
The weather for the day was a strong, rainy cold front to sweep down the state, which can result in migrants being forced to land and wait out the winds. So I was heading to Ft DeSoto Park in Tampa Bay.  But first were stops at Cockroach Bay Road, near Ruskin for reported upland plover and white-faced ibis and then to Boyd Hill Preserve in St Petersburg for a reported Grooved-billed Ani.

Cockroach Bay Road
Arrived about 8:30 just before the rains and spent a couple of hours in searching through the sod fields for the upland plover and sorting through the Glossy Ibis for a white-faced ibis. Didn't locate either of these birds but find a trio of Gull-billed Terns working over the mitigation ponds and six Forster's Terns at rest in the sod fields along with hundred Laughing Gulls, a few Ring-billed Gulls, several Ospreys, a dozen Black-bellied Plovers and lone Dunlin. The ponds held about twenty Black-necked Stilts, Long-billed Dowitchers, Solitary Sandpiper, Coots, Moorhens, a couple of Redhead ducks, dozens of Blue-wing Teal and Lesser Scaups. Plus a half a dozen Black-bellied Whistling Ducks Also had all of the waders - Roseate Spoonbills, Great Blue Herons, Tricolored Herons, White Ibis etc. A large Red-tailed hawk was hunting the fields and Bald Eagle was observed toting some kind of recent kill.

An Armadillo sculpture at Boyd Hill Preserve
Boyd Hill Preserve -
St Petersburg

I had never been to this location before, but it is becoming very popular for spot for birders in search of the Grooved-billed Ani. The bird is a lifer for me and the possibility of finding one so close to home was an opportunity I could not pass up. Arrived about 10:45 as the rain was letting up. Paid my entrance fee and received directions and maps to the ani's favorite spot. The preserve was very quite. But managed to locate a Black-crowned Night-heron hiding along the lake shore. Had several Anhingas, lots of Ospreys and a trio of Nanday Parakeets. By eleven o'clock I had arrived at the spot and after about five minutes of scouting the area the ani flew right to my feet. Seems the bird is fearless of people and uses the opportunity to feed on the insects stirred up by our shoes. Got great looks. Hope it sticks around.

Fort DeSoto County Park

After lunch with my daughter and son-in-law headed over to Fort DeSoto. After seeing little evidence of any kind of migration action at Boyd Hill I did not expect much at Fort DeSoto, which is a migrant magnet. First stopped at the ponds in Tierra Verde to see if any ducks were still around. Was surprised to find two pair of Ruddy Ducks with several Lesser Scaups  still on hand. One of the adults Bald Eagles could be seen in the nest tree. On the causeway to the park I was able to spott acouple of FOS Least Terns

Red-breasted Merganser out for a stroll

Willet in breeding plumage

Reddish Egret

Forster's Terns

Marbled Godwit

My camera is not fast enough to capture the wing action on this hummingbird

Ruby-throated Hummingbird at rest
Western Sandpiper
At Fort DeSoto, the East Beach area was very birdy with shore birds including Forster's Terns, Western and Least Sandpipers, Black-bellied Plovers, Short-billed Dowitchers, Willets, Dunlins and a Marbled Godwit. Several Red-breasted Mergansers were seen off-shore and a resting merganser was located on the shore. Here I ran into John Mangold and joined him in checking out the Privit Trail.  There we met with Dan Irizarry.  I had ran into John previously at Merritt Island and Six-mile Cypress Slough and I had seen Dan's postings and photos many times on Birdbrains.
Next we moved on to the mulberry trees near the pier, which can been a very good location for birds. It was here that I had my lifer in a blackburian warbler last spring. Today we only had hits on a male Hooded Warbler, several Ruby-throated Hummingbirds and a White-eyed and Blue-headed Vireos.  Plus another trio of Nanday Parakeets.  From here I joined John with checking out the North Beach area. and could only add a lone Herring Gull and a beautiful male Orchard Oriole. Seems the migration hasn't hit its stide yet.

Days List (78) - Black-belled Whistling Ducks, Mottled Ducks, Blue-winged Teal, Redhead, Lesser Scaup, Red-breasted Merganser, Ruddy Duck, Pied-billed Grebe, Wood Stork, Double-crested Cormorant. Anhinga, Brown Pelican, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Snowy Egret, Little Blue Heron, Tricolored Heron, Reddish Egret, Cattle Egret, Black-crowned Night-heron, White Ibis, Glossy Ibis, Roseate Spoonbill, Black Vulture, Osprey, Bald eagle, Cooper's Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk, Common Moorhen, American Coot, Sandhill Crane, Black-bellied Plover, Semipalmated Plover, Black-necked Stilt, Solitary sandpiper, Willet, Lesser Yellowlegs, Marbled Godwit, Ruddy Turnstone, Sanderling, Western Sandpiper, Least Sandpiper, Dunlin, Short-billed Dowitcher, Long-billed Dowitcher, Laughing Gull, Ring-billed Gull, Least Tern, Gull-billed Tern, Forster's Tern, Royal Tern, Black Skimmer, Eurasian Collared-Dove, Mouring Dove, Common Ground-Dove, Nanday parakeet, Groove-billed Ani, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Loggerhead Shrike, White-eyed Vireo, Blue-headed Vireo, Blue Jay, Fish Crow, Northern Rough-winged Swallow, Purple Martin, Barn Swallow, House Wren, Northern Mockingbird, European Starling, Hooded Warbler, Savannah Sparrow, Northern cardinal, Red-winged Blackbird, Common Grackle, Boat-tailed Grackle, Orchard Oriole.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Yellow Rat Snake - A Visit to Six-mile Cypress Slough Preserve

A three-foot Yellow Rat Snake on the hunt

Today, March 29th,  birded the boardwalk at Six-mile Cypress Slough Preserve in search of any early migrants. But found that it was not very birdy. Best sighting for today a surprise in a Hermit Thrush.  A pair of otters were very busy hunting.  When I heard their splashing I first ignored it assuming they were more wild pigs rooting up the swamp. They stayed close to the boardwalk but would not hold still long enough to get a decent photo.  Herps were more interesting today. Had a couple of snakes including this yellow-rat snake and an unidentified watersnake, several basking water turtles and several baby gators being guarded my there mom. Anole lizards were everywhere.

This Yellow Rat Snake was found in our office space at work a few days later.  No idea how it got inside the second story