Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Another Yellow Rat Snake

June 29th

Yellow rat snakes as so far the commonest snake I've seen this year.  I really like this image.

Barred Owl

June 29th

The Barred Owl that has been a rainy season visitor to my workplace has returned.  Last year we a pair of these owls visiting us and would whistle to each other.  So far this summer we only have the one.

Dolphin Research Center - Marathon, Florida

May 30th

My daughter was very anxious to visit the Dolphin Reserch Center at Marathon before we left Keys on a birding trip last month. Here are a few photos from our brief stop.

Several chickens roaming the property, probably came from Key West

Roseate Terns - The Florida Keys, Day Two

Tuesday, May 31st

Day two started out early, by returning to the Marathon Government Center, and was rewarded by dozens of White-crowned Pigeons, a dozen Least Terns and a half dozen Roseate Terns. I noted that all of the white-crowned pigeons were heading in the same direction.  No doubt seeking food.  These birds feed on the fruits of hard wood trees like poisonwood berries.  Other birds present were Eurasian Collared Doves, Rock Pigeons, Northern Mockingbirds and the most commonly seen bird in the Keys, Red-winged Blackbirds.
Iguanas are found through-out south Florida. This lizard was with about a dozen sunning in the ealy morning

It was really difficult to get a good photo of a White-crowned Pigeon

A Key Deer getting a drink at a residence

Following breakfast we continued down US 1 to the National Key Deer Wildlife Refuge. The Key Deer is the smallest variety of white-tailed deer and are only found in the Florida Keys.  They are considered to be endangered and it is unlawful to feed them, but most of the deer we saw were feeding in peoples' yards

We came across another breeding colony of Least Terns nesting on the roof of a commercial building.  Tryed getting photos of white-crowned pigeons here, but they were skittish. Also were seen Grackles, Red-winged Blackbirds, Northern Mockingbirds, Black Vultures, Great Crested Flycatchers, Gray Kingbirds and a Prairie Warbler.

At this point we turned for home, and continued spotting all the same birds including hundreds of Double-crested Cormorants on the pilings and power lines.  Eurasian Collared Doves and white-crowned pigeons remanded plentiful and we add more Common Mynas, a lone Swallow-tailed Kite and a pair of Nanday Parakeets.
Small squirrell feeding at entrance to Dagny

We made a return stop at Dagny Preserve on Key Largo, were we failed to again find a mangrove cuckoo, but added a White-eyed Vireo.  Passing through Homestead we again added common myna, House Sparrow and Chimney Swifts.

Here, instead of heading home we diverted to Everglades National Park and Areojet Road ( Lucky hammock and The Annex).  At Long Pine Key, where the Cuban Pewee was found last September, we were able to add Red-bellied Woodpecker and an Eastern Towhee. At Pautotis pond we added 42 Wood Storks, a Great Blue Heron, a Little Blue Heron, Cattle Egrets, Black Vultures, an Eastern Kingbird, tons of mosquitoes and a very large alligator. At Flamingo we had lots of Laughing Gulls, but struck out of locating any American crocodiles. Nearby Eco Pond was nearly dry we only found a half dozen Black-necked Stilts ( maybe one nesting), a couple of Semipalmated Plovers and about six peeps that were probably Sanderlings, but needed a scope to be 100% sure.
Black-necked Stilt at Eco Pond


We checked out Research Road for any possible white-tailed kites.  Could only find a Swallow-tailed Kite, several Eastern Meadowlarks and a couple of Red-shouldered Hawks. As we were heading back to the main road I believe I spotted a Red-headed Woodpecker fly across the road into some live oaks. My view was very fleeting, but I can not come up with anyother possibility.  The thing is that these woodpeckers are not found in the Glades. I did report it on EBird, but as it was only an anecdotal observation and without a photo, video or a report from a birder with more cred than I have, the sighting can not be excepted.

White-crowned Pigeon on Aerojet Road

Our final stop was on Aerojet Road.  Did not have much to add here White-crowned Pigeon, Mourning Doves, Common Ground Dove, Pileated Woodpecker, Great Crested Flycatcher, Gray Kingbird, American Crow, Northern Mockingbird and more Red-winged Blckbirds

Another good road trip.  Found some good birds and missed a few others.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Antillean Nighthawk - The Florida Keys, Day One

Monday, May 30th

Common Myna, an exotic bird found in South Florida and The Keys
Over the Memorial holiday weekend, which started for me on Monday, my daughter and I headed for the Florida Keys to look for the special birds found there.  Namely antillean nighthawks at the airport at Marathon and roseate terns also found at Marathon. Also seeking white-crowned pigeons, gray kingbirds and the endangered key deer.

So Monday took off from home about 2 PM and made the trip in about five hours.  Stayed alert for locating  any white-tailed kites along US 27.  Did not sight any kind of kite, but did find Common Mynas in Homestead. Next checked out Dagney Johnson Key Largo Hammock Botanical State Park on Key Largo, to look for black-whiskered vireos and mangrove cuckoo. Had searched the mangroves at the Card Sound Toll Bridge for the Florida mangrove yellow warblers that are supposed to easily be found there. Did not sight the warblers, but found several Gray Kingbirds and heard several Black-whiskered Vireos on Key Largo. And at Dagney a quick search did not reveal the mangrove cuckoo that had been reported to be found near the entrance.

Marathon Government Center
Traveling further south on US 1 we sighted more gray kingbirds, Eurasian Collared Doves, Mourning Doves, additional common mynas and several White-crowned Pigeons. Upon arrival at Marathon we first checked out the Marathon Government center, were Least and Roseate Terns nest on the roof tops. Managed to sight several Least Terns, but just one Roseate Tern.  Also added more white-crowned pigeons, Brown Pelicans, Laughing Gulls, and a Magnificent Frigatebird.  Roseate terns are a more pelagic species and is seen in the Florida Keys when they come into nest. I understand that they can also be found nesting in the vicinity of Long Island Sound in New York.

After a drive through dinner and checking into our motel, I headed over to the Marathon Airport, which was only a block away. Last year I was able to get a hit here on the antillean nighthawk at about 7:30 PM. A good forty-five minutes before sun down.  So made a point to be at the same spot by 7:30, but this time a lone Antillean Nighthawk did not appear till sundown.  Like common nighthawks, you can usually find them by ear before spotting them in the air.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Magnificent Frigatebird in Charlotte Harbor

Thursday, May 26th

A Wilson's Plover

I had been interested in visiting the town of Boca Grande on Gasparilla Island for a while now.  The delay was because of the long drive from Ft Myers.  You have to drive completely around Charlotte Harbour to get onto Gasprilla including a $5 toll bridge fee. But I was curious to see the iguanas and pea fowl that had been plaguing the community. Boca Grande had started as a sleepy fishing village on the Gulf of Mexico untill it was discovered by the rich and famous. The family vacations here to fish and play golf and Denzell Washington filmed part of his movie Out of Time at Boca Grande.
The light houses at Boca Grande Island State Park

Found several Least Terns nesting on the beach at the state park

Did not find any iguanas at Boca Grande, but had this fello at the fishing pier at Placido

Great Blue Heron keepiong a watch on the fisherman waiting for a free meal

Osprey at Placido fishing pier
My targets for the day included the pea  fowl and iguanas, but also to see if any magnificent frigatebird would be around. The first stop was at Cape Haze Park outside of Port Charlotte. Lots of Northern Cardinals and Mourning Doves. Not much else besides a calling White-eyed Vireo

Onto Gasparilla Island were I spent time exploring Gasparilla Island State park and the town of Boca Grande. The beaches on the Gulf of Mexico were quite bare of bird life.  Saw a few Brown Pelicans and Laughing Gulls. A few Least Terns were nesting here and the only shore bird was a lone Willet.

On the the Boca Grande Pass side of the state park was much birdier with the Magnificent Frigatebirds I was looking for plus lots of Laughing Gulls, Cormorants, Brown PelicansWhite Ibis and Osprey. The most intersting thing to see at the Pass were the many boaters congreated here to fish for Tarpon. The location is world famous for its Tarpon fishing.

Also found everywere were Northern Mockingbirds and more cardinals, doves, ospreys and large flocks of white ibis on the golf coarse. Chimney Swifts soared overhead and several Gray Kingbirds were located too. But pea fowl were seen or heard. No iguanas either.  I already knew that the town was paying for trappers to remove the big lizards. So maybe they were much less common now.

On the way back home I chanced to stop at the Placido fishing pier. Here I finally located an iguana, and stayed awhile to enjoy watching the activity here. The pier is close by that toll bridge, which is not one of those bridges that lift up but swing out to allow boats to pass.  Found some more frigatebirds and all the other usual coastal birds here icluding cormorants, laughing gulls, brown pelicans, a pair of Green Herons and Great Blue Heron keeping watch on the fisherman.  A special sighting was a large manatee, which was sporting large gashes on its back, pass under the pier.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Bachman's Sparrows at Babcock-Webb

Tuesday, May 24th

Arrived a bit late to caught the Red-cockaded Woodpecker, in their roosting holes, but made up for it with several easily found Bachman's Sparrows.  In the area just beyond the firing range, along Truckers Grade I located four singing sparrows. The males will sit on lower limbs of the pine trees and sing in the early morning hours, making them much easier to locate.  That is until the nesting season is over and the sparrows returning to their skulking ways. Other birds located in this open pine land environment included Eastern Bluebirds, Eastern Towhee, Northern Mockingbirds, Pine Warblers, Northern Cardinals and calling Northern Bobwhites.

Red-cockaded Woodpecker
Spent about four hours exploring the Babcock-Webb's roads for more species. I missed on the brown-headed nuthatch, but did find a Red-cockaded Woodpecker later in the day along with locating Red-bellied Woodpeckers, Downy Woodpeckers, Brown Thrashers, both Grackles, Common Yellowthroat, Red-wing Blackbirds, Great Crested flycatcher and Eastern Meadowlark. Had hoped to relocate a kestrel I had observed all winter in a particular tree, but could find it today. If it had been of the Southeastern subspecies, it may have stuck around. Was able to add a couple of Swallow-tailed Kites, but saw fewer wading birds than usual. No doubt due to the shrink water levels.

On the way home I drove through the north side of Cape Coral to location  Florida Scrub Jays. Was able to add a pair of jays, plus several Eastern Meadowlarks, more Northern Mockingbirds, Killdeer, Eurasian Collared Doves, regular Blue Jays, a soaring  Red-tailed Hawk and another Swallow-tailed Kite

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Northern Rough-winged Swallow

Sunday, May 29th

When my work shift ends at 7 AM on Sunday mornings, I like to take my time heading for home. That is because the world is so much quieter and finding interesting birds is so much easier.

My birding actually started upon my arrival at work when I sighted our resident Barred Owl. Every year, just during the rainy season though, a barred owl, and sometimes two, will spend part of the evening in a hunt for beetles and mole crickets around the yard lighting. At sunrise, I could hear the 'peet' calls of Common Nighthawks. Then the Common and Boat-tailed Grackles start to descend on the property. Today a fledgling common grackle, not even fully feathered yet, was sitting in the middle of the parking lot with the adult birds surrounding the baby. Had to shoo the young bird  out of the way before it could be run over.  We also have a resident Red-shouldered Hawk that appears at dawn and the morning also brings the Snowy and Great Egrets passing overhead.

Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Just outside the front gate can be heard a calling White-eyed Vireo in the clumps of Brazilian Pepper.and today I succeeded in spotting it.  Usually its skulking manners made it almost impossible to see. Further down the road were the usual Mourning Doves and calling Northern Cardinals and Red-bellied Woodpeckers. But was also found was a pair of Northern Rough-winged Swallows. Hadn't seen any swallows around here for awhile. On Airport-Haul Road I added a pair of Eastern Bluebirds and at the drainage ditch at the intersection of Alico and Airport-Haul was a lone juvenile Wood Stork.

White Ibis
Close to home, I checked out both Domestic and Lee Roads north of Alico Road. Well on Lee, just a bit north from the intersection with Alico Road, was found a family of five Burrowing Owls.  A sixth owl was sighted in a lot along Domestic Street. Also found here were a couple of Eastern Meadowlarks, a flying Green Heron, ten Purple Martins, more grackles and a Red-winged Blackbird, a lone Cattle Egret,  and about two dozen more Mourning Doves. The drainage ditch along Alico held  several Mottled Ducks and a pair of Common Moorhens. The ponds along Domestic Street are very empty of the coots and ducks seen over the winter.  Today was a single Anhinga, a single Double-crested Cormorant, and pair of Mottled Ducks and a pair of very late American Coots. Loggerhead Shrikes occupied the wires as well.

Closer to home the neighborhood had the usual species including more mourning doves, Eurasian Collared Doves, Fish Crows, grackles, another Red-shouldered Hawk, Blue Jays and Northern Mockingbirds

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Sandhill Cranes at Harnes Marsh

Monday May 23rd

I received an invitation to join up with Bob Pelkey for an early morning visit to Harn's Marsh on this Monday. I could not get get off from work till 7 AM and after working twelve straight night shifts, was too exhausted to attend till after some sleep.  So I did not get there till after 1 PM.  Bob was already gone by then, but not the birds.

Sandhill Cranes located at Harne's Marsh
  The draw-down on the water level in the marsh, just like our entire region, as we are waiting on the start of the rainy season, has concentrated the wading birds on the shrinking pools. The small lake adjacent to the parking area at the 38th W Street entrance was shallow and had concentrations of Limpkins, numbering around 30 birds.
Crane is vocalizing as it is being harassed by nesting Black-necked Stilts

Roseate Spoonbills

American White Pelicans
 These large concentration of birds included over fifty Mottled Ducks, forty Roseate Spoonbills, fourteen Sandhill Cranes including a family with a pair of half-grown colts. With the food supply being concentrated in the shrinking pools hundreds of wading birds including Great Egrets, Great Blue Herons, Snowy Egrets, Tricolored Herons, White and Glossy Ibis, Wood Storks, Roseate Spoonbills, Little Blue Herons and a couple of dozen American White Pelicans are found.

I was interested in locating black-bellied whistling ducks which seemed to becoming more common here.  I had a flock of fourteen last month and Bob Pelkey and other photographers have been getting photos of these ducks in flight.  I explorer for about five miles of the marsh , accessing from both the 38th Street W and the Harn'sMarsh Elementary School location.  I did not locate any of the whistling ducks and only four Snail Kites. Found about eight paired off Black-necked Stilts.  Only other shore birds included a Greater Yellowlegs and four Killdeer. Just the day before white-rumped sandpipers (uncommon in our area) had been seen.  Other recently seen shore birds included stilt, pectoral, least, and semipalmated sandpipers, plus lesser yellowlegs and semipalmate plover. One pair of nesting Black-necked Stilts were observed mobbing a pair of Sandhill Cranes approaching too close the nest.

Other species observed included Red-winged Blackbirds, both Grackles, Black-crowned Nightheron, Black and Turkey Vultures, Pied-billed Grebe, Cormorant, Anhinga, Bald eagle, Swallow-tailed Kite, Common Moorhen, Fish Crow, Pileated Woodpecker, Parula Warbler, Green Heron, Red-shouldered Hawk, Mourning Doves, Great Crested Flycatcher and Northern Cardinals.

The decline in the Snail Kite numbers represents the decline in there food source, the apple snail, caused by the shrinking marsh.  Hopefully they can find enough food elsewhere and return in better days. A recent newspaper article posted how severally the snail kites population suffers when we experience extended droughts.